The Grey Areas of Game Violence


In light of the furor surrounding Australia's R18+ games rating debate, Distinguished Professor Anderson, Director of Centre of the Study of Violence at Iowa State University had some words of wisdom to impart: "a discussion is certainly worthwhile".

Speaking at a guest lecture on Tuesday night at Macquarie University, Prof. Anderson presented findings from studies that linked violent videogames to aggressive behaviour, and 'pro-social' games (games with no violence) to 'pro-social' behaviour.

Initially, he made it seem very black and white: children who played games that simulated positive activities like Chibi Robot and Mario Sunshine became more helpful, whereas violent videogames lead to immediate signs of increased aggression in gamers. The comparisons in the risk factor of violent gaming was alarming. According to Anderson, violent games were more likely to increase levels of aggression in people who played them, more than substance abuse, low IQ, poor socio-economic background, and poor relations with parents. Furthermore, the likelihood of violent games causing aggressive behaviour was higher than asbestos exposure causing cancer, and nicotine patches assisting smokers in quitting.

However, Anderson conceded that there are grey areas where there simply aren't enough studies about videogaming to make any conclusive statements.

"My guess is that games that have a mix of helpful and hurtful behaviour [like co-op shooters]probably have more of a mix of effects ... some are likely to be positive, and others, harmful," he said.

"We'd like to move in that direction but it's very difficult to do that kind of research. I think it's interesting that you can learn some teamwork and co-operative types of things, in many contexts those are positive skills."

As certain as Anderson is of violent games leading to aggression, he doesn't think it is fair to blame them for anti-social behaviour.

"When I see media reports that say 'oh this German school shooter played Counter Strike and therefore that shows that playing Counter Strike causes school shootings' - that's not what that shows. In any specific incidence, you can't know what proportion of this event is attributable to depression, to stopping taking medication, to poor family or parent child relationships, to the easy availability of guns, and what proportion of the blame belongs to violent media," he said.

Anderson says that violent games are only one risk factor out of many, and that extreme acts of violence always require multiple risk factors being present.

Despite his beliefs that violent videogames can have detrimental effects on gamers, he states that his role as a social psychologist is to provide the scientific facts - not to decide on public policies on anyone's behalf.

"Just because something is harmful doesn't mean you have to pass a law restricting it. It depends on what other values come into play."

"On personal values, let me give you an example about handguns... Let's pretend that you are convinced that restricting handguns would dramatically lower violent crime rates in the United States. Does that mean you, personally, will also be in favour of strict handgun laws? Well, the answer to that is no. What if you so strongly value the ability to get a gun whenever you want that you're willing to live with higher violent crime rates in order to serve this other value? That's perfectly reasonable."

According to Anderson, the same idea can apply to videogames.

"A discussion is certainly worthwhile, but what is the correct or optimal public policy is for Australia to decide. It's not a scientific question as much as it's a political and social question, and it's one that Australians need to think about carefully, weigh the pluses and minuses, and try to come to some sort of consensus."


    its a bummer australia is such a nanny country.
    i mean if i go 1 km over the speedlimit in NSW i loose my lincense for 3 months. if i dont wear a little red P then i pay $190 secound offence or not wearing 2 little Ps gets me no lincense for 2 months.
    Its not looking good gamers

    I gather Atkinson wasnt in attendance.

    Side note - it said it was presented on Tuesday - but thats today.

    Having a Psychology degree, it is nothing new to know that children imitate behaviour (look up BoBo Doll experiment). But like what was said in this discussion, there is not enough studies to suggest that playing violent video games leads to anti-social behaviour, and I would like to know where Mr. Atkinson gets this information from. Studies to date have only looked at the short term/immediate effects of behaviour that follow after playing or viewing violent behaviour, there has not been any studies done on the long term effects, or longitudinal studies. It's about time that people stopped using video games as a scapegoat and started looking at the many other variables that come into play here. IQ, socio-economic background, environment in the family home are all FAR MORE compelling reasons that lead to violence and anti-social behaviour.

    I'd like to see him plot that against other socio-economic factors.
    I honestly believe there's a much higher rate of violent people buying violent games than violent games causing violent people

    We have to protect the children!!!! :(

    A woman in a big SUV nearly rear-ended my car in a NSW school zone today. I was doing the legal 40, she came up behind me much faster and I had to speed up to avoid her. The punch-line: she was taking her little girl to school (and she kept turning around to talk to her instead of watching the road).

    The government shouldn't be trying to protect the children by taking away the rights of responsible adults. Some parents will still find a way to f*ck up their kids.

    Sooo... playing video games is more likely to cause violent crime than say... Ice addiction? Your credibility just skyrocketed!

    Some of his arguments are perfectly reasonable, but come on: substance abuse? Has anyone ever mugged a person for a hit of DS? What about these "poor relationships" with parents? Does this mean typical teenage behaviour? Abuse? Absentee parents?

    Anything worthwhile that he says is going to get lost in the absolute garbage that he laces it with.

    The problem with Anderson is he's a social psychologist, which is the 20th Century equivalent of a phrenologist.

    Social psychology is more related to quantum physics than simple biology, and we have gaps so large in our understanding about humans and society that simple, clinical observation is NOT an appropriate way to question and query these incredibly complex interactions between humans, the mind and society.

    @ Dave

    Having a degree in Psychology, you should know that the (in)famous BoBo Experiment was lacking in proper controls, heavily led subjects to the desired outcome and was misleading in its interpretation of results. It has been debunked more times than it has been upheld and is seriously the last place you should be looking. There are plenty of much more reliable studies.

    When I was a kid, playing with A-Team toys or GI Joes lead to more violent and warlike play. I also killed a Barbie or two in my time. My son flips around the house when we put on his Kung Fu Panda DVD. He'll fly his EVE toy around the room if we're watching WALL-E.

    I can't tell you what he'd do if we watched Wanted, because he's a kid and won't be watching it. Not unlike the more 'violent' video games, especially those that are R elsewhere and crammed into an MA pigeonhole here.

    Do people tend to emulate behaviour seen in or empathise emotionally with entertainment mediums? Undoubtedly, yes. Racing games stress me more than real driving. Violent games pump up the adrenaline and kick in my primal fight/flight responses. We're still animals, after all.

    Does that mean a fucking thing when it comes to knowing the difference between reality and fiction on a conscious level? No.
    I'm not about to dive for a shotgun if the doorbell rings if I'm playing Resident Evil any more than I'm likely to try casting a spell after watching a Harry Potter movie. One's fantasy. One's reality.

    If you can't tell the difference, you're either a child (and shouldn't have access to the material we're being denied) or you were broken long before you picked up a controller.

    Things must have been so much easier when Elvis was to blame.

    @ El Phantasmogoro

    While I am aware of the problems of the experiment, I was merely trying to provide a simple experiment for people to look at. I'll shut up from now on good sir

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