Hello everyone! Please find my Graduate research paper which discusses media biases toward video games and the "war" on violent video games!
Video Games and Violence: Why Psychoanalysis Should Not Be the Only Methodology Used for an Evolving Discipline.
Dr. Matthew Bailey
May 8th, 2020
The field of Game Design and Studies has always been a controversial one. Public massacres, like the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, were blamed on violent video games. Since then, scholars and researchers in the field have studied the effects of video games. They sought to prove whether it is indeed true that playing violent video games leads to real-world violence and aggression. By employing psychoanalytic methodologies to study both the short and long-term effects of video games, researchers received their answer in 2015. In 2015, the American Psychological Association ruled that, although there is no link between violent crime and video games, they had sufficient data linking raised aggression to violent video games. However, independent studies have demonstrated that playing these "violent" video games can improve cognition. Also, playing video games can yield many benefits, such as improved spatial recognition, increased levels of empathy, better cognitive function, and refined problem-solving skills (Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014). Despite these findings, numerous articles and journals still purport that video games promote violence and aggression.
In most cases, these findings are the results of poorly constructed studies, with flawed methodologies. These studies rely on small sample sizes that lack diversity, and relevant data is often omitted (Ferguson, 2018). Additionally, results get skewed, due to media bias, and moral panic towards video games. Video games have mostly been studied and criticized from one viewpoint--a negative one. It has been over 30 years, and the approach to video games from a scholarly perspective has not changed. Due to these reasons, video games gained a negative reputation in the eyes of the public. This researcher will show that video games are, in fact, more prosocial than harmful, by employing a three-fold methodological approach. In addition to the psychoanalysis, this researcher will use Deconstructionism and Post-Modernism, to show that the negative reputation video games have is due to cognitive biases which need reforming.
State of the Field
In the 1990s, there was not much to be said about video games. A few scholars believed there was a link between violence and video games, but they were infrequent, and disregarded. Ferguson (2018) observes this, "During this time, however, research was slim and, for the most part, did not support links between violent games and negative outcomes"(Ferguson, 2018, p. 412). Everything changed when two high schoolers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, committed the worst massacre in history at the time--the Columbine shooting. That pivotal moment in history not only impacted society and the families struck by tragedy, but it also affected a field that one would not think of, video games.
After the Columbine shooting occurred, word spread that the shooters played a video game called Doom. Doom is a first-person shooter (FPS) video game that follows "Doomguy," a space marine whose sole purpose is to fight hordes of demons from hell. The game's initial release was in 1993, and despite receiving critical acclaim from gamers and critics, it sparked controversy in the public's eye. Protestors from religious organizations criticized the game for its religious undertones, while other researchers feared it simulated real-life murder. These criticisms were disregarded because of the acclaim and success the game had acquired. However, once word got out that Harris and Klebold played Doom, that solidified the notion that video games cause violence, and create murderers capable of such malfeasance. Ferguson comments, “This changed in the 2000s when, following closely on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which was linked to the violent game Doom in the public consciousness, research on video games skyrocketed and scholarly narratives about games became increasingly gloomy" (Ferguson, 2018, p. 412). Scholarly articles grew exponentially after the Columbine shooting, and unfortunately, a lot of these studies have flawed methodologies, filled with bias (Ferguson, 2018). Then in 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared that, while there was no link between "violent" video games and crime, they had sufficient evidence to conclude "violent" video games can cause raised levels of aggression.
Game scholars who wanted to study the evidence the APA compiled wrote letters requesting the data. The APA responded with silence. For almost three decades, countless other articles, highlighting the benefits to gaming, and new scholarly findings of video games have been published. These articles, written by Game Right Advocates, have found, through conducting studies, such things as improved spatial recognition, increased empathy, and better academic performance. Nevertheless, that information did not get the attention to the same extent as the negative received. The current year is now 2020 and despite the APA's rulings, a large portion of the public still sees video games as a potential gateway to violence and aggression. One must wonder--with all the new information showing the bias and flawed methodologies, why has the image surrounding video games remained the same?
