At 30 years old, I’m lucky enough to have lived through nearly the entire lifespan of video games thus far. From the Atari’s stick-figured heroes to Nintendo finally grasping high definition, and all that Sega, Microsoft, Sony, and others have given us in between. Sure, I’ve scored touchdowns, raced through cities, and solved more than my fair share of location-based mysteries, but I’m certain the majority of my video game career has been spent killing things far, far more often than actually saving things. Unlike some generally calm people, like Ted Bundy and Jim Jones, I’m not responsible for anyone’s death.
And not only that, I reveled in my AI opponents’ destruction. I loved beating the bikers of Road Rash with cattle prods. I loved the technical mastery of delivering a combo-heavy ass whooping in Tekken. And I especially loved the over-the-top gratuity of games like Madworld and House of the Dead: Overkill. Give us a keg, and my friends and I will put to waste thousands, if not gabillions, of citizens unlucky enough to be digitally rendered in the Grand Theft Auto universe. There are no consequences to these actions. There are no moral quandaries that exit the game console and enter my real life. And rarely does a video game even stay in my mind when I’m not playing it, except for the brain-melting patterns of Tetris and Bejeweled.
But everything I’ve just said is a personal anecdote, and science is about facts, right? Prof. Brad Bushman of Ohio State University’s School of Communication recently published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that says the aggressive behavior caused by playing violent video games will build over time. I hate to openly mock such a study with my predetermined beliefs, but the study itself is vague enough to be laughable.
Bushman and his research team gathered 70 French university students together to play certain video games for 20 minutes a day over a three-day period. To shield the study’s true nature, the team told the students they were testing the brightness of video games on visual perception. Some of the students, naturally, played violent games such as Call of Duty 4 and Condemned 2, while others played non-violent games like Dirt 2 and Pure.
How were the students tested for their almost explosively massive amounts of aggression? They were given a half-finished story and were told to complete the ending with either the main character dying in some awful way, or having him live through the tragedy. The second part of the test involved telling the students they were racing against an unseen competitor, and that the loser would be the victim of a long, irritating noise blast that the winner could shorten or lengthen at his or her own consent.
Not surprisingly to anyone who understands context clues or has ever been around anyone under 25, those who played the more violent games ended their stories violently and blasted noises longer. So they’re saying active stimuli causes active reactions within participants, and that college kids seek out the misery of other college kids. Big fucking surprise. I’m a writer, and no matter what I sit through just previous, I’m never going to end a story on a positive note, and if you only let me play a video game I enjoy for just 20 minutes, I’ll probably be a tad more vengeful in my next task. This has far less to do with the game I played and more with how I am as a person.
Violence only begets violence if the intention existed to begin with. If you give Miss Muffet a controller and tell her to kill some Nazis for a while, she’ll probably be disgusted and not actually have the urge to kill anything, whereas if you did the same thing to the spooky spider beside her, it would almost definitely react in the predicted manner. Because everyone knows there’s no blanket stereotyping involved with claiming all spiders to be evil.
Had this study been performed over a long span of time, like many of the studies stating a lack of connection between video games and violent events were, then maybe credence could be achieved. But three days seems far too short a time to declare something so damning about a subject whose difficulty to understand is what sparked this study in the first place. This isn’t a diatribe against Prof. Bushman himself, who is a highly respectable member of his field, or even against the function of the study itself, which is of concern to many. I’m just saying it’s clumsy to go for the jugular on such a hot-button issue like this. All your half-formed idea are belong to us.
Sound off with your opinions, even if they’re diatribes against me, though these are just my opinions of course.