Surprise! A new study shows that video games don’t make kids violent. I know, it’s hard to believe that after all the wild speculations, conflation of correlation and causation, and lack of any real evidence that a scientific study pops up to say, “Nope, sorry folks. Video games = violent kids hasn’t been proven yet.” But, that’s exactly what Dmitri Williams (University of Illinois) and Marko Skoric (School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore) are saying about their recent study.
Results from the first long-term study of online videogame playing may be surprising. Contrary to popular opinion and most previous research, the new study found that players’ “robust exposure” to a highly violent online game did not cause any substantial real-world aggression.
The study was a month long and followed Asheron’s Call 2 players for about 56 hours of playtime. Of the 75 players, none of them any MMO background although it is not clear whether or not they were gamers. The control group was 138 people who did not play the game at all, although again it is unclear whether or not they were allowed to play other kinds of games. The ages ranged from 16 to 48 with an average of 27.7 years. The gendered makeup of players was not mentioned.
Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they were before playing, Williams said.
Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners.
“I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet,” Williams said. “Until we have more long-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding.”
Many of the obvious flaws in the study were acknowledged in the article: using Asheron’s Call (a fantasy-based, not particularly violent MMO) as the studied game, the way aggression was measured meant that only moderate to high changes would be noted, and using a broad range of ages made it harder to measure the impact on children/teenagers specifically.
Instead of merely assuming that violent games must be directly responsible for violence in teenagers, or assuming that violent games have no impact on the players, Williams calls for better research on video games in general.
“If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the games they are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders of the industry’s products are operating without enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon.”
Nor do researchers know much about the positive effects of gaming, Williams said.
“Based on my research, some of the potential gains are in meeting a lot of new people and crossing social boundaries. That’s important in a society where we are increasingly insulated from one another.”
Some game researchers believe that video-gaming leads to substantial gains in learning teamwork, managing groups and most important, Williams said, problem solving.
Despite the flaws, I think that Williams’ study is a step in the right direction. I especially agree with what was said on the potential positive effects of video games, as I noted in my Shrub.com article Gaming Communities: Real or Imaginary? Bottom line, and I think this article captures this quite well: stop jumping to conclusions and start doing more, quality research on the subject.