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Dumb things pop-culture critics say: video games cause violence

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Offline kat

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[original image courtesy Wikipedia]

Summary: to "culture critics", the social and political sciences, psychology, sociology et al, video games cause violence because of an innate aggression pathology, a linear and highly scalable framework that accounts for otherwise innocuous to more acute expressions of aggression. In other words a gamer aggressively throwing off their headset post-match is simply a matter of degrees below acute or lethal expressions of violence; the leap from one to the other having never been manifestly shown, does not matter, it only matters that the framework allows for the possibility. It's in the possibility, combined with the individuals infinitely flexible response to stimuli, researchers are afforded the latitude required to advocate and popularise what then becomes the unfalsifiable premise that violent video games cause violence or violent behaviour[0].

• • •

To date there are in excess of 10,000 published papers on "video game violence"[1], some dated prior to what has now become the go-to incident frequently used to evidence the violent games cause real violence[2] argument, Columbine. That's a good 30 to 40 years of video game specific research all told. So much data in fact the American Psychological Association (APA) has long held the position, at least since the mid-2000's, the "...link [between violent video game exposure and aggressive behaviour] continues to be a reliable finding..."[3] even though "...literature [on the subject] uses a variety of terms and definitions ... sometimes ... interchangeably"[4], an equivocacy the APA dismisses as being in any way detrimental to the disciplines collected findings on the matter by in fact suggesting such interpretive flexibility speaks to the "breadth of interest" in the subject, one in which language and meaning is used contextually by the layman, the politician, policy maker, to law enforcement and the Courts. This stance on the effects of exposure to violent video games is considered settled science, enough for the APA Council and general members to advocate the games industry address a number of issues research highlights as published in the "Resolution on Violent Video Games" policy report (last updated in 2015).

This contextually sensitive reading of "aggression" and "violence" as behavioural patterns is increasingly difficult to reconcile with the realities of understanding passive (potential) versus active (kinetic) aggression and violence, the difference between acts expressed in, and as responses to, video games and other media, versus those of real people in the real-world committing real, harmful acts of aggression and/or violence against others. As the above Resolution states "[t]his distinction is important for understanding this research literature, which has not focused on lethal violence as an outcome. Insufficient research has examined whether violent video game use causes lethal violence.[5]".

This intrinsic subjectivity essentially makes it relatively straightforward to find both correlation and causation links between violent games and behavioural violence because an underlying and defining characteristic is an easily evidenced aggression metric[6], a matrix of expressive probabilities to stimuli, motivators designed to elicit a theoretical likelihood of an aggressive behavioural or emotional response that can then be scaled towards more extreme outcomes. In other words, the correlation/causation links proposed position individuals on an aggression scale[6b] that trends towards more predictable possibilities of harm, rather than an accounting of actual harm[7].

This makes findings in support of a positive assertion[7a], that perhaps stimuli event = (+/-) response = aggression + frequency|intensity = violence[7b], a highly probable, even likely, outcome of such research regardless as to its merits, significance, or veracity, results more-often-than-not difficult to disprove or challenge precisely because of such scalable association/s[7c]; once aggression is evidenced, violence being an outcome is considered an all but foregone conclusion because each expression simply manifests at a different location on the same linear aggression scale, e.g., [less aggression] passive > insignificant > minor > heightened > overt > severe > acute > lethal [more aggression].

Such predetermined conditions, when considered in relation to the question "do violent games cause violent behaviour", mean it is neigh impossible to answer in the negative, that violent video games do not cause people to become violent in a way that matters in the real world, because "violence" as noted above, is simply a unique response node on the same theoretical aggression continuum - the more suggestively 'aggressive' the individual responds to stimuli associated with the emotion/action, the more likely they are considered to be "aggressive" in the sense of being potentially violent, even though they may never outwardly express any such sentiment(s)[8].

And this leaves the larger discussion at an odd, never-to-be-resolved place, because that simple question does not hold the same meaning to a behavioural or social scientist as it does to a lawyer or jury, or even the layman, their interests are fundamentally different, the former deals ostensibly with speculative 'cause', the latter with actual 'effect', which requires objective, tangible evidence of an occurrence, a legal test the former can never adequately satisfy[9].

[0] the claim that violent video game cause violent behaviour is ostensibly unfalsifiable using the same principles, processes and tools as those employed in establishing the argument.

[1] Using the explicit search term "video game violence" to search a number of academic and research 'clearing houses', the following results were returned, for which there may be a degree of overlap/cross-over/duplication where the same material is published to multiple networks. Furthermore there may also be significant issues with content miscategorisation due to materials dealing with video game violence being mentioned in passing support of a papers thesis, rather than specifically as a primary subject of research or study (especially with regards to Google Scholar);
 - PubMed.gov: 289,
 - PubMedCentral: 1,006,
 - American Psychological Association: 211,
 - Sage Journals: 4,824,
 - Wiley Open Access: 99,
 - Open Science Framework: 721,
 - Science Direct: 3,238,
 - Google Scholar: 166,000 (search lists any mention of the terms),
 - Microsoft Academic: 324 (search modified to "video gameS violence" else 2 listings reported).

