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- Sternheimer, K. (2010). Connecting social problems and popular culture : why media is not the answer. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Chapter 3. Media violence causes real violence.
Media Violence Causes Real Violence
Assumption #1: Children Have Become More Violent as Media Culture Has Expanded
Assumption #2: Children Imitate Media Violence with Deadly Results
Assumption #3: Real Violence and Media Violence Have the Same Meaning
Assumption #4: Research Conclusively Demonstrates the Link between Media and ...
The Politics of Blaming Media for Violence
Assumption #2: Children Imitate Media Violence with Deadly Results
Assumption #3: Real Violence and Media Violence Have the Same Meaning
Assumption #4: Research Conclusively Demonstrates the Link between Media and ...
The Politics of Blaming Media for Violence
What are the alleged effects of games and game entertainment? Who do have such a voice like that?
- 1 MEDIA PHOBIA #3 Media Violence Causes Real Violence
- 1.1 Assumption #1: Children Have Become More Violent as Media Culture Has Expanded
- 1.2 Assumption #2: Children Imitate Media Violence with Deadly Results
- 1.3 Assumption #3: Real Violence and Media Violence Have the Same Meaning
- 1.4 Assumption #4: Research Conclusively Demonstrates the Link between Media and Violent Behavior
Video games have supplanted movies as the form of popular culture that critics love to hate. Manyalthough certainly not allfeature high levels of mock violence. Could simulated violence in video games, movies, television, and music cause real violence?
For many the answer seems to be an obvious yes. Video games in particular appear to connect the dots between high-profile rampage shootings at schools during the 1990s. More recently, before a suspect was even identified after the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, pundits were on the air blaming video games. While it turned out that the VT shooter rarely played video games, the 1999 Columbine High School shooters were allegedly aficionados of Doom, a game where the heavily armed protagonist stops demons from taking over the earth, and had used their classmates’ images during their play target practice. John Leo of U.S. News & World Report described the murder scene as staged like a video game. According to Leo, their “cool and casual cruelty” pointed to “sensibilities created by the modern video kill games.”1 Leo concluded that “if we want to avoid more Littleton-style massacres, we will begin taking the social effects of the killing games more seriously.”2
Video game graphics are much more realistic than they were in the days of Pac-Man and Frogger. And as the industry’s multibillion-dollar revenues surpass movie profits, they have taken the mantle of most feared form of popular culture, especially as they have become the pastime of choice for many young men. In 2007, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) even convened to discuss the possibility of a new mental disorder: video game addiction. Although the APA has not yet elevated excessive video game playing to the level of mental illness, the mere consideration seemed to justify what many believe, that video games are training a new generation of obsessed and desensitized psychopaths.
Although video games have become the primary focus, concerns that movies, music, and other forms of popular culture contribute to violence still linger. After the shooting rampage at Columbine, critics also blamed music for inciting violence and for creating a sense of alienation in its listeners. Even though it is unclear whether the Columbine shooters were actually fans, the “shock rock” band Marilyn Manson garnered a lot of criticism. Dick Armey, then the House majority leader, alleged that the band’s lyrics “tout suicide, torture, and murder.”3 Protesters followed the band to concert venues in the weeks following the shooting.4
Is simply discussing violence in music a form of promoting violence? Music that is admittedly angry and rage filled speaks to the experiences of some of its listeners. Contrary to the belief that it is music like Manson’s that “brings our children into darkness,” as a detractor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, music like this finds many young people already in darkness.5 “Sometimes music, movies and books are the only things that let us feel like someone else feels like we do,” Marilyn Manson (born Brian Warner) wrote in Rolling Stone.6 Instead of trying to understand why some people find solace in Marilyn Manson’s music or consider the very real problem of bullying and alienation, we often choose to blame the music and to fear acts like Manson and their fans. Ultimately the fear of bands like Marilyn Manson promotes ostracizing and further alienating many young outcasts rather than reaching out to those rejected by their peers.
Media violence has a way of hitting a nerve like few other topics canironically, sometimes more than violence itself. Discussing the fear of media violence is like jumping into an argument where most people are no longer listening, just shouting louder and louder at each other. This is not just an intellectual issue for many people but one that is deeply personal. In fairness, the social science research isn’t readily available (nor particularly interesting) for the public. So most people don’t realize that the research is not nearly as conclusive as we are so often told, or that results suggest only a weak connection between violent programming and aggressive behavior.7 It is fear that fuels the impassioned pleas to sanction Hollywood for “poisoning young minds” with media violence, as a woman wrote in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle.8 Everyday citizens fear “what this country is coming to” at the hands of “demented” writers and producers.9 The fear and anger are very real, and unfortunately, often misplaced. A Boston Globe article conceded that a great deal of the evidence that popular culture causes problems is anecdotal, stating that “the real link between televised sex and violence and actual behavior has been difficult to prove,” but only after seven paragraphs about the “growing concern of mental health specialists.”10 In spite of news reports about the “tremendous problem” of media violence allegedly demonstrated by “classic studies” and “sweeping new” research, as the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times reported, this body of research contains leaps in logic, questionable methods, and exaggerated findings.11
There is a preponderance of evidence, not as a result of “thirty years of research and more than 1,000 studies,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described, but because Americans spend so much time, energy, and money researching this loaded question instead of researching violence itself.12 If youth violence is really the issue of importance here, we should start by studying violence, before studying media. But media culture is on trial, not violence. These studies are smoke screens that enable us to continue along the media trail while disregarding actual violence patterns.
