Violence in Games: A Conversation with Christopher Ferguson, Part One

Matt Peckham
PC World
Thursday, November 6, 2008; 12:19 AM

I don't know much that'd pass scholarly muster when it comes to violent games and children, but since it's pretty much the hot button in video gaming these days, I'm constantly looking for people who do.

In April 2007, I spoke with Iowa State professor Doug Gentile (see parts one, two, three, four) about studies compiled in a book entitled Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents. Earlier this year, I spent some time on Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson's book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games. And I've had plenty to say about the issue's coverage in the media, in particular by people with no scholarly expertise in the area, or business talking politically about it.

Yesterday, news broke of a new study claiming to link violent games and increased aggression, published in the journal Pediatrics. It's author, Craig Anderson, who teaches psychology at Iowa State University and runs its Center for the Study of Violence, said: "We now have conclusive evidence that playing video games has harmful effects on children and adolescents."

(Want to read the full article? Click here.)

In response, the Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA) issued a statement denouncing the study and saying "[We] have been waiting for the results of an unbiased, longitudinal and comprehensive study... Unfortunately...we remain wanting."

Texas A&M psychology professor Christopher Ferguson was more direct in his formal response to Pediatrics. The journal published his letter on the study, a letter in which Ferguson accuses the research of "weak results" and "misleading conclusions."

Ferguson teaches at Texas A&M International University, where he researches violent behavior. He lists his interests as "examining violent behavior from a multivariate format, examining the combined impact of genetics, family environment, personality, mental health, and media violence." He adds that much of his recent research "has focused on positive and negative effects of playing violent video games."

I spoke with Christopher Ferguson earlier today.

(This is part one. Part two is here.)

So the news about this study in Pediatrics broke yesterday, but the reaction in public and professional quarters seems to be a bit skeptical.

There's some skepticism, but of course, as you're probably seeing there always is a little bit of, I don't know what the right word for it is. It gets a lot of attention. And of course there are a lot of adults who don't play games, who don't know much about them, and I think there's some anxiety about games like Grand Theft Auto in society, and particularly among older adults who don't know much about games. A lot of these studies that come out of Iowa and Michigan and other places tend to get a lot of attention, as this article obviously is, because of those underlying anxieties about games.

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