The way video games are studied and analyzed has not changed in over 30 years. The majority of the articles, if not all, are always approached from a Psychoanalytic approach. The methodology of Psychoanalysis, when applied to literature, tries to find Freudian aspects. In the field of Game Studies, Psychoanalysis is used to study the short-term, or long-term effects on a person (or group of people), when playing a particular video game. A generic case study example would be Researcher A gathers a group of males,--most likely white males. Researcher A has selected Video Game B, and is going to test the effects it has on the male players. No background information is gathered on the participants. This step gets skipped, and it could result in a participant that comes from an abusive home, to skew and inaccurately produce data. Nonetheless, the study proceeds until completion, and shortly after, the results are published. The findings are akin to "Our findings add to the previous literature that playing video game B has adverse side effects on the players, which include but are not limited to reduced empathy and higher levels of aggression at the end of the study." Example one, "This result supports the growing literature on long-term effects of repeated exposure to media violence" (Carnagey & Anderson, 2005, p. 887). The previous quote is from a study that had many flaws and despite those flaws, adds to the growing literature linking video games with violence.
If one were to analyze each of the components carefully, one would find various flaws with the example listed above: the first potential flaw, a limited sample size. Researchers purposefully test on the same subject because they know it will yield the same results, as well as add to the negative narrative the public believes. The Columbine shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting both had white male attackers, and both shootings were linked with "violent" video games. By testing only white males, the results will continue to feed the notion that video games cause violence because the results will continue to show higher levels of aggression. The association that the Columbine shooting created years ago is further solidified in the mind of the general public. Second, what video game was used to test aggression? Was it a first-person shooter? Was it a platformer? Was it an RPG (role-playing game)? Poor matching of video games in case studies is a cited flaw. The video games are either all violent, or do not match in all other respects. In Ferguson’s words, "Poor matching of video games (i.e., the games should be similar in all respects other than violent content) in experimental and control conditions has been identified as a common flaw . . . " (Ferguson, 2018, p. 414)
Third, why are these researchers only testing on males? Females have made up about 50% of the gaming audience for the past few years. Gough (2019) compiled the statistics of the US gaming population in 2019. 46% of the audience was female, and the remaining 54% were males. One could argue that males spend more time playing video games and are more likely to gravitate towards "violent" video games, than a female gamer. After making an argument like that, one can agree that perhaps testing mostly males is okay, but then why are the titles of the study not indicative of that? This is the title of a study conducted by researchers Coyne, Warburton, Essig and Stockdale: Violent video games, externalizing behavior, and prosocial behavior: A five-year longitudinal study during adolescence (Coyne, Warburton, Essig, & Stockdale, 2018). Where in that title does it state this study, and its results, are based on, and directed, towards males? Coyne et al., observe the following, "In examining violent video game play and externalizing behaviors it is important to consider gender. Men have repeatedly been shown to have higher rates of externalizing behaviors starting in early childhood and continuing into adulthood" (Coyne et al., 2018, p. 1870). If the researchers observe that considering gender when analyzing violence and aggression in gaming is important, why not include that in the title? When a video game gets deemed "violent," it is violent for everyone. The media, which are known to misconstrue information, nor the scholars behind their research, make a clear distinction. Violence in whom? This question is the question all scholars, irrespective of which side they find themselves on, are looking to answer. There is no valid reason any scholar can provide to allow for this vital question to have a muddled, unclear direction. If the results indicate heightened aggression in males, then state that. By being selective when convenient, and then not being as selective with titles and wording, video games become "violent" for all, when the results state otherwise.
