Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I Must Be a Violent Dope Fiend By Now

Violent video games linked to risky behaviors. Well, um, sort of.

First of all: I applaud the researchers for actually matching similar games for their violent vs. non-violent comparison. An earlier study I'm aware of compared playing Quake to playing Myst, and it's hard to imagine two games more different from each other in every conceivable way, leaving many, many uncontrolled variables other than merely "violence level". Here, they matched Grand Theft Auto III against The Simpsons: Hit and Run, which has very similar gameplay to GTAIII, but cartoonish instead of gritty & violent. Bravo.

But what effects did they actually observe? Those who played the more violent game:
  1. Immediately afterwards, were less cooperative/more competitive.
  2. Immediately afterwards, were more likely to interpret others' attitudes as hostile toward them.
  3. Immediately afterwards, expressed more permissive attitudes toward alcohol/marijuana use.
  4. Only among those with higher exposure to real-life violence, elevated systolic blood pressure.
Once again, we have a study that measures an effect (or several effects) immediately after playing a violent video game, but makes no apparent attempt to measure whether/how quickly this effect normalizes over time. Is there still a measurable difference an hour later? A day? Is the effect permanent and cumulative? We don't know...

Now, about the headline: It's a complete lie. The study has not in any way linked violent video games to risky behaviors. It has linked violent video games to permissive attitudes about risky behaviors. I'd like to see how the question was worded: It could be that violent video games just make players more forgiving of risky behaviors in others, but not more likely to personally engage in such behaviors.

It's also unfortunate that Reuters doesn't report any more information than one can glean from the abstract of the actual study. I don't really want to pay $15 just to find out the actual magnitude of these observed effects. How much more competitive? How much more permissive?

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