Who Knew?

Here’s an interesting item: Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson claims to have demonstrated conclusively that playing shoot-’em-up video games “increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior.”

This is, of course, what various concerned sorts have been saying all along, although I had for some reason thought that the idea had been shown, generally, to be false. These games are hugely popular, and are the focus of an enormously profitable industry, so you can bet that the usual battle lines, easily predictable and tiresomely familiar, will soon be drawn.

I have no expertise whatsoever to bring to bear here — all I can say, from my own wholly unscientific sampling of the phenomenon, is that I used to play a fair amount of Doom with my son Nick when he was a boy, and he turned out to be as amiable a fellow as you could ever hope to meet.

Whenever there’s a new result in the social sciences, can some new laws be far behind? Indeed, the good professor is already looking forward to some benevolent social engineering:

The researchers conclude that the study has important implications for public policy debates, including development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce the harmful effects of playing violent video games.

“From a public policy standpoint, it’s time to get off the question of, ‘Are there real and serious effects?’ That’s been answered and answered repeatedly,” Anderson said. “It’s now time to move on to a more constructive question like, ‘How do we make it easier for parents — within the limits of culture, society and law — to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'”

Ah yes, those pesky limits. Well, in the meantime, Dr. Anderson has some advice for anxious parents:

But Anderson knows it will take time for the creation and implementation of effective new policies. And until then, there is plenty parents can do to protect their kids at home.

“Just like your child’s diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home,” he said. “And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house — conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict.”

Geez, I dunno. When a bunch of those Hell Knights pop up out of nowhere, I’m pretty sure I’m still going for my BFG. Let Satan sort ’em out.

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7 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    I loved Doom, Doom 2, and the first Quake. They were all great fun, as was the hilarious Duke Nukem, whose protag spewed campy one-liners in the style of Bruce Campbell in “Army of Darkness.”

    Years passed, and I didn’t get back into FPS (first-person shoot-’em-up — the latter term often written as “shootemup”) games until the very first Halo came out. The game was a revelation: I was astounded at how much the enemy AI had improved during the intervening years. In the older Doom games, encounters with the enemy began and ended pretty much the same way: the monster popped out from behind a door or a corner, roared, attacked, and got blasted. On occasion, the monster attacked from a distance, but far from acting like a living opponent, it merely stood there, blasting away like a fixed gun emplacement.

    In Halo, by contrast, the various aliens (each species came with its own distinct personality) worked in concert almost like real fire teams. They’d try to flank you; they’d slap away grenades; they’d lie in wait or even betray enough nervous energy, while hiding, to give their positions away. If they were sniping at you, they’d duck and cover, and wouldn’t try an all-out attack unless they were heavily shielded or extremely bulky. They knew when to retreat. And unlike all those old games by id, Halo didn’t allow you, the hero, to carry more than two major weapons at a time, thereby forcing you to make painful decisions based on your situational awareness and the respective encumbrance of each type of weapon. Halo was, in a word, magnificent, especially from the point of view of someone who had been out of the FPS loop for some time.

    But did any of these games inspire me to new heights of violence? The police said yes, after finding all those hacked-up bodies in my shed, but I’ve always thought that they jumped too hastily to conclusions. For some reason, they didn’t want to take my “I was just composting!” explanation at face value.

    Bastards.

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 12:51 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    I’ve never played Halo, though I have heard it’s as good as you say; it’s been years, actually, since I played any of those games. There just don’t seem to be as many hours in the day lately.

    And yes, I quite agree – I don’t think I kill any more freely now than I did before playing Doom.

    Well, maybe a little, but not so you’d notice.

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  3. Nick says

    Ah yes, I remember those days watching you play Doom as I would sit down with an old commodore 64 controller in my hand and act as if I had any sort of effect on the battle you were engaged in. But even though I’m sure I felt some sort of natural rise of aggression inside while I watched you demolish an Archvile with a rocket launcher, even at the ripe age of five I was already aware that certain rules applied inside that little box on your desk and different rules were set outside of that box.

    While it would most likely be safe to argue that I have, to some degree, been desensitized to violence as a whole, I find the consistent push to correlate video game violence with real-life violence to be completely absurd. I think the more accurate correlation here is that with an increased amount of media outlets, there are more ways to, well, complain about the world and point the blame. But I digress. Here is an image I believe sums up my point nicely:

    http://cache.g4tv.com/images/blog/2008/04/08/633432617645402500.jpg

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Jeez, Nick. Were you really only five? You’re going to get me arrested.

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says

    Well, it’s obvious the Pentagon takes issue with this study’s findings:

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/02/new-pentagon-sim-teaches-troops-to-play-nice/

    And Kevin? I’d think your environmentally friendly defense sufficient – provided you control for methane.

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  6. bob koepp says

    I don’t care how well-adjusted Nick turned out. It’s pure good luck that he hasn’t matured into a murderous thug, and Malcolm should be incarcerated for child endangerment.

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Bob’s just kidding around…

    Time for a new post, I think!

    Posted March 2, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink