PBS Discusses Violent Video Games, Doesn’t Jump To Wild Conclusions

PBS Discusses Violent Video Games, Doesn’t Jump To Wild Conclusions

The PBS NewsHour doesn’t chop news into soundbites and doesn’t mistake banter or squabbling for good television journalism. They actually do TV reporting the way you might hope it would be done.

When the NewsHour invited me to head down to their Washington DC studios a few Fridays ago to talk to them about violent video games, I expected I’d wind up being part of a news segment that respected the intelligence of gamers.

I was right.

Last night, the NewsHour aired the piece. It’s a 10-minute segment about violent video games. You can watch it above, along with a related excerpt from Frontline.

The NewsHour was examining the idea that violent games could be one of the agents that lead to events like the Sandy Hook school shooting. I think most gamers would dismiss that idea immediately. Millions of us play games and yet there are not millions of shootings by people who play games. But we also know, as our own Jason Schreier exhaustively reported, that there is a good amount of scientific evidence that violent games may raise levels of aggression in kids — though what counts as “aggression” in these studies is a far, far cry from a willingness to murder. You’ll see some of what Jason reported recapitulated in the PBS piece by the researchers themselves.

People who are against violent video games will find some sympathetic voices in this NewsHour segment. People who play them or who are unafraid of them will find people to agree with as well.

You’ll also see and hear from me in the piece. I had spent my short visit at the NewsHour playing Black Ops II and Grand Theft Auto IV with senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown (credit to him for being willing to learn how to play a dual-analog shooter). Brown and I discussed what we were playing as we played. Some it made air; most didn’t make the cut, as is the case of most of any TV interview one does. The point I wanted to make comes through: watching violent video games isn’t the same as playing them; to understand games, you really ought to play them to get a feel for what they’re like.

After I shot the segment at the NewsHour I was actually a bit worried. I worried that talking-while-playing doesn’t produce the most coherent conversation. I was also worried that I’d failed to clearly enough express how it feels to play a violent video game: that chasing down cops in GTA, for example, feels less like playing through a morbid violence fantasy and more like poking at a system…pushing the opponents as far as you dare and then seeing how long you can survive when they push back. It’s the push and pull of video game systems that I think ensnares so many of us. I didn’t mind once I saw the piece, because I thought the ordinary gamers profiled in the piece do a fine job of explaining why they play.

There’s really only one voice missing from this otherwise well-rounded segment. I call them out in the piece. Gamers show up in this one. A Game reporter does. Game researchers do. Game critics do. So who’s not there? The people who make video games. According to PBS, even their lobbying group declined to appear on the segment. It’s too bad (but not surprising). It surely would make games seem a little less scary.

Can Violent Video Games Play a Role in Violent Behavior? [PBS NewsHour]


  • Newshour’s brilliant. It’s what other journalism shows should try and aspire to be (if maybe a little easier to digest)

  • What I would like to see in these sort of studies is comparing the supposed increased aggressiveness of someone playing a violent video game to the increased aggressiveness (or other emotions) of consuming other entertainments, particularly sports such as MMA or even football.
    There is way more real aggression and violence in a real person tackling another real person into the ground than there is in any video game.
    Edit: I’m not attacking footy or anything but if increased aggressiveness really is the important metric that creates violent killers, and if that is what they really care about, why are they not looking at the things that engender the most aggressiveness?
    Cause of a breed of goat I’m guessing.

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