A new University of Queensland study says there's good reason to worry about the dangers of violent videogames.
The debate over the impact of violent videogames on impressionable minds has been raging for almost as long as videogames have been around. The concern is that their interactive nature makes them far more influential than other media, such as television or movies. Watching a guy get shot on the screen isn't nearly as impactful as pulling the trigger yourself, the thinking goes, even if "pulling the trigger" just means clicking a button on a mouse or controller.
But Dr. Brock Bastian of the University of Queensland's School of Psychology says fears about the influence of violent games are well-founded, as his new study has found that people who play these games tend to see their opponents, and even themselves, as "lacking in core human qualities such as warmth, open-mindedness and intelligence."
The specifics of the study weren't revealed, but players were pitted against one another in the classic fighting game Mortal Kombat. Players were also put up against the computer to see if it "diminished one's humanity" to the same extent, and the results from both studies were compared to a similar one featuring a non-violent game. The results, according to Bastian, suggest potentially serious long-term effects on fans of violent videogames which could result in "chronic changes in self-perception."
But it seems, at least to my untrained eye, that the good doctor might have gone into this study with certain preconceptions that he wanted to confirm. "There are good reasons to be concerned: the negative effects of violent videogames have been well documented and appear to be more significant than those associated with other forms of violent media," he said in a University of Queensland News report. The finding that playing violent videogames would lead players to see themselves as less human was "expected," he added.
"We also expected that, in line with previous work on real-life violence, players would view their opponents as less human when they were the targets of violence compared to when they were opponents in a non-violent videogame," he said. "In addition, we found that although players felt dehumanized when engaging in videogame violence, even when this is directed towards computer-generated avatars, it is only when another player is the target of this violence that they are also dehumanized."
I'm not sure how exactly one measures "humanity" in a scientific study, particularly when the methodology of said study is hidden behind a veil of academic alarmism. I'm also not entirely clear on how the "dehumanization" that takes place when you're trying to kick somebody's ass in the Netherrealm is all that terribly different from that of, say, the high school football field, particularly when the coach tells you he wants to see the opposing quarterback face down and twitching. Other than that, though, it all seems perfectly reasonable.