For the past two decades there have been loud arguments from certain sections of the media claiming that video games, more than any other type of entertainment, have a link to real-life violence. They have blamed mass shootings like the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 on games such as Doom and Grand Theft Auto. Throughout that time though, there has been little to no evidence of such a link despite a large number of studies investigating the relationship between whether playing video games can make a person more aggressive and more likely to be violent.
Yesterday, the American Psychological Association released a new paper that they claimed showed that there was a definitive link. The Task Force on Violent Media available on the APA website states that, “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”
The publication led to more news outlets claiming that there was finally proof that video games were harmful, especially to younger players, and that they were at least partly responsible for some violence. However, further controversy has now been sparked after more than 200 psychological researchers, media scholars, criminologists and psychologists signed an open letter that expressly opposed the findings of the APA and cast doubt on their research methods.
Highlighted in the opening paragraph of the open letter is the claim that the scientific evidence put forward by the APA is inconsistent and that the organization should adopt a neutral stance towards the issue rather than a biased policy towards proving a link. It also goes on to argue that many of the studies that the APA have included are not scientific experiments or peer reviewed research.
“The open letter states that the scientific evidence is inconsistent and that the APA should adopt a neutral stance rather than maintaining policy statements.”
A closer examination of the publication shows that many of the papers supporting the idea are unpublished papers or documents and, as pointed out by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, one of them was even a parent’s guide to Christmas shopping.
The scholars who signed the open letter were also critical of some of the findings made by the APA. Correlations linking real-life violence with playing video games could be flawed. Results could be skewed by the fact that most aggressive and violent crimes are committed by males and that males are more likely to play violent video games.
They also pointed out that youth violence in the US and other developed nations where video games are regularly played is “at a 40-year low”, indicating that the idea of a link does not fit with the statistical data on offer. Especially when you consider that gaming has grown to become more mainstream and popular now than ever before.
“This decline in societal violence is in conflict with claims that violent video games and interactive media are important public health concerns. The statistical data are simply not bearing out this concern and should not be ignored.”
The 230 signatories, who work at universities around the world, also pointed out that the APA seemingly ignored studies that had found no relationship between video games and acts of violence. In fact, one study by the Oxford Internet Institute found frustration from not being able to master the controls of a game or play a particular title was much more likely to cause aggressive behaviour than any content in the game.
Finally, the open letter points out that the aims of the APA and its various policy statements on the subject appear to be ideological and unhelpful in actually investigating the claim. “[The publications] serve to stifle scientific innovation and new theories and may inadvertently serve to increase publication bias, particularly given concerns about both disregard for null findings and researcher degrees of freedom.”
It appears fundamentally that the APA is simply scaremongering and attempting to purposely spread misinformation about the relationship between violence in video games and real-life aggression in an attempt to advance its aims of implementing further in-game controls to censor violence in video games. The organization is also making it more difficult for researchers to investigate the subject further as people are more willing to dismiss the findings because of the clear bias.