Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Games, violence and faith

As promised, a look at the Journal of Adolescence, Volume 27, Issue 1, and the articles on games and adolescents.

This issue of the journal is dedicated to adolescent video game playing, special issue editors are Craig A. Anderson and Jeanne B. Funk. They have sent out a call for papers and had what looks like a very serious stack of responses. I can't fault the methodology of the researchers, they have all their variables and koeffisients in place. But I am still not convinced that video games are dangerous and make youths more aggressive. But let's look at an article.

"The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors and school performance." by Gentile, Lynch, Linder and Walsh (2004)

The clearest finding in this article was that if kids spend a lot of their free time playing computer games, and this free time is significantly larger than the time they spend doing homework, their grades suffer. Also, if the kids use the computers for homework, not playing, they get better grades. Further on, they discovered that kids who play a lot of computer games argue more with teachers and with their parents. They also found that kids, particularly boys, prefer violent content in the games. From this they concluded that violent games make kids argue with parents and teachers. This makes me ask: How about this hypothesis from this material: Children who play a lot of games don't do their homework. Children who don't do their homework argue with their teachers and their parents.

I think it's significant that the article does not even consider that the childrens' lack of homework might lead to confrontations without any computer games involved. I also think it's significant that they ask specifically for "violence" in the games (what do you prefer), and not for "action". In games the faster-paced, actionfilled games often have a high amount of hostile acts, as that is a good way to express danger, risk and winning or losing. There are however games which are not confrontational in the way of battles (racing and sports games), but are still action filled. But if you ask a 8-9th grader to rate a game from 1-7 on a scale (Likert) of violence, the pupil will not say: But I like a racing game, and that's action filled, not violent. The kid will remember the spectacular crashes and the fires and the speed and the competition, and will put it at a fairly high "violence" rating.

What they did find was the same as has been found in all studies of media violence: Parental control - as in parents actually checking to see what the kids are doing, taking an interest and assisting in the management of their time, leads to less confrontations in general, and better adjusted kids. In the days of video tapes it meant not to use the video as a baby sitter, in the days of computers it means not using the computer as a baby sitter. But the article does not consider that it confirms this decade-old truth - actually, probably older: If you care about what your children are up to, they adjust better and are happier and more functional.

An interesting piece of information came up in this article: Video games are officially dangerous.
Indeed, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pedriatics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Medical Association recently issued a joint statement that there is a "causal connection" between media violence and aggressive behavior, but that it is a complex effect (AAP, APA, AACAP, & AMA, 2000).

The article uses this as an argument for saying that games are dangerous. If all these American associations with long and impressive names say media violence is dangerous, then it has to be dangerous.

What I always miss in these articles is a touch of sceptisism. If the connection is a complex effect, why are the studies so simplistic? Why have nobody explored WHAT the adolescents react so positively to, when adult limits and adult interest gives such a good response on violent behaviour? According to the simplistic logic of exposure to media, children in extremely poor neighbourhoods or less developed countries should be peaceful and friendly, and not express hostility of any kind. Can it be that lower aggression, less confrontations and better grades connect in a positive manner with the amount of interest the significant adults take in the children in question? I know it's daring, but look at the adults who are in touch with kids, be it their parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers, coaches - can it be that their interest, feedback and behaviour has a large impact on adolescents, no matter what the topic of interest is?

Well, that's one article out of 8. Some of the others are better, and connect better to other research and other discussions, some even exercize a critical view on their methodology. I'll be back.


Dennis G. Jerz said...

Thanks for posting this, Torill.

Have you been following the Slamdance reaction to Super Columbine Massacre RPG?

Torill said...

No, sorry, haven't seen that. Now 'scuse me, I have some googling to do.

Torill said...

More information about this can be found here, here and here.