Sunday, July 24, 2005

In Which I Do More Research

Just a little bit more
(well, a lot) about Jack Thompson, and then I'm done. I swear.

His site makes this statement:

"The heads of six major health care organizations, including the American Medical, Pediatric, and Psychiatric Associations have all testified before Congress in June 2000 that violent entertainment contributes to teen violence."

That's . . . well, that's actually true. They did. They released a statement. I'll get to that in a second.

Back to Thompson. Immediately following the thing about the health care people, the site makes this statement:

"Video games are literally "murder simulators" teaching our kids how to kill."

This seems to imply that somehow the Congressional statement backs up Thompson's conclusion. Does it?

Here's the conclusion that the July 26, 2000 "Joint Statement on The Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children Congressional Public Health Summit" makes (my source):

"More study is needed in this area, and we urge that resources and attention be directed to this field.

"We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity."

This hardly backs up Mr. Thompson's claims.

Now, jumping back to before the health care thing, the site talks about brain scan studies done at "Harvard, Indiana University, and elsewhere prove that adolescents' brain functions are damaged by a steady diet of violent images."

Lots of Universities do lots and lots of brain scan studies. Lots of conclusions are drawn. Many of those conclusions are refuted or require more evidence. They might eventually become theories. A theory is a best guess. This is called science.

Off-handly mentioning a few Universities and claiming they did studies that "prove" whatever you're espousing is most assuredly not science. It's commonly called "bullshit."

Check out this study done at Duke University. It found that the brains of aggressive adolescents (those with a diagnosed behavioral disorder) responded differently to violent images than those of nonaggressive adolescents. But what does that mean? It means their brains responded differently.

Here's something over at Harvard. This study came to the conclusion that the two major factors that predicted aggression in a child are violence in the home and inhibited temperament. No mention of video games. Strange. Maybe Mr. Thompson should correct them.

And before we jump to a conclusion and refuse to budge, we should pay some attention to other ideas. "However, a more complete understanding into the causes and solutions of violent behavior will not prevail without further research into the role played by the brain. That is the consensus of an international group of clinicians and researchers of violent behavior, writing in the current issue of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neurology."

Maybe Mr. Thompson should be looking into what the heck all these antidepressants are doing to our children.

Maybe we aren't emphasizing the importance of hugs. They're supposedly instrumental in preventing children from becoming overly-inhibited. Which, as I cited earlier, is possibly a deciding factor in youth aggression.

Okay, enough with Harvard and their stupid studies. What do they know?

Thompson, yet again:

"The Federal Trade Commission in September 2000 found that big entertainment companies aggressively market adult-rated violent movies, music and video games to American children."

I kind of see why he's bringing this up. But he's missing the mark. The point of the FTC's study was that the advertisers were doing something wrong, not the game makers. And we all know that advertisers would market running shoes to quadriplegics. Why is this a surprise when it's videogame marketing?

The study itself says:

"Although scholars and observers generally have agreed that exposure to violence in entertainment media alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act, there is widespread agreement that it is, nonetheless, a cause for concern."

I'll give them that. As a parent, you should definitely be concerned - but only about what your children are watching/reading/playing/hearing.

That report made several suggestions for the industries to enhance their self-regulatory efforts (and we know how Mr. Thompson feels about the ESRB). Those suggestions were:

"1. Establish or expand codes that prohibit target marketing to children and impose sanctions for noncompliance.
2. Increase compliance at the retail level.
3. Increase parental understanding of the ratings and labels."

Nary a mention of murder simulators, sniper mode or thousands of zombie-eyed children wholly unable to be responsible for their actions.

So once again, Thompson mentions something that doesn't really support his hypotheses at all.

Someone might, at some point, bring up the Anderson & Dill study, "Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life." You can find a copy of it here. I especially would direct people to the 'Video Games and Aggression: Experimental Work' section, which cites other studies and reviews their conclusions.

I would urge you, also, to review these notes on the study, which point out some problems with the research methods (which are, often, inevitable, but must be made apparent).

The most glaring thing I've found, from reading these studies, is that they are notoriously difficult to summarize. People like Thompson (and Grossman) seem just to take the titles and make up whatever conclusions suit their cause.

I love Thompson's final few paragraphs on his site. He claims his only target is marketing standards, but it's clear by his actions that he stands on the forefront of a massive censorship effort, whether purposefully or simply by fueling the fire. Painting himself as a freedom advocate, he gleefully seeks to push blame on a thing, thereby removing responsibility from the perpetrators. His attacks on the ESRB and the ESA are characterized by ad hominem fallacies.

Yes, I can see his agenda is protecting our freedom.

Here's something I've wondered. If violent media is desensitizing people to violence, how does that encourage violence? The common metaphor is that it acts like an addictive drug - you need higher doses to become stimulated. But that's a false metaphor. Studies are inconclusive concerning exactly how violent images affect neurochemistry. There are other environmental, genetic and neurochemical/neuroanatomical factors to consider.

For all we know, the excitement caused by playing a violent video game may be the equivalent of beating a sack of potatoes - release of tension.

And even the Anderson & Dill study said there was a clear difference between excitement and aggression, and that often it was difficult to tell which was at work while playing a videogame (both at the same time being possible, and in all different amounts, and possibly divisible into sub-types -- you can see how tricky a subject this can be).

As for escalating youth violence . . . well, maybe the March 26, 2002 Gallup Poll article titled "These young people today. . ." can provide some insight:

"American teens can be easy scapegoats for media outlets looking for simple angles on social problems. A new report by the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families scrutinized TV and newspaper stories regarding children and teens over a three-month period and found that more than 90% focused on the "quick-hit" stories of crime and violence or abuse and neglect among today's youth."

Wondering where the report cited resides? Why don't you point your browser here. It's telling that this report discusses how seldom these "quick-hit" stories actually provide any contextual information.*

I wonder how many mentioned videogames.

Yes, Columbine happened because some kids "obsessively trained on Doom." Here they are practicing safe and responsible gun ownership. Just let me suggest that somehow, in some way, their access to guns might have facilitated the tragedy, and I'll have crazies on my ass from hell to breakfast.

Nope, it was definitely videogames.

*I am not attempting to establish a direct correlation between this study and any of the videogame-related topics I've discussed. I only thought it was interesting that youth violence is often considered "epidemic" and that 90% of news stories about children focused on crime, violence, abuse or neglect. Perception shapes reality.


Christopher Trottier said...

It's funny how gaming is considered "virtual reality" but the internet is considered "not real".

wildcat9two said...

Video games are great. Not only can you kill people, but now you can have sex in them. If you have not heard check out Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas and search for the hot coffee mod... You get blow jobs, doggie style... Its beautiful. About time they made a game that really represents life.

m.k.s. said...

wow, I love how you tear this guy apart! and you have a lot of research backing it up as well. I, too, have a strong aversion for him. lol

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.