Lastly, there is no consensus among scholars in the field as to what "violent" is. How can the field accurately depict concepts, let alone reproduce data and information, if no one in the field can reach a consensus? According to Ferguson, "The term violent video game is used in the scholarly field with relatively little conceptualization about what it is intended to mean" (Ferguson, 2018, p. 413). The term "violent" is used to describe virtually every video game in existence. This causes more confusion among scholars because it is encompassing all games when it means to describe one game, the First Person Shooter (FPS). Whenever scholars are promoting awareness about "violent" video games, they are actually referring to FPS. The reason behind this is because the main point of those games is to shoot targets. The targets could be realistic looking people, aliens, or monsters. There is often no narrative component in the game, and the only objective is to kill the enemies. One can see why there is fear about this potentially causing real-world violence. However, it is convenient for scholars to use the term "violent" when negatively describing these games. When a case study using a FPS yields favorable results, it is now known as an "action-video game”. Ferguson observes this (VVG is an acronym for Video Games)"VVG is a term apparently used by some scholars and policy makers to evoke dislike in the general populace in advance of a moral advocacy agenda. This observation is strengthened by noting that when positive effects of identical games are studied, scholars switch terminology and refer to action games rather than VVGs (e.g., Spence & Feng 2010)" (Ferguson, 2018, p. 413). By switching between “VVG” and “action-video game” when it is beneficial to one’s study only adds to the lack of clarity surrounding this topic, and this practice must be stopped.
With advancing technology, video games have progressed in terms of visual aesthetics and narrative context. The video games that first sparked controversy back in the early 1990s are no more. So, then why do researchers continue to study them the same way? "Overall,
though the games have changed, the research studies have followed a familiar pattern . . . " (Ferguson, 2018, p. 412). More importantly, there are clear signs of bias towards video games, from both scholars and members of society. These cognitive biases truly prevent us from studying and analyzing video games. If the video game themselves have changed, our approach must adapt and change as well.
Post-Structuralism, or Deconstruction, is a philosophical movement that focuses on understanding language as a system of constant change. Deconstruction was a response to Structuralism and its rigid structure. However, their response to Structuralists made excellent points about how we view the world. Nietzsche once said, "There are no facts, just interpretations" (Barry, 2017, p. 61). In simpler terms, this means that everything we consider "reality" is a reality we are taught. Throughout one's life, they learn about certain concepts, notions, even prejudices that not only shape them, but shape their reality, and how they will see the world. Whether one is aware of these lessons, these will greatly influence them, and the decision they make. Therefore, in order to truly see, we must deconstruct past notions and ideas, we must challenge them, and dissect them to their core, to see the true meaning.
A few common misconceptions about video games: Video games are mindless, and burn brain cells; video games do not stimulate the brain, like reading or sports; and video games lead to poor academic achievement. A parent most likely taught these misconceptions to their child, who, when they went on to have children of their own, taught them the same thing. This cycle will likely go on, or until the parent decides to do some investigation of their own. However, once an idea is ingrained, it is very difficult for one to deconstruct that. These misconceptions were already preconceived before the Columbine shooting even took place. From the start, video games were already facing challenges from hundreds of parents, who most likely were unaware that their negative biases towards video games came from their parents. They do not realize their bias unless it is pointed out to them. An accurate portrayal of their bias can be found in sports. When a sports team wins or loses a game, like the Super Bowl, fanatics have caused riots in the streets. No protestors are suggesting that football is harmful to society, and should be monitored. No one is protesting against sports. Waddington makes the following observation:
"For example, sports fans occasionally riot after their team wins/loses, causing death and destruction. Yet, despite the fact that this is a significant social cost, no one suggests that football, soccer, basketball, or hockey should be banned. Clearly, the pleasure that the millions of peaceful sports fans derive from their sport outweighs the social costs (e.g., violence within the game and fan riots) associated with it. Likewise, although there may be a risk associated with violent video games, it should be outweighed by the enormous pleasure that is derived from them by the fans of these games" (Waddington, 2007, p. 122).
One must wonder why. Is it because sports are associated with athletic ability? Discipline? The Olympics? It should be noted that to date, there is no link between acts of violence and playing a "violent" video game. This decision was reached in 2015, and despite that, this notion still exists just as strongly.
Waddington (2007) points out a fact with actual real-world violence. However, neither the sports teams, nor the fanatics, receive the same level of criticism the video game community does. If the fear with "violent" video games is that they believe the game will cause real-world violence, and to date, no violence has ever been linked with video games, is it fair to say that the fear is a biased one? Or, are sports held higher in the eyes of the public?
