Blaugust Day 17 – So, Videogames and Violence (again)

Yes, here it is again, a scientific study that claims to maybe possibly prove a link between violent videogames and violent behaviour.

This is a topic that seems to time and time again rear it’s head, get proved and disproved, vanish and reappear with new data. It’s a tricky topic, one that the media loves and because of that, sometimes a lot of misinformation gets spread.

In the past, I’ve felt like I’ve had problems critiquing the ‘video games= violence’, because well, I was playing video games. Of course I was going to defend people virtually shooting other people, because I was going home and playing Team Fortress 2 in all it’s cartoon-ish goriness every night. I wasn’t being objective enough, I was going to defend what I enjoyed doing, and downplay the negative elements that might arise.

Yet, video games are not the niche pastime that many media outlets might like to pretend they are. They are ubiquitous throughout our culture – people in every demographic are playing games. So where is the increased violence, if so many of us are absorbing it, first hand through games, second hand through YouTube Let’s Plays, third hand through the many massive gaming communities and forums. Yes, there’s still something deeply flawed in the presented research, enough that over 200 academics, many of them leaders in the fields of psychology, politely but firmly condemned the findings.

The major problem seems to be that more than forty years after the first video games, they are still a political hot potato in The U.S. certain parts of the world. Could it be that studies would like to find a definitive link in order to satisfy certain people of importance: please note that ‘proved’ link opens at a quote by Bill Clinton. When he was president. When he was the President of the United States. The google summary for that book is actually disturbing – citing several major shootings that I’m sure some would love to blame on something as simple as video games.

However, this is more than a black-and-white issue of right wing politicians pandering to conservative voters, because there absolutely are issues with online communities centred around gaming.  I recently took The Social Media Reader down off the shelf for the first time since I graduated, and it fell open at a page on trolling (how I loathe that phrase) from E. Gabriella Coleman’s ‘Phreaks, Hackers and Trolls:The Politics of Transgression and Spectacle.’ Every sentence could have come straight from any of the last year’s articles on Gamergate. Yet there’s the question, does the games themselves engender violent and other sociopathic behaviour, or is it the online environments, that frequently are only peripherally do to with the games, but were built by the first ‘geeks’ who inhabited online spaces (and games) and closed in on themselves when the rest of the internet masses appeared, eventually lashing out at anything they perceived as a threat.

This is far too big a topic for one blog post in one evening. It only started through that Open letter that I linked above, and I’m going to link again because it’s important – these 200+ academics are the ones who are right, not coming down on one side of the issue or the other, but saying, this is a finding that we can’t accept, and neither should you. Especially if you play videogames.

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