A Replayable Debate on Game Violence

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, August 18, 2005; 10:39 AM

Nothing solidifies a case for or against a particular issue like a study. Fortunately, each side in the battle over video game violence has new research it can use to wallop the other.

The first study, released last week by a speech-communication professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said "robust exposure to a highly violent video game" did not prompt players to project violent tendencies into real life.

The other, published Wednesday by the American Psychological Association, comes to the opposite conclusion. Here's what the Associated Press wrote:

"Research indicates exposure to violence in video games increases aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior and angry feelings among youth, the association said in a statement issued Wednesday. In addition, the APA statement said, this exposure reduces helpful behavior and increases physiological arousal in children and adolescents. ... 'Showing violent acts without consequences teaches youth that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict. Whereas, seeing pain and suffering as a consequence can inhibit aggressive behavior,' psychologist Elizabeth Carll, co-chair of the APA Committee on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media, said in a statement."

These latest throwdowns showed up a couple of weeks after one of the summer's hottest stories started to chill. The furor over "San Andreas," the most recent installment in the "Grand Theft Auto" series, concerned a sex scene surreptitiously inserted into the game. It also resurrected the perennial controversy surrounding violence in games.

It was about a decade ago that Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) started their annual holiday-time lineup of the "dirty dozen" -- the most violent video games -- as a way of warning parents what to keep their children from playing.

The intervening years have produced a widely used ratings system and more awareness of the fact that many games aren't produced with children in mind, though many retail outlets don't do enough to restrict kids from buying these popular titles.

As a result, the controversy rages on like a first-person shooter in "God mode," and every so often we get some empirical data that tells us that video games either are molding our children into Alex from "A Clockwork Orange" or transforming our culture without degrading it.

Dmitri Williams, lead author of the Urbana-Champaign study, said he believes it's possible that games could spur children toward violent behavior, but that is not his chief argument: "I'm not saying some games don't lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet," Williams said. "Until we have more long-term studies, I don't think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding."

Williams and partner Marko Skoric of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore observed people who played the online role-playing game "Asheron's Call 2" over an average total playing time of 56 hours in a month.

In the feedback section on a News.com article, a reader said the game didn't fit the bill for the study: "Role-playing games aren't associated with violence. They're a much different type of game than Grand Theft Auto. I'm not saying they would find a link in that one, but it seems like they're looking for a link between Dungeons and Dragons and armed robbery."

Williams admitted that in an article that ran on the Urbana-Champaign Web site: "The results of the new study, Williams said, support the contention of those who suggest that some violent games do not necessarily lead to increased real-world aggression. But he and Skoric concede that other types of games and contexts might have negative impacts. 'This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outer space or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes.' Williams and Skoric also concede that because their study didn't concentrate solely on younger teenagers, 'we cannot say that teenagers might not experience different effects.'"

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