Does Violent Video Games Lead to Aggression?
One emphasis in this course has been to introduce different approaches to experimental design, such as the discussion on the pros and cons of cross-sectional and longitudinal design in chapter 10, and teaching us to evaluate them critically. All of the articles used for discussion last week had problems in their experimental designs and in the conclusions drawn from them, but in particular the two discussing the connection that playing violent video games causes aggressive behavior both short and long term, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201003/the-broad-view-research-video-games-and-aggression and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110525151059.htm ,were seriously flawed.
The first article discusses the use of Meta-Analysis to show us that video games cause aggression in players. They discussed both correlational studies and longitudinal studies concluding that people who play violent video games become more aggressive. While Meta-Analysis may be an improvement on other statistical approaches used to present an overview of the literature, the best criticism I found of it was "garbage in ... garbage out" www.stat-help.com/meta.pdf . Combining badly controlled studies with poorly defined variables only amplifies their inaccurate conclusions. For instance, what defines a violent video game? Does it need to contain blood; gore, killing etc. or does it just need to contain harm to a subject. Does it need to involve realistic human characters or do fanciful abstract characters qualify. Also, the definition of aggression is varied and vague while what constitutes an appropriate control need to be reevaluated. Possibly a more appropriate control for "violent" video games would be any other competitive sport such as hockey, football etc. instead of the often used non-violent video game. The topic of whether violent video games are beneficial or harmful is difficult to obtain a conclusive answer to when many of the studies are small with such varied set ups and read outs.
The variety of video games is larger than people may realize. Depending on what you define as violent, you could say a lot of video games or very few are violent. For example, games like Halo, F.E.A.R., Left4Dead are all very violent games in anyone's eyes, but they all contain characters that aren't real (ex. aliens and zombies) that most people are able to tell the difference from humans. However, games like Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, and the Getaway are very violent games that contain blood and gore and involve realistic looking human people, while some games contain mild violence, such as World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Tekken. Depending on how you define violence, it may be difficult to decide what games should be in the research designs discussed in the article. Yet, often they are lumped together in a study as if World of Warcraft is comparable to Grand Theft Auto; trust me they're not. Another thing to keep in mind is that people choose video games based on their personality, people who are aggressive may tend to play violent video games. Therefore, recruiting the people for these experiments needs to be very carefully controlled for.
The second article is a good example of the care that needs to be taken in what your read out is for a study, what you are measuring. The researchers make the observation that people are desensitized to photos of violence as a result of video game playing and try to extrapolate this meaningless finding to a response to real life violent situation. This gives people very little credit for being able to distinguish fantasy from reality. People who love to watch horror movies hardly ever turn into psychotic killers as a result viewing them. Much more thought should be put into the design of these experiments and they should be weighed carefully against the numerous benefits video games have to offer as both entertainment and education. Quite frankly killing off Bambi's mother is probably more traumatizing to children than most video games.