Another Day, Another Alarmist Warning Against Violent Games

Another Day, Another Alarmist Warning Against Violent Games
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Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a powerful statement about the effects of “virtual violence” on children that media psychologists are describing as disingenuous.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Arguing that U.S. children are “exposed increasingly to ‘virtual violence’ in first-person shooter games and other realistic video games,” the AAP is calling for stricter parental regulation of children’s exposure to violent media. Titled “The Evolution of Virtual Violence: How Mobile Screens Provide Windows to Real Violence,” the statement claims that “there is broad scientific consensus that virtual violence increases aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours.”

To solve the apparent problem of violent games, the AAP is asking the entertainment industry to stop glamorising weapons, gamifying human death with rewards and portraying violence without its emotional effects on victims. They also ask paediatricians and parents to together discern a proper “media diet” for children, a suggestion that would be uncontroversial if it was not founded on flawed premises.

The implied premise of the new statement, that there is a causal or even correlative link between violent games and long-term aggressive behaviour, has been repeatedly debunked over the last several decades, though some reports do allege otherwise.

Many of the testing methods used to measure aggression in scientific studies are only able to examine the short-term effects of violent media; there have been very few longitudinal studies that look at how violent games and movies affect people over an extensive period of time. As a result, the research on violent games’ long-term effect on real-life behaviour is inconclusive at best.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

The AAP’s statement cites a number of psychologists who have spoken out against violence in games. Its most cited source, Brad Bushman, has shown that subjects who play violent games experience short-term boosts in antisocial behaviour. The AAP’s statement, in turn, notes that “the linkage between virtual violence and aggression has been well supported and is robust.”

In fact, reports demonstrating a causal or even correlative link between media and long-term behaviour do not exist, which the same AAP statement notes later on: “It is true that an experimental, real-world study that links virtual violence with real-world violence has not been conducted.” Short-term boosts in angry behaviour or feelings are not the same as aggravated assault, a conflation that appears misleading to experts on media psychology who spoke to Kotaku today.

The author of the AAP statement did not respond to multiple requests for comment by press time.

Villanova psychology professor Patrick Markey studies video games and mental health. His research has concluded that games do not promote violent crime, but his real issue with the AAP report is its flawed portrayal of scientific consensus.

“My biggest concern about the statement is that is presents a false picture of what scientists think,” he said. “Most researchers don’t think there’s any link between real-world violence and games.”

Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

James Ivory, a professor of communication at Virginia Tech, agreed, adding that he has “no problem with the idea of limiting kids’ access to violent media for moral reasons or just as a precautionary thing. But this is a statement that overstates the severity of known effects of violent media and the degree of consensus about the effects of violent media. I think it’s a little problematic.”

On Huffington Post, Christopher Ferguson, Stetson University professor of psychology, rigorously critiqued the AAP’s new report. He described the new statement as “strangely defensive and frustrated” and “distort[ing] the research evidence.” Ferguson refers readers to a 2013 letter written to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violent Media.

There, 230 media scholars, psychologists and criminologists and spoke out against the APA’s “current policy statements on media violence including video games as misleading and alarmist.” And, again, three years later, here we are.

The question of why the AAP would stoke the violent-media panic trashfire is difficult. Markey suggested competition for funding as one reason, noting that controversy can help scientists stand out and potentially add urgency to their need for grant money. When competing for grants with cancer research and climate change, researchers who study media can feel less important, Markey said.

Ivory, for his part, agreed: “When you study the effect of media, it’s hard to be important if you say you don’t know.”


  • The AAP policy makes concessions for female circumcision, but sure, violent video games are clearly of concern!

    The AAP holds so many olde worlde views which entirely colour their recommendations that it’s impossible to take them seriously in this age. This bias is what has them promoting male circumcision in spite of the accumulated evidence, and this subject is no different.

    Old white men should be seen on the golf course and not heard.

  • The only thing I agree with, is stricter parental regulation.


    • *buys $150 pack of pokeballs for kids on phone, tells them to pokemon go outside, collapses back into couch.*

      • Hey, you did get up and there was involvement lol

        That’s still better than wondering where your kids are from the couch while trying to figure ouit why your bank account is periodically spent on iTunes.

  • Speaking of Funding, the NRA are infanous for funding this type of research and anti-video game parent groups so they can saturate the media with this tripe to deflect that guns kill people. Which the US media jumps on to cause they want the controversial topic to blame and they cant blame guns (cause NRA sues and harrasses them)

  • This annoying (and false) rhetoric of blaming violence directly on videogames masks better questions that need to be addressed. Like ‘do FPS games influence individuals to think of guns as useful problem solving tools’ and if so ‘does this influence the state of gun law reform in America’.

    There MAY be problems with violence in videogames, but this alarmist nonsense does nothing to address anything tangible.

    • Word. I saw a documentary once that actually addressed the raised aggression from the competitive aspect of gaming, rather than the violence. The results were similar to FPS games as they were to Tetris, and sport.

  • Same crap all the time recycle, recycle, recycle it’s what you gotta do.
    My favourite bit is where they show…wait for it…..waaaaaait……..’Grand Theft Auto’ and then cut to a 10 year old playing it. Hilarious. Hello parent, learn to read and understand the ratings system that has been in place since cave men roamed the earf!

  • …it’s hard to be important if you say you don’t know.Just that quote applies to so many people in so many jobs.

  • Alright I’m getting sick of this shit. These “studies” are nothing but bull, who funds these guys? Fox News? F*ck the AAP and f*ck the media, they target a culture they don’t understand and call out every negative aspect of games claiming that they’re the second coming of Satan himself.

    Hey America, it’s not GTA that’s making your teenagers go on killing sprees, its the fact that guns are available for purchase at your local 7 Eleven!

    What a coincidence too, this “study” came out mere days after the terrorist attack in Nice. Scaremongering c*ckbags! Stop ignoring facts and get out of your hugboxes, gaming does not cause violence! It’s the individuals who are too f*cked in the head to distinguish the difference between reality and fiction, and the laid back soccer mums who demand censorship everywhere they go rather than, oh I don’t know, BEING A PARENT!

  • I don’t think video games cause violence directly but I believe they’re part of the puzzle. Nature, nurture, environment, role models, media, they all come together to make someone behave violently. Video games (just like music, books and movies) can be powerful influencers and teachers in both positive and negative ways.

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