Post-Modernism is a methodology that was born out of Modernism. Post-Modernists reject reliable knowledge. They oppose unitary views on things such as science, reason, and human processes. Post-Modernists believe that each individual constructs their own reality. Therefore, they argue that the value systems and beliefs we have are social constructs. Jean Baudrillard, a French theorist and philosopher, presented the idea of "hyper-reality." Baudrillard believed that the media shaped society, and due to the impact media has, the line has blurred between what is real, and false. "Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal" (Baudrillard, 1981, p.1). Game Studies, when applied with a Post-Modernistic approach, would require that the researchers, and the public, realize the social constructs they have created. Other forces (political, societal, cultural) created the value systems and beliefs they have towards video games. Much like Deconstruction (which influenced Post-Modernism), we have to be aware of any biases and ideas that may have been created due to external circumstances. If researchers are aware of this, their test results might be more accurate and, most importantly, less biased. Some examples could be: avoiding confirmation bias, culture bias, and wording bias. Confirmation bias occurs when a researcher forms a hypothesis or belief and uses the participants of the study to confirm those beliefs (Sanraik, 2015). A way around that is to continuously challenge preexisting assumptions and hypotheses. Culture bias is the limitation of seeing the world through one cultural lens, their own. Everyone has preformed assumptions and beliefs and in order to minimize this as much as possible, researchers need to be cognizant of their own cultural assumptions and try to remove that from the research while being understanding of other people’s cultural assumptions. Wording bias often occurs when researchers add on to the participant’s answer or test result (Sanraik, 2015). While this is not a real bias, per se, it often happens because the researchers are biased and want to prove their hypothesis. A way to avoid this is by avoiding elaborating on what the participant’s stated and avoid assumptions. By implementing methods of avoiding or limiting personal bias, the truth about video games can emerge.
On December 14th, 2012, Adam Lanza went to Sandy Hook Elementary, and killed twenty-six children and six adults. This was another scarring and tragic day that got the attention of the President, Barack Obama. He granted a large amount of money to be used to study the effects of playing "violent" video games (Granic et al., 2014). Much like the Columbine shooting, Lanza's horrific crime was linked to video games, due to the media. Would this have been the case if the Columbine Shooting never occurred? This researcher obtained a copy of the Official Report for the Sandy Hook Shooting. "He played video games often, both solo at home and online. They could be described as both violent and non-violent. One person described the shooter as spending the majority of his time playing non-violent video games all day, with his favorite at one point being 'Super Mario Brothers'" (State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Dansbury, 2013, p. 31). The official report states that Lanza's favorite types of games were strictly non-violent. Nevertheless, he was able to commit one of the worse mass murders in history. The State Attorney concluded that Lanza had apparent mental issues, and a history of family problems (State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Dansbury, 2013). Despite the final report stating no motive could ever be established, the State Attorney did not link Lanza's crime to video games.
This report and its information are important and relate to Post-Modernism and Deconstruction because, almost immediately following the shooting, media outlets were blaming violent video games. The President gave funds to scholars to analyze the effects violent video games have on gamers. All these efforts were made in vain because the official report established there is no link between the video games Lanza played, and his horrific crime. Nonetheless, the media and the President acted as if Lanza's actions were motivated by the video games he played. Whether this was because of the bias that was established by the Columbine shooting, or their own bias, it contributes to the negative reputation video games have. The Columbine shooting created this idea; this belief system that video games, and specifically, the FPS, will lead to real-world violence. Therefore, a Post-Modern criticism of this issue would be that society constructed the idea that video games and violence are linked. Because of this social construct, a fake reality about video games is created in our minds, and then we devalue video games. Since the construct in our minds prevents us from genuinely seeing video games for what they are, the line between what is real about video games, and what is false, is blurred.
Benefits that derive from playing video games:
In recent years, amazing discoveries surrounding the positives of gaming have emerged. Examples include improved spatial recognition, increased empathy, and better problem-solving skills (Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014). Often, the results are auspicious, and create a positive narrative for video games. Despite the recent findings, these benefits do not seem to have the same impact on society as the claims about video games and violence have.
