Don’t hate the game, hate the player.

Games have been a ubiquitous part of our culture since time immemorial.

So THE USA TODAY posted an article on 9.15.2011 about a study regarding the connection between violent video games and violent players. It was conducted by Villanova University professor Patrick Markey, and was picked up by Kotaku the very next day, who added some interesting things to the conversation. So here are some deets, and my take:

According to Markey in THE USA TODAY, “Video games are not simply good or bad for everybody,” he says. “But for some individuals who have certain dispositions, if they play video games they’re much more likely to be negatively affected.”

Markey co-authored a study that was published in the Review of General Psychology, and was also presented at an American Psychological Association meeting.  His data includes responses collected in 2009 from 118 participants, and in the study half of them played violent games and the other half played non-violent video games.

Personally, I feel that this distinction is a hard one to make, and I would love to get my hands on the list of games used for the study. Even games like Pokemon or Critter Crunch are embedded with violence, but it is minor and certainly overshadowed by fatalities, pimp slaps and head shots.

One of the things gamers have had to deal with for quite a while now is the perception of violence portrayed in video games and how it might affect the gamers. This is a question which has been raised time and time again; when film was introduced folks were worried how it would affect the youth, television came out and the same debate raged, heck, even comic books took a hit and created their own self-governing and regulatory tool, the Comics Code Authority, that worked to sanitize and scrub the offending violence out of the comics, making the suitable for youth. But can you truly take the violence out of a cultural product? Isn’t it produced by culture, and therefore simply inseparable from the very environment in which it was created?

Our culture is inherently violent, and many of the games we play mirror this fact.  Take sports, for instance, and the myriad ways players can injure not only themselves, but others. Some sports are even built around this violence, and simply label it ‘strategy.’

Football is injury-prone. I mean, you're SUPPOSED to TACKLE!

Ever wonder why there are no old players?

But video games have been getting a bad rap for years, and it always struck me as bad science to think that the violence in the game turns players into raving lunatics, with no control over themselves. How many stories have we heard and articles have we read recently about terrible parents abusing and neglecting their children to play video games? About people using video games as their cover story to commit murder? And yet, this study seems to prove that “correlation DOES NOT PROVE causation.”

Take the photo below, for example. Look at that dog. Do you want to suddenly kick or punch it? Do you wish it harm?

Woof, woof! <pant>

If you answered yes, then you are a psychopath. It is as simple as that. As psychologist Markley states: “If you’re worried about a video game turning your son or daughter into a killer, don’t worry about that. But is your kid moody, impulsive, or are they unfriendly? It’s probably not the best idea to have that child play violent video games.”

Did violent video games cause this? Or was it Grandpa's stories of childhood Cowboys & Indians games in the old neighborhood?

THE USA TODAY article goes on to say that “Markey found slight increases in hostility for those with certain personality traits: extremely high on neuroticism and extremely low on agreeableness and conscientiousness.”

So it isn’t the content of the game, but rather, the content of the player’s mind. If you are already in a disturbed state, easily agitated, aggressive or competitive, the games may showcase those tendencies, but the violence is NOT the trigger. I mean, why do you think no one plays chess near baseball bats or crowbars? Because it DOES NOT MATTER what game you are playing, if you are a nutbag, you are a NUTBAG.

It stands to reason: relaxing games help players relax, games with high levels of competition and violence may put players in an agitated state, but we are all still responsible for our own actions. I have a very long commute to work, and sometimes I get the road rage real bad. But do I get to jump out of my car in gridlocked traffic and smash someone’s window? No. I possess self-control, and do not get to blame Grand Theft Auto for my bad behavior and use it as an excuse to get all crazy. NO ONE DOES. Those terrible parents who let their kids starve so they can play Farmville, or beat their children to death because they are interrupting a raid? They are terrible parents, and video games did not make them that way, they always were terrible.

I understand this is a hot topic, and that a lot of studies have been done, including one interesting one published by Simmons College in the Journal of Children & Media. It basically stated that young children (age 7-15) who were exposed to violent video games may effect their ability to develop empathy, and even increase their acceptance of violence. But so does watching the nightly news, or a war documentary, or working in a library.

There are so many games out there that masquerade as family entertainment, but are inherently violent. Games like Angry Birds, Age of Empires, Pac Man, Donley Kong, Chess, Super Mario, Axis & Allies, Zelda, Clue, basically almost ANY board and video game out there portrays and thereby encourages violence as a strategy. It may not be obvious and you may disagree, but then again, you just may be DESENSITIZED and simply cannot EMPATHIZE with what I am saying.

Stay in School, kids!

And finally, a useful sidebar from THE USA TODAY article:

Tips for parents of gamers:

Marina Krcmar, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C., who studies the impact of video games on children and teens, offers these tips for parents:

Research the games: Game ratings are not consistent, and many games marketed to kids are often inappropriate. Watch YouTube videos for game content and check out websites that review games.

Focus on strategy versus shooting games: “First-person shooter” games where the shooter plays against “humans” versus monsters have a greater sense of realism; strategy games help develop problem-solving skills.

Monitoring helps: Set up game systems in family living spaces. Talk about games: Parents’ thoughts may cause kids to think differently about games, especially if it’s violent and kids didn’t think about the violence.



1 Comment

Filed under Gaming

One response to “Don’t hate the game, hate the player.

  1. I think the games used in the study are probably overtly violent games (your Grand Theft Autos and the like. Violence against humans. Or games with blood).

    I agree, though, that if you are inherently violent then violent video games are probably more likely to bring it out in you. But if it’s not in your personality then it’s not going to suddenly turn you into a raging psychopath.

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