153: Monkey Play, Monkey Do

Monkey Play, Monkey Do

"Sometimes we had trouble separating the monkeys' quirks from the effects of the experiment. Some pairs of monkeys - especially males - simply hated each other. Sometimes certain monkeys would spend most of their time trying break out of the experiment cage, a feat that a devious little bastard named Othello achieved on a regular basis.

"Now imagine conducting a behavioral experiment on children, whom researchers cannot cage and whose feeding and home life they cannot control. Psychology research offers important insight into the way people think and react, but it is very easily misinterpreted. Is it any wonder that we still disagree about whether videogames cause violence?"

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Very well written. I have often heard that in person Jack Thompson is a relatively calm and rational person. i say relatively because he does use questionable tactics when it comes to meeting his ends. Anyway, this is the same debate that constantly rages. not whether violent video games are bad, but whether they have a causal link. Fortunately, there are not many instances to study this in the past, and even if you take into account only the last 20 years, there are far more instances of violence attributed to the personal beliefs of the aggressor, rather than his mental state (assuming that their beliefs are separate from they're mental state, though this is not always the case). Certainly video games can desensitize us to violence, but no more than music, movies, comic books and other social pariahs of the past. Perhaps someday there will have been enough instances of violence that the effect of video games on violent tendencies could be accurately measured, but until then, it's all a pointless debate.

I feel like I'm just regurgitating a useless affirmation of the standard defense of video games. Anyway, excellent article.

Oh yea? Well I heard on TV that they do cause kids to commit murder!

Trouble is, people who want to believe one thing can't be convinced otherwise. Seriously though, well done.

Good read.

As long as the law is getting paraded around so much, the extreme difficulty of legally proving a video game made someone commit a violent act cannot be understated. There's a great quote from the 8th Circuit case where they shot down the Mass. law banning the sale of games to minors:

"Whatever our intuitive (dare we say commonsense) feelings regarding the effect that extreme violence portrayed in the above-described video games may well have upon the psychological well-being of minors, [we still need] incontrovertible proof of a causal relationship between the exposure to such violence and subsequent psychological dysfunction...The requirement of such a high level of proof may reflect a refined estrangement from reality, but apply it we must."

Thank you for this article, perhaps there is still hope for reason and responsibility. Children do deserve for credit for their levels of sophistication and as a parent, I will try to give credit to my child.

What an excellent read!

We seem to live in an age where people dont want to be blamed or take responsibility; and video games just happen to be the latest punching bag. I do beleive this phase will pass and video games will get the recognition they deserve next to films and music.

Lets try and keep the generation of tommorow educated instead of teaching them how to blame outside influences for their own actions.

Excellent article. You successfully presented the arguments of both sides while coming to a definitive conclusion.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the pervasiveness of violence in all forms of media has long-term effects on our attitudes and dispostions towards violence, but there certainly hasn't been enough evidence to prove that is the truth, especially when it comes to video games.

I earnestly question the legitimacy of many psychological experiments in this regard. There is a significant difference between blowing a horn at somebody anonymously and killing somebody in cold blood. Except in the most extreme (and still arguable) of cases, being driven to aggression is not sufficient to commit murder -- one must still overcome their moral reasoning. Experiments showing increases in long-term aggression do not automatically show either a lack of moral reason nor a skewed or misdirected moral attitude.

The priming explanation is quite reasonable, especially when one considers the nature of these games and their immediate biological effects on the body. A game like Wolfenstein 3D consists almost entirely of surprises, with each turning of a corner possibly resulting in the character being shot by a ready-and-waiting guard. The anticipation, the expected quick response, and the hectic, fast-paced music, all create a sense of immediacy and tension. The player's adrenaline response kicks in, raising their heart rate and putting them into fight-or-flight mode. Compare this to Myst which has no time limits, no immediacy, calm music, and requires deep, concentrated thought rather than twitch reactions.

The fact that these violent video games cause players to experience adrenaline rushes is certainly not damning evidence. After all, many things cause us to experience adrenaline rushes. One look no further than the modern amusement park filled with thrilling, high-speed rides. Nobody would contend that these cause long-term violence, but they produce the same adrenaline response that playing most video games does. Adrenaline is a natural response to both fear and exhiliration.