Perhaps the most fascinating study with excellent results was derived from an action FPS video game, the very same game that society fears most. The purpose of the study was to test if spatial cognition and awareness could improve, through the use of an action video game. Spatial cognition and awareness is a crucial skill. Spatial cognition allows us to see and understand patterns and complex data. Having high spatial awareness is a required skill in the STEM field, and these results could help recruit more women and men into the field. The researchers-- Jing Feng, Ian Spence, and Jay Pratt (2007)--gathered a group of college students from the University of Toronto. The participant's ages ranged from 19 through 30. The participants were divided into two groups, players and nonplayers, as well as males and females. The players reported playing an action video game for more than four hours per week, while the nonplayers reported no video gameplay for at least three years (Feng, Spence, and Pratt, 2007). As expected, the players were much better at the video game than the nonplayers. However, both groups, after 10 hours of training with an action video game, " . . . realized substantial gains in both spatial attention and mental rotation, with women benefiting more than men" (Feng, Spence, and Pratt, 2007, p. 850). During the five-month follow up with the participants, the females of both groups managed to maintain their skills and spatial awareness, while some of the males were able to improve it further (Feng, Spence, and Pratt, 2007). These findings are remarkable. Having the ability to improve something as vital as spatial awareness, with video games, could help teachers and students in academia. Not only could it help teachers and students, but it could encourage females to become a part of the Engineering and STEM industry. Researchers Feng, Spence and Pratt concluded, "Given that our first experiment and others (e.g., Greenfield & Cocking, 1996; McGillicuddy-De Lisi & De Lisi, 2002) have shown that particular cognitive capacities are associated with educational and career choices, training with appropriately designed action video games could play a significant role as part of a larger strategy designed to interest women in science and engineering career" (Feng, Spence, and Pratt, 2007, p. 854).
The lack of empathy due to playing a "violent" video game is often cited as a reason for concern. Some scholars have even gone as far as to say that most video games contain violence. "This can result in alarming claims, such as that 64% of even E-rated (rated for children of any age) games contain violence, claims that sound alarming when expressed without clarifying that this violence is cartoonish, mild, and inoffensive to most consumers" (Ferguson, 2018, p. 413). There are video games that promote prosocial themes, like teamwork and friendship. Studies have shown that playing these prosocial video games, like Animal Crossing (Harrington, & O'Connell, 2016), actually promote empathy, in children and young adolescents. Animal Crossing is a social simulation game. That means that the video game syncs to the current timezone the player is in, and simulates real-time passing by. The game's objectives are to get along with all the animal villagers, improve the island's scenery, and help the local museum, by collecting fossils and bugs. By working together with the animal villagers, the player establishes friendships and improves the island, so all the inhabitants can be as happy as possible.
Harrington & O'Connell (2016) conducted a study to see if playing a prosocial video game would promote empathetic behavior in children and young adolescents. The researchers gathered students from ten schools in the Republic of Ireland, five of these schools were " . . . described as socioeconomically disadvantaged" (Harrington, & O'Connell, 2016, p. 652). The student's ages were from 9 to 15 years old. 59% of the participants were males, and the remaining 41% were females. The researchers gathered the information through questionnaires that measured video game habits, empathy, and prosocial behavior. The results were consistent with previously conducted studies, and it added to the existing literature that prosocial video game use could promote empathy in children and adolescents (Harrington & O'Connell, 2016). These findings, once again, can be used to help troubled children learn empathy. These games can help promote empathy in all children and, by promoting more empathy, positively contribute to society.