Interestingly, the media blamers seem to feel that they are against a great deal of media resistance to their cause. But there seems to be no shortage of newspaper editors willing and eager to play upon this fear in print. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial called “Poisonous Pleasures” railed against “our caustic culture and pervasive appetite for violent and obscene entertainment.”13 The paper plainly stated that “media violence is hazardous to our health,” but we are allegedly “a nation desperate to ignore it.”
This chapter offers a critical view of the fear and assumptions contained within the contours of the panic surrounding media violence. The news media often guide us to think of media violence as the creator of real violence rather than the more complex causes, like poverty and the availability of guns. As Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine pointed out, we are a society that is ambivalent about gun control, so it becomes easier for the news media and the rest of us to focus on media culture and video game joysticks than to question our gun culture. While on the surface our fear seems to be about violence, we will see that actual violence has little to do with media violence. The fears surrounding media violence come from our individual-focused society; we have trouble understanding the collective social conditions that cause violence, and thus violent media seems like a very plausible explanation. Ultimately, focusing so much on media helps us ignore the very social conditions that create violence and serves to justify intensified control of childrentypically other people’s children.
I confess, I was once on the blame-the-media bandwagon for the very same reasons. When I began graduate work in psychology, the studies of effects of violent media on behavior seemed overwhelming. The argument made sense to me at the time, especially since I hate violent movies. I had seen a movie called Predator 2, which I reluctantly agreed to watch with a very persistent boyfriend. I really can’t tell you what the movie was about since I found it so offensive that I kept my eyes closed through most of it. I was really angry with him for taking me to see a movie in which people appeared to be skinned alive and vowed intellectual revenge by showing him that these movies were not just stupid and repulsive, but harmful too. Students of psychology are taught that the individual is the primary unit of analysis, and that something that may be bad for the individual can be multiplied many times over and thus become a social problem. This perspective is complementary to the American focus on individualism, where we often believe that our success or failure stems directly from our personal characteristics and actions rather than social forces.
But as I began to review the research, I saw that the results were not as compelling as I had hoped or had heard on the news. I eventually realized that my feelings about violent movies were driven more by my personal taste than social science. Other scholars, like psychologist Jonathan L. Freedman, challenge the conclusions of this research too. Freedman evaluated every study published in English that explored the media violence connection, and concluded that “the evidence . . . is weak and inconsistent, with more non-supportive results than supportive results.”14 Later, when I began graduate work in sociology, I saw that we need to consider sociological explanations in addition to focusing on individual behavior. Both media and violence are sociological as well as psychological phenomena.
Yet historically, psychologists have focused the bulk of the research about media and violence on individual effects that have been used to draw conclusions on a sociological level. Adding sociological analysis gives us information about the larger context. We will see that from a sociological perspective media violence is important, but not in the way we tend to think it is. It cannot help us explain real violence well, but it can help us understand American culture and why stories of conflict and violent resolution so often reoccur.
Media violence has become a scapegoat onto which we lay blame for a host of social problems. Sociologist Todd Gitlin describes how “the indiscriminate fear of television in particular displaces justifiable fears of actual dangersdangers of which television . . . provides some disturbing glimpses.”15 Concerns about media and violence rest on several flawed, yet taken-for-granted assumptions about both media and violence. These beliefs appear to be obvious in emotional arguments about protecting children. So while these are not the only problems with blaming media, this chapter will address four central assumptions:1. Children have become more violent as media culture has expanded.2. Children imitate media violence with deadly results.3. Real violence and media violence have the same meaning.4. Research conclusively demonstrates that media violence causes real violence.
This chapter demonstrates where these assumptions come from, why they are misplaced, and what causal factors we ignore by focusing on popular culture.
Media culture has expanded exponentially over the last few decades. It’s hard to keep up with the newest gadgets that make popular culture more portable: iPhones, BlackBerrys, and whatever new device is about to hit the market mean that we can be entertained virtually anywhere. Traditional media like television have expanded from a handful of channels to hundreds. Our involvement with media culture has grown to the degree that media use has become an integral part of everyday life. There is so much content out there that we cannot know about or control, so we can never be fully sure what children may come in contact with. This fear of the unknown underscores the anxiety about harmful effects. Is violent media imagery, a small portion of a vast media culture, poisoning the minds and affecting the behavior of countless children, as a Kansas City Star article warned in 200116 “The lyrics kids listen to, the video games they play, often contain violent messages,” a Boston area district attorney told the Boston Globe in 2006, contending that these factors are what is causing youth violence.17 The fear seems real in part because it is repeated in news reports like these across the country.
An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a case in point. Titled “Media, Single Parents Blamed for Spurt in Teen Violence,” the article blames changes in family structure and the expansion of media culture with causing youth violence, claiming that kids are now more violent at earlier and earlier ages.18 And while many people believe this is the case, the truth is that as media culture has expanded, young people have become less violent. During the ten year period between 1997 and 2006, arrests of juveniles for violent crimes (like murder, rape, and aggravated assault) declined 20 percent; for adults eighteen and older the violent arrest rate also declined, but by 10 percent.19
It’s also important to keep in mind that adults are far more likely to commit violent crimes than juveniles are, although rates for both have fallen significantly in the last twenty years, as have rates of property crime. But most of our attention is placed on youth, especially when violent media is considered a motivating factor. We seldom hear public outcry about what motivates adults to commit crimes, although they are the most likely perpetrators.
