It is unfair for me to write about the issue of games and violence without acknowledging that I am not inclined to believe there is a causal relationship. I have played games my entire life even Wolfenstein when I was barely old enough to understand basic DOS. I learned to read and write by playing adventure games. I also do not have children, so these thoughts are all coming from a person with no experience raising a child. So go to your kitchen and fetch a salt shaker. Now lick your wrist. Pour salt on that spot then lick that.
exactly?” Whether or not there is a bully in the subject’s class? She’s having a bad day? At one point the text takes great pains to assure me that I am misinterpreting the data if I think it doesn’t prove anything, and that a trained psychologist is the only one who can best explain it. Fortunately, such claims don’t hold much weight because they wouldn’t last five minutes in a court of law. As several federal judges that the book’s authors testified before have pointed out, doesn’t it make more sense that aggressive children also like aggressive video games?
The book that chose to focus on proving that there is no causal relationship between aggression and aggressive games was Grand Theft Childhood. The problem is that the book doesn’t disprove it, most of its findings back up what the other book found: there is a correlation between the two. Kids who play M-rated games excessively are more likely to get into fights, have problems at school, and engage in aggressive conduct. It’s just not clear what that means or which behavior is causing the other. The book decides to approach this from a common sense point of view. Throughout history people have reacted strongly to new media by claiming that it is causing violence and corruption. Radio, television, and comic books have all received similar treatment from politicians, doctors, and religious leaders. Most of this discussion is targeting parents; there is an impressive amount of money to be made by claiming that something is harming YOUR child. Studies that prove that games cause violence get more attention and grant money. Politicians, such as the Governor of Louisiana during post-Katrina politics, can cover up their abysmal failure as leaders by changing the subject and jabbering about saving children. Most scientific studies cited by politicians and religious leaders in these moments are taken drastically out of context or have been cited and diluted so many times that they are now more fiction than fact.
From South Park
The most refreshing thing about the book was actually the secondary analysis that studied things like which gender preferred games with story (boys do, but only by about 10%) or the prime motivators for playing games being pride and competition. There was a connection between depression and excessive gaming as an escape. Much like the violence connection, however, it’s not really clear that the game is actually making the person more depressed, just that it is a noticeable symptom.
The book ends with a lengthy section about how parents can better understand the content of games and how kids will manipulate their parents into buying violent products. It’s difficult to be sympathetic towards these complaints because parents will usually refuse to play the game themselves to get a grip on what’s going on. I’m not really inclined to support that attitude. At least the Mom who played GTA IV for an hour before banning her children from it understands what’s going on. The book draws on this discussion to emphasize that most kids absorb their parents values and that the more that they discuss banning something, the more attractive it is to a child for potentially generating artificial thrills rather than in its actual appeal. In other words, they’re just playing it because you made such a big deal out of it. The last few chapters are a weird glossing of various issues like the idea that games are blamed for obesity or stupidity. As with the games and violence argument, the chief function of the book is to disprove the causal relationship by pointing out that we don’t really know either way.
Frankly, in the case of both books, I don’t think anyone involved understands a thing about video games or even the nuances of individual titles. Neither of the book’s authors actually plays games, though Grand Theft Childhood did a solid effort at getting a basic understanding of distinctions between genres. I have trouble praising it since most of its arguments are just a rehash of the things Henry Jenkins was writing about long before anyone else. The problem is that there are cultural norms and preconceptions built up over the past thirty years that are rarely accounted for in these studies. For example, someone going on a massive killing spree is not odd in an FPS. I realize that visually it looks like I’m engaging in mass murder but that’s barely even a conscious thought for the average gamer who is engaging in a ludic experience. However, someone playing Tomb Raider but only progressing so that they can find unique places to make Lara Croft drown is definitely behaving in a disturbing manner. That’s the main problem with either book. They’re written by people who don’t play games enough to explain them to other people who don’t play games. That works about as well as you’d expect.
// Notes from the Road
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