Britain's Independent newspaper reports that a new study has proven a link between violent imagery in games and movies, and desensitization of teenage boys to actual violence. The study, which has been widely re-reported in news media and gaming sites, is being positioned as the “smoking gun” that links videogame violence and angry young men, which naturally scares a lot of gamers and makes moral grandstanders happy. The problem is that it actually does nothing of the sort.
Above: A screenshot of GTA IV, as is required in all articles about videogame violence
The actual study – which is freely available here (though it makes the manual for Civ 5 look like light reading) – suggests that if young men passively watch a lot of violent media, particularly media that depicts violence but isn't really all that graphic, the less they'll respond to it (doy). The experiment didn't involve games or gaming, so the study doesn't really mention gameplay except to say that it might have a similar affect. Tellingly not quoted, in the report or media coverage thereof, is the extensive 2007 study (again, yeesh with the reading and the big words) by Britain's film classification board. That study concluded that it's dangerous to equate passively viewed violence (which the new study focuses on) with interactive conflict (you know, the stuff with the chainsaw bayonet in Gears of War) because the “interactive” bit makes the two forms too different to compare.
Above: And here's Manhunt 2. Honestly, these images basically find themselves
Whether you hear this story reported by alarmist game-phobic media or equally alarmist media-phobic gamers, calmly reassure them that you're all for a discussion of whether or not Mortal Kombat has led you to kill anyone, but ask that they read the actual study before telling you what it says. This should give you ample time to rid yourself of their irksome company and find someone more fun to talk to.
Oct 21, 2010