Consider the fear that media violence is creating a new breed of young killers. True, we did see a rise in homicides committed by teens in the late 1980s, but we also saw a rise in homicides committed by adults during that period.20 Eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old adults have been and are now the age group most likely to commit homicide. After reaching their peak in 1993, homicide rates steadily declined in the late 1990s and leveled off in the 2000s. So there is no youth crime wave now; while there was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was matched by an adult crime wave. Those who blame media violence for an alleged wave of youth violence ignore these inconvenient facts.
Homicide Offending by Age, 1976-2005. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Okay, so in the big picture juvenile violence rates have declined. But are kids becoming killers at earlier ages? The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began collecting data on homicide arrests for very young children in 1964, so we can test this quite easily, especially because very young perpetrators have a good chance of getting caught. Homicide arrest rates for children aged six to twelve are minuscule: In 2006 there were nine arrests out of a population of approximately 36 million children.21 By contrast, 1,689 adults aged twenty-five to twenty-nine were arrested for homicide that year (and 93 people sixty-five or older).22 Still, nine kids is nine too many, until we consider that this was the fewest number of arrests since the FBI began keeping separate numbers for young children in 1964. Overall, the period between 1968 and 1976 featured the highest arrest rates, with the numbers generally plummeting since. Young kids are actually less likely to be killers now than in the past.
So why do we seem to think that kids are now more violent than ever? A Berkeley Media Studies Group report found that half of news stories about youth were about violence and that more than two-thirds of violence stories focused on youth.23 We think kids are committing the lion’s share of violence because they comprise a large proportion of crime news. Chances are good that some, if not all, of those nine incidents made the news and stick in the viewers’ memory. The reality is that adults commit most crime, but a much smaller percentage of these stories make news. Emotional stories draw our attention far more than statistics, which are often dry and left out completely in news stories that focus on young offenders.
But how do we explain the young people who do commit violence? Can violent media help us here? Broad patterns of violence do not match media use as much as they mirror poverty rates. While most people who are poor do not commit crimes and are not violent, there are large-scale patterns worth noting. Take the city of Los Angeles, where I live, as an example. Here, as in many other cities, violent crime rates are higher in lower-income areas relative to the population. The most dramatic example is demonstrated by homicide patterns. For example, the Seventy-Seventh Street division (near the flashpoint of the 1992 civil unrest) reported 12 percent of the city’s homicides in 2007, yet comprised less than 5 percent of the city’s total population. Conversely, the West Los Angeles area (which includes affluent neighborhoods such as Brent-wood and Bel Air) reported less than 2 percent of the city’s homicides but accounted for nearly 6 percent of the total population.24 If media culture really was a major cause of violence, wouldn’t the children of the wealthy, who have greater access to the Internet, video games, and other visual media be at greater risk for becoming violent? The numbers don’t bear out because violence patterns do not match media use.
Violence can be linked with a variety of issues, the most important one being poverty. Criminologist E. Britt Patterson examined dozens of studies of crime and poverty and found that communities with extreme poverty, a sense of bleakness, and neighborhood disorganization and disintegration were most likely to have higher levels of violence.25 Violence may be an act committed by an individual, but violence is also a sociological, not just an individual, phenomenon. To attribute actual violence to media violence we would have to believe that violence has its origins mostly in individual psychological functioning and thus that any kid could snap from playing too many video games. Ongoing sociological research has identified other risk factors that are based on environment: substance use, overly authoritarian or lax parenting, delinquent peers, neighborhood violence, and weak ties to one’s family or community. If we are really interested in confronting youth violence, these are the issues that must be addressed first. Media violence is something worth looking at, but not the primary cause of actual violence.
What about the kids who aren’t from poor neighborhoods and who come from supportive environments? When middle-class white youths commit acts of violence, we seem to be at a loss for explanations beyond media violence. These young people often live in safe communities, enjoy many material privileges, and attend well-funded schools. Opportunities are plentiful. What else could it be, if not media?
For starters, incidents in these communities are rare but extremely well publicized. These stories are dramatic and emotional and thus great ratings boosters. School shootings or mere threats of school shootings are often not just local stories but national news. Public concern about violence swells when suburban white kids are involved. Central-city violence doesn’t raise nearly the same attention or public outcry to ban violent media. We seem to come up empty when looking for explanations of why affluent young white boys, for example, would plot to blow up their school. We rarely look beyond the media for our explanations, but the social contexts are important here too. Even well-funded suburban schools can become overgrown, impersonal institutions where young people easily fall through the cracks and feel alienated. Sociologists Wayne Wooden and Randy Blazak suggest that the banality and boredom of suburban life can create overarching feelings of meaninglessness within young people, that perhaps they find their parents’ struggles to obtain material wealth empty and are not motivated by the desire for money enough to conform.26 It is too risky to criticize the American Dreamthe house in the suburbs, homogeneity, a Starbucks at every cornerbecause ultimately that requires many of us to look in the mirror. It is easier to look at the TV for the answer.
The truth is there is no epidemic of white suburban violence, but isolated and tragic examples have gained a lot of attention. White juvenile homicide arrest rates rose (along with black juvenile arrest rates) in the late 1980s and peaked in 1994. The number of African American juveniles arrested for homicide has tumbled even more sharply since its peak in the early 1990s and homicide arrest rates were at their lowest point in a generation.27 Our media fears encourage us to overlook the good news about youth violence and blame young people for crimes they don’t commit.