However, people on an adrenaline high act different than those who are not. Among other things, adrenaline causes one to be twitchy, making split decisions often without taking time to fully consider the consequences. This is part of the fight-or-flight response. They also tend to have very exaggerated actions, such as talking fast and loud or using excessive force. Lastly, they tend to have higher tolerances to extreme sensations, such as pain and loud noises.

So it is not surprising that a person who had been playing an intense video game and was experiencing an adrenaline rush would proceed to blare a siren longer than somebody who was not. Not only would they likely press the button harder than a calm person, they would be less alarmed by the loud noise. Also, given that "time flies" from the perspective of somebody who is on an adrenaline rush, they probably would hold the horn longer, experiencing it, in their mind, as the same amount of time they otherwise would have pushed it.

All of these well-understood reactions to an adrenaline rush, which can easily be shown to occur while playing a game like Wolfenstein, would easily explain why the person would activate the horn longer than a calm person. It does not, however, show that they would be less likely to abide by moral considerations. This is especially true since, in this experiment, there were no apparent moral implications in blasting the horn -- aside from perhaps being mildly unenjoyable to the recipient, it's not the sort of action that even the Myst player objected to on moral grounds. If nothing else, a calm person would likely find the loud noise startling, quickly stopping, whereas the excited person would be ready for it and would have a much higher tolerance to it.

There's one particular thing I would like to point out here that makes a whole lot of difference in my mind.

This Excellent Article:
A recent Harvard School of Public Health study took a novel approach to the issue: The researchers held focus groups in which they talked to middle-school-aged boys and their parents about the games they played. Much to everyone's surprise, the study found that the 12- to 14-year-olds had sophisticated opinions about the games they played. Even though they enjoyed the violence of games like GTA, they understood it wasn't real.

Here, I'll "zoom in" in case you're not seeing what I'm talking about.

This Excellent Article:
The researchers held focus groups in which they talked to middle-school-aged boys and their parents about the games they played.

And again.

This Excellent Article:
talked to middle-school-aged boys

THEY TALKED TO THE KIDS. Who does that anymore? Not enough people, that's who. It's so much easier to tell the kids what to think, who to like, what to listen to, and then shove them in front of a screen with a controller and let a video game do the parenting.

Children have brains, thoughts and ideas too. Start talking TO them, instead of AT them, and I think you'll find that things are rather a bit different than you might believe.

All in all I found the article to be pretty even-handed and far-reaching. Everyone's in a hurry to assign blame these days (even me, squarely on every last parent who buys an M-rated game without so much as reading anything more than the title) but the article shows that we really, really need to look more closely into this entire situation.

The Rogue Wolf:
There's one particular thing I would like to point out here that makes a whole lot of difference in my mind.

This Excellent Article:
A recent Harvard School of Public Health study took a novel approach to the issue: The researchers held focus groups in which they talked to middle-school-aged boys and their parents about the games they played. Much to everyone's surprise, the study found that the 12- to 14-year-olds had sophisticated opinions about the games they played. Even though they enjoyed the violence of games like GTA, they understood it wasn't real.

Here, I'll "zoom in" in case you're not seeing what I'm talking about.

This Excellent Article:
The researchers held focus groups in which they talked to middle-school-aged boys and their parents about the games they played.

And again.

This Excellent Article:
talked to middle-school-aged boys

THEY TALKED TO THE KIDS. Who does that anymore? Not enough people, that's who. It's so much easier to tell the kids what to think, who to like, what to listen to, and then shove them in front of a screen with a controller and let a video game do the parenting.

Children have brains, thoughts and ideas too. Start talking TO them, instead of AT them, and I think you'll find that things are rather a bit different than you might believe.

All in all I found the article to be pretty even-handed and far-reaching. Everyone's in a hurry to assign blame these days (even me, squarely on every last parent who buys an M-rated game without so much as reading anything more than the title) but the article shows that we really, really need to look more closely into this entire situation.