[2] Klebold and Harriswere found to have had significant interest in Doom and other 'violent', often 'mature' rated, games.

[3] Resolution on Violent Video Games, para. 5 - "The link between violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior is one of the most studied and best established. Since the earlier meta-analyses, this link continues to be a reliable finding and shows good multi-method consistency across various representations of both violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior (e.g., Moller & Krahe, 2009; Saleem, Anderson, & Gentile, 2012).".

[4] Resolution on Violent Video Games, para. 7 - "The violent video game literature uses a variety of terms and definitions in considering aggression and aggressive outcomes, sometimes using "violence" and "aggression" interchangeably, or using "aggression" to represent the full range of aggressive outcomes studied, including multiple types and severity levels of associated behavior, cognitions, emotions, and neural processes.".

[5] Resolution on Violent Video Games, para. 7 & 8 - "Violence can be defined as an extreme form of aggression (see Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2000) or the intentional use of physical force or power, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in harm (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi, & Lozano,2002 ). Thus, all violence, including lethal violence, is aggression, but not all aggression is violence.".

[6] an "aggression metric" can be considered the collation of various factors that might result in an individual expressing aggression; for example from simple emotional responses to subjectively upsetting materials, to factors such as socioeconomic affects on upbringing, work/life stressors, down to the individuals physiology.

[6b] an "aggression scale" is simply any means through which subject response to stimuli can be comparatively measured and/or assessed - scale of 1 to 10, less likely/more likely, negative to positive scale and so on.

[7] theoretical aggression responses are not necessarily manifest instances of aggression, i.e., physical acts, actions or outward expressions of aggression, a subject punching a wall for example. They are instead typically non-kinetic emotional 'beacons' researchers can tag as "aggressive" responses to appropriately designed stimuli, often cue-cards or questionnaires, but can be anything that is likely to elicit a response. With that said there is a body of research showing apparent causal links where minors have shown increased tendencies towards "aggressive" behaviours after exposure to stimuli. However, such research often fails to sufficiently clarify whether the individual is responding to the nature of the material they were exposed to, or because they were subsequently 'ginnied up' (colloquialism for "ginned up") as a consequence of the mechanisms used to test their exposure, i.e., is watching video footage of a fight making the person fight/want to, vs. their role-playing or otherwise physically acting out a fight or conflict. Furthermore in this regard, rarely is the context of aggression distinguished; the aggression expressed during competitive activities (sports) seem simply a different node on the 'aggression scale' as responses to passive media consumption might be (action/thriller movie), or that attributed to physical/kinetic conflict (bar/street fight). As the APA notes, "all violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence" (cf. note 5).

[7a] "positive assertion" is the recognition a response was had, not that such was 'positive' ('good') or 'negative' ('bad').

[7b] "stimuli event = (+/-) response = aggression + frequency|intensity = violence" this faux equation helps visualise how the process by which simple emotional responses tagged as "aggressive" can be scaled infinitely to include overt, acute and lethal aggression (lethal violence). In essence the individual is prompted through stimuli and gives a response, one that is not necessarily required to be outward or obvious. The frequency or intensity of the response then indicates whether there is a possibility of more severe or lethal expressions, violence, without there being the need to induce such behaviours. In other words the equation is calculating a theoretical potentiate, not an actual one (the rules, regulations and policies in place protecting all research participants from direct and indirect harm prevents, or restricts what can and cannot be done for research purposes, even with informed consent).

[7c] in other words,,because violence is simply an extreme form of aggression, finding cause for the latter (aggression) instantly means there's a potential for the former (violence) regardless of there being any direct indication of such, i.e., the subject actually expressing violence towards others.

[8] e.g., requiring an individual go through anger management therapy despite there never being any indications they were angry, thus causing them to become angry by denying of them the fact they were not originally angry, which in turn justifies their being in therapy because they now are  angry.

[9] SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES - Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. (Argued November 2, 2010—Decided June 27, 2011): "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media." (pg. 2) [emphasis added] and "...have been rejected by every court to consider them" (fn. 6, p14) pp. 14-15. [Justice Breyer's dissenting opinion in this case, which addresses Anderson et al's research specifically, was predicated on his own ignorance of the materials referenced in the case so his dissenting conclusion was drawn through an "appeal to authority"; it wasn't that he found the research to be true, rather that he assumed it must be true because the researcher(s) are experts in their fields, whereas he is not, and their conclusions, say they are].