In 1999, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman published a book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, claiming video games serve as military-like training that inspire young people to murder. Grossman’s boot camp-instructor authority brought lots of attention and fed the video game fear. “There’s a generation growing up that the media has cocked and primed for draconian action and a degree of bloodlust that we haven’t seen since the Roman children sat in the Colosseum and cheered as the Christians were killed,” he warned.28 But as we saw in the previous section, crime data show us that kids are not displaying bloodlust, at least not the real unpixilated kind.
When young people do commit crimes or act violently, news reports often compare incidents to popular culture. Didn’t the killer act like he was playing a video game? After the shootings at Columbine and other schools during the 1990s, video games bore the brunt of blame. Critics like Grossman argue that video games are even more influential than movies, television, or music because the player is actively participating in the game. This, of course, is what makes video games fun and exciting and sets them apart from other media where consumers take on more of a spectator role. Critics fear that players of violent games are rewarded for acts of virtual violence, which they believe may translate into learning that violence is acceptable. Straight out of B. F. Skinner, the fear stems from the idea that we learn from rewards, even vicarious rewards. The prevalence of violent video game playing among young boys troubles many for this reason.
Yet fears about violent media are not limited to video games. Couldn’t a violent movie like The Basketball Diaries, which involves a school shooting, inspire imitation? Can a song lead a young, impressionable person to kill? Reporting on similarities between youth violence and popular culture does make for a dramatic story and good ratings, but too often the public never hears more about the context of the incident. By leaving out the nonmedia details, news reports make it easy for us to believe that the movies (or video games or music) made them do it.
In 1996, fourteen-year-old Barry Loukaitis shot three students and a teacher in Moses Lake, Washington, just east of Seattle, leaving all but one of the students dead.29 The defense blamed alternative band Pearl Jam’s song “Jeremy” (about a bullied boy who strikes back) for the shooting. His defense attorneys played the “Jeremy” video in court, insisting that the song triggered the shooting.30 The song, released in 1991, describes a boy ignored by parents and taunted by classmates. The lyrics themselves are not nearly as apocalyptic as defense attorneys insisted. The song begins with Jeremy “at home drawing pictures” of himself on the top of a mountain, as “dead lay in pools of maroon below” in the drawing. The violence in school consists of “a surprise left,” not a shooting spree.
Barry was clearly troubled; defense attorneys used his bipolar disorder as the basis for an insanity defense. His family life also appears to have been unstable. His father testified that the boy witnessed many arguments between his parents, who were separated at the time of the killings.31 His mother testified that she told Barry about her suicidal fantasies of killing herself in front of her estranged husband and his girlfriend.
Barry was sentenced to life in prison for the murders. In this and other cases, courts have continually rejected the “media made me do it” defense.32
Nonetheless, parents will tell you that their kids often play fight in the same style as the characters in cartoons and other characters from popular culture. But as author Gerard Jones points out in Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, imitative behavior in play is a way young people may work out pent-up hostility and aggression and feel powerful. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians are all modes of play where children, often boys, have acted out violent scenarios without widespread public condemnation. It is different from acting violently, where the intention is to inflict pain.
The idea that children will imitate media violence draws on Albert Bandura’s classic 1963 “Bobo doll” experiment. Bandura and colleagues studied ninety-six children approximately three to six years old (the study doesn’t mention details about the children’s community or economic backgrounds). The children were divided into groups and watched various acts of aggression against a five-foot inflated Bobo doll. Surprise: When they had their chance, the kids who watched adults hit the doll pummeled it too, especially those who watched the cartoon version of the doll-beating. Although taken as proof that children will imitate aggressive models from film and television, this study is riddled with leaps in logic.
The main problem with the Bobo doll study is fairly obvious: Hitting an inanimate object is not necessarily an act of violence, nor is real life something that can be adequately recreated in a laboratory. In fairness, contemporary experiments have been a bit more complex than this one, using physiological measures like blinking and heart rate to measure effects. But the only way to assess a cause-effect relationship with certainty is to conduct an experiment, yet violence is too complex an issue to isolate into independent and dependent variables in a lab. Imagine designing a study where one group is randomly assigned to live in a neighborhood where dodging drug dealers and gang members is normal. Or where one group is randomly assigned to be verbally and physically abused by an alcoholic parent. What happens in a laboratory is by nature out of context, and real world application is highly questionable. We do learn about children’s play from this study, but by focusing only on how they might become violent we lose a valuable part of the data.
So while this study is limited because it took place in a controlled laboratory and did not involve actual violence, let’s consider a case that on the surface seems to be proof that some kids are copycat killers. In the summer of 1999, a twelve-year-old boy named Lionel Tate beat and killed six-year-old Tiffany Eunick, the daughter of a family friend in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Claiming he was imitating wrestling moves he had seen on television, Lionel’s defense attorney attempted to prove that Lionel did not know that what he was doing would hurt Tiffany; he subpoenaed famous wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in hopes that they would perform for the jury to show how their moves are choreographed. Ultimately, they did not testify, but his attorney argued that Lionel should not be held criminally responsible for what he called a tragic accident. The jury didn’t buy this defense, finding that the severity of the girl’s injuries was inconsistent with the wrestling claim. Nonetheless, the news media ran with the wrestling alibi. Headlines shouted “Wrestle Slay Boy Faces Life,” “Boy, 14, Gets Life in TV Wrestling Death,” and “Young Killer Wrestles Again in Broward Jail.”33 This case served to reawaken fears that media violence, particularly as seen in wrestling, is dangerous because kids allegedly don’t understand that real violence can cause real injuries. Cases like this one are used to justify claims that kids may imitate media violence without recognizing the real consequences.