That reminds me of Michael Moore's interview of Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine:
Moore: "[If you could talk to the kids who committed the Columbine massacre], what would you say to them?"
Manson: "I wouldn't say a single word to them, I would listen to what they had to say. And that's what no one did."

A very well researched and written article. More of these, please!

This is pretty good. Well done.

It's odd how many people still think of children as "precious little darlings", when the truth is rather different at times. Children can be cunning, ruthless, clever, manipulative... Not all of those are bad things, of course.

Thing is, children are a LOT more intelligent than most people give them credit for. The only people I know of who treat children as people rather than autistic badgers are the better class of children's author. No-one else.

Well, maybe teachers.

Overall, an excellent article.

Look, I say if the kid stops laughing insanely when a man is hit in the crotch, he is old enough to kill a man by shooting him in the crotch.

I did not detect bias in that article. No credit for video gamers but no credit to the people who make bias statements.

I truely don't think that violent video games or violent media cause violent behavior. I mostly think it is another scape goat for politicians to use to secure a place in office just as music, and comic books were in the past. I highly doubt that the politicians who talk about this connection haven't even experienced this media for themselves. I myself find it rather soothing. Usually when I am stressed after a long day I rather enjoy sitting down and playing Mortal Kombat: Armaggedon and disembowling my opponents durring the fatalities. Now I am not saying it is not possible that there isn't a connection in some places. Like if a young child is exposed to something say like like silent hill and they witnessed the blood violence and gore level might make them more likely to be violent especially if it's galmorized in media but overall there is not a very strong connection to violent games and media and violent behavior. p.s. Parents need to decide what they want their children to watch and play and if you you think your child is mature enough to handle it you can let them experience this media for themselves.

I have nothing to add but "good read"; I hope you contribute again.

Rooster Cogburn:
Oh yea? Well I heard on TV that they do cause kids to commit murder!

Trouble is, people who want to believe one thing can't be convinced otherwise. Seriously though, well done.

Exactly. I could never be convinced that violent video games caused people to have violent tendencies.

Michael, if you're reading, a question for you (and I guess for the thread at large): what do you think of the feasibility of running a long term study when the realistic violent video game is arguably less than 20 years old?

And, how would you go about separating the possible impact of the video game from the other factors in such a study, considering that it is fairly hard to put somebody in a bubble for the long term duration?

Best regards,

Robert Marks

Hey, guys! Sorry for the belated response; I've been traveling. I'm really glad you liked the article. Thanks for reading!

@Robert Marks:
The difficulty of a long-term study makes this kind of study very rare; there are really only two scenarios in which I could see this happening:
1) Experimental research indicates that video games are a significant contributor to violence, serious enough to justify the expense of a long-term study. Since this has not happened with violent TV or movies, which have been around much longer, I seriously doubt this would happen.
2)A component of video-game exposure is folded into an upcoming longitudinal study that otherwise focuses on other issues. This is unlikely also, because unlike movies or television, video games change substantially in their realism and level of interactivity; can one compare exposure to "Mortal Kombat" with exposure to "Crysis," when the two vary so much in their level of immersion and realism?

The biggest problem to me is that longitudinal studies are so difficult and expensive that we could invest that money in more obvious and proven causes of violence, like gang-intervention programs. As the Lancet editors wrote, the main reason there has been so much focus on games as a cause of violence is that more substantial causes of violence are far more difficult to tackle.

So, no... I don't think that a longitudinal study would actually be feasible.

The greatest value to me is the explanation of the 'Game r bad dur!' argument. I've never been able to find an intelligent answer when I asked why they thought that was. Best answer up to now was its 'common' sense.

=O Finally, a look at this issue that is backed up with FACTS! <3 Very well-written and researched. I don't have much else to say other than that, but I want to add my voice to the growing cheer of fans. :D

I think it is important that experiments use games that share a consistent point of view as a 3rd person perspective may make it easier to feel at a remove from their "alter ego". They didn't just chainsaw someone in half, Marcus Fenix did (even though they were controlling his actions). A 1st person perspective game may well be more immersive and lead the player to feel that they are responsible for their actions, so Gordon Freeman stays silent to avoid "breaking the spell" and make you aware that there is this other character involved interposing between you and the game world and making you second-guess your assumptions as to your freedom of choice - not just what you can do within the game world, but what you ought to do in order to conform to your adoptive role. The more that role is minimised the more you can feel free. Even the HUD (Head Up Display) of a game can break immersion by interposing between you and the 'world'. Operation Flashpoint 2 and Far Cry 2 strive to remove this HUD, making the games more immersive as a result - yet, ironically, I would assert that they represent less of an "emotional risk" as their desire for realism spreads the enemies so thin within an enormous map that they almost become dull.