This paper proposes that, when conducting a study testing the results a particular video game will have, that Deconstruction and Post-Modernism should be applied, as well, the reason being is that one methodological approach is not enough for a subject that is complex, and difficult to analyze truly. Video games are evolving rapidly, just as rapidly as the technology that helps produce them. Therefore, our approach cannot be the same way as it was 30 years ago, when Game Studies began. Psychoanalysis is, by far, the most reliable methodology to use in this field; however, it is not the only methodological approach that can be used. The issue that arises from these studies is that there are biases that will taint the study. Researchers often tell the participants different reasons for the study, to avoid bias. It is a known fact we all have our biases. The researchers who are conducting and studying this topic need to be aware of their own biases, as well. Both parties, whether for or against gaming, want the same thing. They want to make sure there are no adverse effects on gamers, and that video games are a positive thing to society. What this researcher is proposing is that, when a fellow scholar is conducting a study, that he or she removes as much bias towards video games, whether it is positive or negative. When someone who is not in the field hears something relating video games and violence, that he or she analyze the situation critically. Video games are a digital form of art. They encompass animation, lighting, and music. Video games have a lot in common with film. Films are regarded as an art form, irrespective of the content. Video games cannot be approached, nor studied, like their respective art forms (art or cinema). "To understand video games, then, one needs to understand how action exists in gameplay, with special attention to its many variations and intensities" (Galloway, 2006, p. 3). This researcher believes that another issue, when studying video games, is that is gets compared to other media, which it is--games are a form of media. However, it is not like social media or television. Therefore, modifications must be made, when studying video games.
There are many positives to playing video games. Women could benefit from playing an action video game, as noted by Feng, Spence, and Pratt (2007). Video games could motivate and help women become part of the STEM industry, which has been trying to hire more women. Video games can promote empathy in children and adolescents. Video games could be empathy engines to help not just children, but people and society, become empathetic. The video games that cause fear, the first-person shooters, should not label all video games. Moreover, those FPS games have been discredited from causing any real-world violence since 2015, so why is the fear still there? Perhaps it is time for all of us to reconsider our biases, so that we can see video games for what they are--a unique form of art, that needs a more nuanced approach.
Barry, P. (2017). Beginning theory: An introduction to literary and cultural theory (3rd ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press
Baudrillard, J. (1981) Excerpt from "Simulacra and Simulations - I. The Precession of Simulacra"
Carnagey, N., & Anderson, C. (2005). The effects of reward and punishment in violent video games on aggressive affect, cognition, and behavior. Psychological Science, 16(11), 882-889. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/40064334
Coyne, S. M., Warburton, W. A., Essig, L. W., & Stockdale, L. A. (2018). Violent video games, externalizing behavior, and prosocial behavior: A five-year longitudinal study during adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 54(10), 1868–1880. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000574.supp (Supplemental)
Feng, J., Spence, I., & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18(10), 850-855. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40064661
Ferguson, C. J., & Colwell, J. (2019). Lack of consensus among scholars on the issue of video game "addiction." Psychology of Popular Media Culture. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000243
Ferguson, C.J & Markey, P. M. (2017). Teaching Us to Fear The Violent Video Game Moral Panic and the Politics of Game Research. [ebook] American Journal of Play, pp.99-115. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1166785.pdf [Accessed January 29 2020]. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1166785.pdf
Ferguson, C. J. (2018). Violent video games, sexist video games, and the law: why can't we find effects?. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 14, 411-426.
Ferguson, C. J., Bowman, N. D., & Kowert, R. (2017). Is the link between games and aggression more about the player, less about the game? The Wiley Handbook of Violence and Aggression, 1–12. doi: 10.1002/9781119057574.whbva036
Galloway R. A. (2006) Gaming: Essays on algorithmic culture University of Minnesota Press.
Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034857
Gouglas, S., Ilovan, M., Lucky, S., & Russell, S. (2014). Abort, retry, pass, fail: Games as teaching tools. In Kee K. (Ed.), Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology (pp. 121-138). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv65swr0.10
Gough, C. (2019, July 3). U.S. video gamer gender statistics 2019. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/
Harrington, B., & O'Connell, M. (2016). Video games as virtual teachers: prosocial video game use by children and adolescents from different socioeconomic groups is associated with increased empathy and prosocial behaviour. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 650-658.
Sarnaik, R. (2015, August). Find market research companies, facilities, jobs, articles, more. Retrieved from https://www.quirks.com/articles/9-types-of-research-bias-and-how-to-avoid-them
Waddington, D.I. (2007) Locating the wrongness in ultra-violent video games. Ethics and Information Technology 9, 121–128