Lionel’s defense attorney capitalized on this fear by stating that “Lionel had fallen into the trap so many youngsters fall into.”34 But many youngsters don’t fall into this trap and neither did Lionel. Lionel Tate was not an average twelve-year-old boy; the warning signs were certainly present before that fateful summer evening. Most news reports focused on the alleged wrestling connection without exploring Lionel’s troubled background. He was described by a former teacher as “almost out of control,” prone to acting out, disruptive, and seeking attention.35 A forensic psychologist who evaluated Lionel in 1999 described him as having “a high potential for violence” and “uncontrolled feelings of anger, resentment and poor impulse control.”36 Neighbors also described his neighborhood as dangerous, with a significant drug trade.
Evidence from the case also belies the claim that Lionel and Tiffany were just playing, particularly the more than thirty-five serious injuries that Tiffany sustained, including a fractured skull and massive internal damage. These injuries were not found to be consistent with play wrestling, as the defense claimed. The prosecutor pointed out that Lionel did not tell investigators he was imitating wrestling moves initially; instead he said they were playing tag but changed his story to wrestling weeks later. Although his defense attorney claimed Lionel didn’t realize someone could really get hurt while wrestling, Lionel admitted that he knew television wrestling was fake.37
In spite of the fact that Lionel was deemed too naive to know the difference between media violence and real violence, he was tried as an adult and received a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Ultimately, Lionel’s new defense team arranged for his sentence to be overturned in 2003, this time saying that Lionel accidentally jumped on Tiffany when running down a staircase. He was released in January 2004 on the condition that he would remain under court supervision for eleven years. On appeal, a judge ruled that Lionel should have been granted a pretrial hearing to determine if he understood the severity of the charges against him. His case provides an example of the ultimate contradiction: If children really don’t know any better than to imitate wrestling, why would we apply adult punishment? Completely lost in the discussion surrounding this case is our repeated failure as a society to treat children like Lionel before violent behavior escalates, to recognize the warning signs before it is too late.
Unfortunately this was not the end of Lionel Tate’s troubles. Eleven months after his release, Lionel violated his probation when he was found out at 2:30 a.m. with a knife, and a judge extended his probation period to fifteen years.38 In May 2005, Lionel was arrested for robbing a pizza delivery person at gunpoint, and in 2006 was sentenced to thirty years in prison for violating his probation.39
The imitation hypothesis suggests that violence in media puts kids like Lionel over the edge, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, but this enables us to divert our attention from the seriousness of the other risk factors in Lionel’s life. Chances are we would never have heard about Lionel or Tiffany if there was no wrestling angle to the story.
Another murder case demonstrates this point. In February 2001, an argument between two eleven-year-old boys at a Springfield, Massachusetts, movie theater resulted in the death of Nestor Herrera. In spite of the fact that the investigation concentrated on a dispute between the two boys, a Boston Herald story focused almost exclusively on the slasher movie, Valentine, which the accused stabber had just watched.40 The article implied that the similarities between the stabbing and the movie could partly explain why Nestor was killed. Rather than explore why Nestor’s killer was carrying a knife or investigate the family or community background, the Herald warned parents to limit their children’s media use, or “the effects could be devastating.”41
Two days after the initial report, the Herald ran another story, which revisited the gory details of the movie and noted almost as an aside that the suspect’s home was plagued with violence. The suspect also had a history of discipline problems, which caused him to change schools.42 The nature of the boys’ argument (the motive) was apparently not as important as the movie in the Herald ’s initial reports. As it turned out, the suspect was jealous; the victim was at the movie with a girl he liked. Although the district attorney prosecuting the case told the press that the movie clearly did not provoke the stabbing, a February 7 editorial in the Herald focused on media violence as the central problem, stating that “Hollywood’s product is often as toxic as that of the tobacco industry.”43
There is a problem here, but it’s not the slasher film. The problem lies in how easy it is for news reports and subsequent public concern to overlook the central facts of a case like this: A troubled boy is shuffled around and does not receive appropriate intervention until he brings a knife to a movie and kills someone. The movie is not what we should be focusing on: Clearly family violence, a history of discipline problems, and the fact that the boy carried a weapon merit further examination.
The biggest problem with the imitation hypothesis is that it suggests that we focus on media instead of the other 99 percent of the pieces of the violence puzzle. When news accounts neglect to provide the full context, it appears as though media violence is the most compelling explanatory factor. It is certainly likely that young people who are prone to become violent are also drawn towards violent entertainment. For instance, the Columbine shooters probably used video games to practice acting out their rage onto others, but where the will to carry out such extreme levels of violence came from is much more complex. As Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies at MIT, explained, the boys “drew into their world the darkest, most alienated, most brutal images available to them and they turned those images into the vehicle of their personal demons.”44 Rather than implanting violent images, video games and other violent forms of popular culture enable people to indulge in dark virtual fantasies, to act out electronically in ways that the vast majority of them would never do in reality.