I'd just like to see as much effort put into non-linear emergent gameplay as there is in story and presentation.

Too many wannabe movie directors spicing up dull multi-genre behemoths with a bit of sex, violence, bad language and drug abuse.

Yeah, the short-term aggression thing is old news. You can get the same thing from getting people to wear black shirts. Seriously, there was an experiment were one group of men were given white shirts, and the other black. They were then given a list of activities to choose from. The guys in black shirts consistently picked more aggressive activities. Sorry I don't have a link.

Excellent article, well researched and written, and clearly showing the bias by some researchers towards the political idea that 'Games == Violence cus then we can get votes/money by telling parents we'll get rid of it'. That said, I don't get this bit...

Michael A. Mohammed:
Surprisingly, I found Thompson to be friendly and open. Even when I disagreed with him, he treated me with respect. Despite much of his public rhetoric, in which he blames the GTA games as the sole cause of certain school shootings, he told me he sees videogames as one of many factors that contribute to violent crime.

"I wouldn't, nor would anybody in their right mind, say that videogames would turn a boy scout into Jeffrey Dahmer," he said, but games can encourage unbalanced people to become aggressive or violent and teach them "methodologies" to hurt people more effectively. He said he respects the First Amendment - since it makes protests like his own possible - but that the danger of videogame violence makes regulation necessary.

"I'm a conservative. I don't want government to have to do anything," he said. "I love the First Amendment."

Basically, I'm reading this as 'Jack Thompson doesn't believe his own argument'. He is or was campaigning for anti-gaming laws, and has harassed, bullied, and generally been a dickhead (including writting a letter to a developers mother calling her son a mass murderer) and yet he doesn't want laws against gaming cus it'd got against the First Ammendment?!

Seriously, what the hell...

Also, I call BS on the studies that 'prove a link between games and aggression', like you said too - short term aggression does not equal long term aggression.

I'd like to see a follow up to this where he interview Australia's Michael Atkinson. We're lucky in America in that we have the First Amendment to protect outright banning and censoring of video games. I mean they're censoring Left 4 Dead 2 because you get to cut limbs off of ZOMBIES and they bleed! Last I checked, zombies don't even exist!!

Article:
"We wanted to use next-generation technology to show the impact of a nuclear explosion," he said. "That was the best way to do it, other than making a more detailed mushroom cloud or something."

Reading that made me very sad. When I played through that scene in the original MW, it reminded me (in a good way) of Will Smith's death scene in "I Am Legend" (which I'd watched not long before): perhaps not a didactic sort of moment (although it's pretty easy to read "nukes r bad" into it), but an unquestionably powerful one, a great outpouring of human emotion in a human being's last moments of life. Nothing kills the vibe quite like learning that the entire scene was intended to serve as a spot of carefully orchestrated eyecandy.

Doug:

Basically, I'm reading this as 'Jack Thompson doesn't believe his own argument'. He is or was campaigning for anti-gaming laws, and has harassed, bullied, and generally been a dickhead (including writting a letter to a developers mother calling her son a mass murderer) and yet he doesn't want laws against gaming cus it'd got against the First Ammendment?!

Seriously, what the hell...

I'm pretty sure he does want laws against violent video games. He's just saying they shouldn't be banned altogether, as that would violate the First Amendment, which he loves. That's the gist I'm getting, at least.

I suppose violent video games are always going to serve as a scapegoat for general badness in society. Politicians like clear-cut straw-man problems which can be solved using straightforward solutions that deliver hazy, unquantifiable results. It's easier than dealing with homelesness or child abuse or sex trafficking, anyway.

 

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