Monkey See, Monkey Don't? New Study Suggests There Is No Link Between Video Games and Violence
Hitting the news in the past week was the tragic story of an elderly woman shot dead by an eight-year-old in Atlanta, reportedly after playing Grand Theft Auto 4. Unsurprisingly, news outlets were quick to hone in on this fact, re-igniting the debate that we've heard many times before; do video games incite violent behaviour in children?
However, in a recent study published in Springer's Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Professor Christopher Ferguson, of Stetson University in Florida, claims he has found no evidence to suggest that violent video games make children more angry or aggressive. In fact, there's evidence to prove the contrary.
In his study of 377 children with an average age of 13, Ferguson actually found that violent video games were an emotional and "cathartic" outlet for the teenagers. This was especially true for those within the study that suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and displaying depressive symptoms: playing violent games actually helped to lower their aggression levels. However, he has stated that even though these particular details are interesting that they should be approached "cautiously."
Of course, the lack of any solid evidence of causal links between video games and violent crimes is something the gaming community have pointed out for as long as the debate has raged on. Michael Moore also famously lambasted such notions of direct influence in his Oscar-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine, highlighting that no news agencies commented on the fact that teen mass murderers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were enjoying a game of ten pin bowling immediately before committing their crimes.
Whilst Ferguson's study comes as very little surprise to many gamers, the fact there is now empirical evidence to prove what everyone already knew is most welcomed. It will also undoubtedly provide an interesting talking point at PAX Prime 2013 in Seattle this weekend, where there will be a specific panel examining real life violence and the perceived influence of video games over such crimes.
Ferguson also comments that the fact violent children happen to play or have played violent games, is far more a matter of statistics than evidence of negative behavioural effects.
"Statistically speaking it would actually be more unusual if a youth delinquent or shooter did not play violent video games, given that the majority of youth and young men play such games at least occasionally."
Interestingly, in the same edition of the journal that Ferguson's study is published in, there's a study by the American Secret Service that claims that aggressiveness and stress is more of a cause of youth violence than video games.
When you also consider PixWoo.com's survey earlier this year that found that the average gamer age is an astonishing 35-years-old, and that woman are just as likely to be gamers as men, this further steels the notion that such moral panics are caused by hyperbole, media sensationalism, and lazy stereotyping/social profiling.
Not quite Bowling for Columbine. Screenshot of bowling mini-game in Grand Theft Auto 4.
Not So Rockstar & Roll
Of course, it's unfortunate that Rockstar Games is having many fingers pointed at them as the culprits for the Atlanta shooting, especially as they're well underway with their promotion of their latest installment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. They're also having to deal with Sony's embarrassing leaks of content ahead of its release.
However, although issuing a statement stating their deep regrets regarding the incident, it doesn't seem to have slowed down the insane momentum of impending Grand Theft Auto V. But then again, Rockstar Games are no strangers to controversy of this sort, being on the receiving end of much criticism for their depictions of violent and mature acts throughout their flagship series.