Here’s what the media imitation explanation often leaves out: Children whose actions parallel media violence come with a host of other more important risk factors. We blame media violence to deflect blame away from adult failingsnot simply the failure of parents but our society’s failure to help troubled young people, who unfortunately we often overlook until it is too late.
While many young people who have committed violence have also consumed violent media, the majority of people who play video games, watch violent movies, or listen to music with violent lyrics never do. We might agree that some content is shocking and disturbing, as each new, more realistic looking, Grand Theft Auto video game release tends to be. But even though a scene from a film or lyric might be offensive to some, there is no way of knowing for certain how all viewers/listeners/players will actually make sense of the content. Yes, some acts of real violence have media parallels. But it is a problem to presume that popular culture simply implants violence in people’s minds, even if the people are children. The fear of media violence is based on the belief that young people cannot discern fantasy from reality, and that this failure will condition kids to regard violence as a rewarding experience. It’s important to note that the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality is a key indicator of psychosis in adults, but many seem to accept this as a natural condition of childhood and even adolescence.
It is a mistake to presume media representations of violence and real violence have the same meaning for audiences. Even if we have become emotionally immune to violence in popular culture, it by no means indicates that when violence really happens it has no effect. An anvil might fall on a cartoon character, the CSI sleuths investigate a new murder, but the meanings of each are quite different. A great deal of what counts as television violence today comes from the success of franchises such as CSI, Law and Order, and other police investigation shows that promote the power of law enforcement, not crime.
Ironically, studies that assess violence on television do not count real violence reported on the news. When we hear about violence on the news, we may feel a little more concerned but still experience minimal emotional reaction; after all, this is a daily feature of news broadcasts and it would be overwhelming to get upset every time we turn on the news. But when the event is close to home, the violence appears random, or we see the victims as people like us, the event becomes all the more meaningful. And of course witnessing violence in person has a different meaning than mediated violence. The fear that media violence may make kids violent is founded on the assumption that young people do not recognize a difference between media violence and real violence. Ironically, adults themselves seem to have problems distinguishing between the two. This is probably because many white middle-class adults have had little exposure to violence other than through media representations themselves.
I include myself in this category. Aside from the news and witnessing a fistfight or two at school, violence has mainly been a vicarious experience for me. While working as a researcher studying juvenile homicides, I discovered some of the differences between media violence and actual violence. This study required me and my research team to comb through police investigation files looking for details about the incidents. Just looking at the files could be difficult, so we tried to avoid crime scene and coroner’s photographs to avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed. One morning while I was looking through a case file, the book accidentally fell open to the page with the crime scene photos. I saw a young man, probably about my age at the time, slumped over the steering wheel of his car. He had a gunshot wound to his forehead, a small red circle. His eyes were open. I felt a wrenching feeling in my stomach, a feeling I have never felt before and have fortunately never felt since. At that point I realized that regardless of the hundreds, if not thousands, of violent acts I had seen in movies and television, none could come close to this. I had never seen the horrific simplicity of a wound like that one, never seen the true absence of expression in a person’s face. No actor I had ever seen was able to truly “do death” right, I realized. It became clear that I knew nothing about violence for the most part. Yes, I have read the research, but that knowledge was just academic; this was real.
This is not to say that violent media do not create real emotional responses. Good storytelling can create sadness and fear, and depending on the context violence can even be humorous (like the Three Stooges or other slapstick comedy). Media violence may elicit no emotional responsebut this does not necessarily mean someone is desensitized or uncaring when real violence happens in our lives. It may mean that a script was mediocre and that the audience doesn’t care about its characters. But it could be because media violence is not real and most of us, even children, know it. Sociologist Todd Gitlin calls media violence a way of getting “safe thrills.”45 Viewing media violence is a way of dealing with the most frightening aspect of life in a safe setting, like riding a roller-coaster while knowing that you will get off and walk away in a few minutes.
Fueled by news reports of studies that seem to be very compelling, many people fear that kids can’t really distinguish between real violence and media violence. An unpublished study of eight children made news across the United States and Canada. “Kids may say they know the difference between real violence and the kind they see on television and video, but new research shows their brains don’t,” announced Montreal’s Gazette.46 This research, conducted by John Murray, a developmental psychologist at Kansas State University, involved MRIs of eight children, aged eight to thirteen. As the kids watched an eighteen-minute fight scene from Rocky IV, their brains showed activity in areas that are commonly activated in response to threats and emotional arousal. This should come as no surprise, since entertainment often elicits emotional response; if film and television had no emotional payoff, why would people watch?
But the press took this small study as proof of what we already think we know: Kids can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. A Kansas City Star reporter described this as “a frightening new insight,” and the study’s author stated the children “were treating Rocky IV violence as real violence.”47 And while Yale psychologist Dorothy Singer warned that the size of the study was too small to draw any solid conclusions, she also said that the study is “very important.” 48 We want research to support our fear so badly that even a minor, unpublished study will nonetheless circulate throughout the news media. The dangerous content that grabs headlines presumes players are blank slates, easily influenced with no clear distinction between right and wrong.
The results of most research this small might be able to get a researcher some grant money for further investigation, but nearly never make the news. But instead, this study was treated as another piece to the puzzle, and clearly made headlines because of its dramatic elements: a popular movie, medical technology, and children viewing violence. In any case, there are big problems with the interpretation offered by the study’s author. First, this study actually discredits the idea of desensitization. The children’s brains clearly showed some sort of emotional reaction to the violence they saw. They were not emotionally deadened, as we are often told to fear. But kids can’t win either way within the media-violence fear, since feeling too little or too much are both interpreted as proof that media violence is harmful to children.
