Violent Video Games: What You Need to Know
The Aggression Connection
The most burning question, though, is whether, and to what extent, violence on the screen actually begets violence in real life. "Some people are more convinced than others," acknowledges Funk, the Toledo psychology professor. She believes there's plenty of "clear and convincing evidence" that such exposure can be harmful. In fact, she says, it may well be impossible to ever prove "beyond a reasonable doubt," because "we can't just put a kid in a box for life" and study the effects of video games alone.
The video-game industry maintains that there's no objective evidence that violent games cause violent behavior. "Researchers who assert otherwise often use suspect methodology designed to support their preconceived bias against games," says Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association.
Some researchers also dismiss studies linking violent media and violent behavior, arguing that a violent-video diet is only a symptom of a nature predisposed to violence. In other words, kids already prone to aggression may be precisely the ones who seek out violent video games, films, and music in excess. If there were a significant cause-and-effect relationship, says Jeffrey Fagan, PhD, former head of the Center for Violence Research and Prevention at Columbia University, in New York City, then the sheer number of kids playing games like Doom should have led to many more school shootings and a surge in juvenile crime. Instead, as a 2001 Surgeon General?s report indicates, since 1993 juvenile crime rates have held steady, or in some categories, even dropped.
"A lot of stuff in these games is offensive, but to say 'violent video games are obviously harmful' is really a leap," says Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. In her new book, It's Not the Media (Westview Press, 2003), she argues that blaming video games only diverts attention from several of the real issues that America has failed to address, "like family violence and the lingering effects of poverty in communities that society has all but abandoned."
Scapegoating the media, she says, is part of a pattern that dates back to at least 1954, when a Senate subcommittee convened to investigate the violence in comic books, a move that prompted that industry to clean itself up by forbidding all violent and sexual content. Blaming the media for real-life violence, Sternheimer contends, "is a little like discovering a tumor on an x-ray and then trying to fix the x-ray instead."