Second, by focusing on children, the study and subsequent reports make it appear as though children’s thoughts are completely different from adults’. Somehow, by virtue of children being children, their brains can know things that they don’t. But in all likelihood adult brains would likely react in much the same way. Do an MRI on adults while they watch pornography and their brains will probably show arousal. Does that mean the person would think that he or she just had actual sex? The neurological reaction would probably be extremely similar, if not identical, but we can’t read brainwaves and infer meaning. That’s what makes humans human: the ability to create meaning from our experiences. And adults are not the only ones capable of making sense of their lives.
Professor Murray’s comments imply that researchers can read children’s minds and know things about their thoughts that the kids themselves cannot, a rather troubling presumption. Violence has meanings that cannot simply be measured in brainwaves, MRIs, or CAT scans. No matter what these high-tech tools may tell researchers, experiencing real violence is fundamentally different from experiencing media violence. It is adults, not kids, who seem to have trouble grasping this idea.
In an ABC World News Tonight broadcast, a thirteen-year-old boy described how his “palms get sweaty,” he gets nervous, and he feels “an adrenaline rush” while playing video games.49 Reporter Michele Norris interpreted this reaction as an admission “that the line between fantasy and reality is not always clear.” But physiological changes are not indicators of a shift from reality. As sports fans will tell you, the Hail Mary pass, the bottom of the ninth inning, and any action with the game on the line can lead to very real changes in heart rate and blood pressure without the fan believing that they are really playing.
If we want to learn about what causes kids to commit real acts of violence, depictions of media violence won’t help us muchtalking with people who have experienced both will. For several years in the mid-1990s, I worked with criminologists on a broad study of juvenile violence to understand the causes and correlates of youth violence in Los Angeles.50 We wanted to understand the full context of violence in order to help develop conflict management programs with community members. Usually when we talk about violence and media, it is common to defer to people who have studied media effectsbut most of these researchers haven’t studied violence itself much, if at all.51 However, truly knowing about both violence and media comes from experiencing them both firsthand, something I fortunately have not. But we knew there were many young people in Los Angeles who had and that they were real violence experts. To interview them, we went to the areas with the highest violent arrest rates (not to those with the most video gamers). Initially, we conducted a survey to ascertain the level of violence in each neighborhood. We then did follow-up in-depth interviews with fifty-six males, aged twelve to eighteen, who had experienced violence as victims or offenders (or both) to understand how they made sense of both real and media violence. 52 Our interviewees clearly described the differences between media violence and actually experiencing violence firsthand.
Above all, their stories tell us that the meaning of violence is made within particular social contexts. For most of those interviewed, poverty and neighborhood violence were overwhelming influences in their lives, shaping their interactions and their understanding of their futures. More than three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) noted that gang activity was prominent in their neighborhoods. Slightly less than half (48 percent) reported feeling tremendous pressure to join gangs, but less than one in ten (9 percent) claimed gang membership. Eighty-eight percent heard guns being fired on a regular basis, and nearly one-third (30 percent) had seen someone get shot. More than one-quarter (27 percent) had seen a dead body, and 14 percent had been threatened with a gun themselves. Almost one-quarter (23 percent) had been attacked with some sort of weapon.
Through interviewing these young people, we found that the line between victim and offender is hard to draw and that violent incidents occur within murky contexts. The people we call violent offenders are not necessarily predators, looking to swoop down on the weak and innocent. Instead, we see that violent incidents often happen within a larger context of fear, intimidation, despair, and hopelessness. These kids were trying to survive in destroyed communities as best they could. Unfortunately, violence was often a part of their survival.
Public discussions about violence often ignore these violence experts, who clarified several key differences between their actual experiences with violence and media violence. For one, many described media violence as gorier, with over-the-top special effects. Over and over the boys described how fear in their lives comes not from seeing blood on or off screen but from the uncertainty about when violence will next occur. In post-September 11 America, with threats of terrorism and ongoing military conflicts, this is something most Americans can now relate to. One seventeen-year-old stated that because violence in his neighborhood was so pervasive, media violence was strangely comforting: He said at least when it occurred on television, he knew he was safe.
Another key difference in meaning is the clear distinction between good and evil in media depictions of violence. “It’s more pumped-up like, [a] heroic thing,” an eighteen-year-old informant told us. “Like most of violence on TV is like a heroic thing. Like a cop does something amazing. Like somebody like a bad guy, the violence is usually like pin-pointed toward a bad person.” Other boys described the lack of punishment in their experiences compared with media violence; law enforcement to them was not as effective as it may appear on police dramas. A seventeen-year-old compared his experiences with the Jerry Springer show, saying, “They have security that break it up if something happens. Nobody is really going to get hurt that much because there probably will be two or three blows and security will hop on stage and grab the people.” He went on to describe how, in his experience, the police were not concerned with who the good guy was, that there is no discussion, and often no real resolution. Ironically, one of the central complaints about media violence is that often there are no consequences, but our informants told us that in reality things are even worse.
A major concern about media violence is that it creates unfounded fear that the world is a dangerous place. Communications scholar George Gerbner describes this as the “mean-world” syndrome: By watching so much television violence, people mistakenly believe that the world is a violent place. But what about people who do live in dangerous communities? With the boys we interviewed, poverty and hopelessness gnaw away at them on a daily basis. “It’s just poverty,” an eighteen-year-old told us. “I wouldn’t recommend nobody comin’ here. . . . I just wouldn’t recommend it.” Not surprisingly, the majority of boys we interviewed did not find media violence to be a big source of fear. In fact, some boys said they enjoyed watching violence to point out how producers got it wrong. As experts, they can detect the artificiality of media violence.
The boys also expressed resentment when their neighborhoods are used in stereotypical portrayals. “The people that make the movies, I’m pretty sure they never lived where we live at, you know, went to the schools we went to,” explained a seventeen-year-old we interviewed. “They were, most of ’em were born in you know, the upper-class whatever, you know? I don’t think they really have experienced how we live so that’s why I don’t think they really know how it is out here.” Others explained how movies, violent or otherwise, were a luxury they could rarely afford. Besides, impoverished communities often have no movie theaters. One boy told us he never went to movies because it wasn’t safe to be out at night or to go to other neighborhoods and possibly be mistaken for a rival gang member.
Some of the boys did say that media violence made them more afraid, based on the violent realities of their communities. “If you watch a gangster movie and you live in a neighborhood with gangsters, you think you’ll be killed,” an informant said. Another respondent, who said he had to carry a knife for protection, told us, “It makes you fear going outside. It makes you think twice about going outside. I mean, how can you go outside after watching someone get shot on TV? You know, my friend was just walking outside of his house and got shot. And you think to yourself, damn, what if I walked out of my house and got shot?” In both cases the fear that stemmed from media violence was rooted in their real-life experiences.
Violence exists within specific social contexts; people make meaning of both real violence and media violence in the context of their lives. It is clear from these examples that neighborhood violence and poverty are important factors necessary to understand the meanings these young people give to media violence. Other contexts would certainly be different, but when researchers or critics focus on media violence, real-life circumstances are often overlooked.
The public hears little about research that challenges the conventional wisdom or the studies that seek to understand how young people make sense of media violence. The American news media is rarely interested in covering media-violence research without a cause-effect result. British scholar David Buckingham writes that Americans “persist in asking simplistic questions about complex social issues” to avoid talking about controversial issues such as gun control.53 We have been held hostage by denial, while European and Australian media scholars in particular study media in a much more complex fashion.
For example, a British study found that children’s definitions of violent television differed by gender, telling us that masculinity claims are made by boys “tough enough” to not be scared by media violence.54 The genre and context of the story contribute to whether or not kids consider a program violent.55 Like adults, children tend to think media violence is harmful, just not for themkids younger than them may be affected, they tell researchers.56 A study of children’s emotional responses to horror films found that they did sometimes have nightmares (parents’ biggest concern for their children), but chose to watch scary films so they could conquer their fears and toughen up.57 Horror films helped the children experience fear and deal with anxiety in a safe setting. The study’s author concluded that watching media violence might be a way for children to prepare themselves to face their fears more directly. While parents may hope to prevent their children from ever being scared or having a bad dream, nightmares are a normal way for children (and adults) to deal with fear and anxiety.
British researchers Garry Crawford and Victoria Gosling interviewed video gamers and found that it is a central source of male bonding for players. Computer games let people temporarily adopt different identities, and also enjoy a sense of mastery upon improving their performance in the games. Participants playing sports-related games also gain specific knowledge about the sport, which for males in particular can enhance social standing among peers.58
Studies like the ones described above are absent from American news reports about media and violence, so we are encouraged to keep thinking about children as potential victims of popular culture. American researchers are quick to discount children’s abilities as media audience members, as is evident in traditional media-effects research in which children’s ideas are missing. And by overlooking adults’ use of the same media we ignore the widespread and varied uses of video games and other media.
Watching media violence is obviously different from experiencing actual violence, yet media phobics have repeatedly used the two modes of experience interchangeably. Clearly media violence can be interpreted in many ways: as frightening, as cathartic, as funny, or absurd. We can’t make assumptions about meaning no matter what the age of the audience.
We also need to acknowledge the meaning of violence in American media and American culture. It’s too easy to say that media only reflect society or that producers are just giving the public what it wants, but violence sells. Violence is dramatic, a simple cinematic tool and easy to sell to domestic and overseas markets, since action-adventure movies present few translation problems for overseas distributors. But in truth, violence and aggression are very central facets of American society. We reward violence in many contexts outside of popular culture. Aggressive personalities tend to thrive in capitalism: Risk-takers, people who are not afraid to go for it, are highly prized within business culture. We celebrate sports heroes for being aggressive, not passive. The best hits of the day make the football highlights on ESPN, and winning means “decimating” and “destroying” in broadcast lingo.
We also value violence, or its softer-sounding equivalent, the use of force, to resolve conflict. On local, national, and international levels violence is largely considered acceptable. Whether this is right or wrong is the subject for a different book, but the truth is that in the United States the social order has traditionally been created and maintained through violence. We can’t honestly address media violence until we recognize that in part our media culture is violent because we, as a society, are.
But what about all the research done on media and violence? While this is probably one of the most researched issues in social science, the research is not nearly as conclusive as we are told. Many researchers have built their careers on investigating a variety of potentially harmful effects that television, movies, music, video games, and other forms of popular culture might have. Two things are interesting about this body of research: First, it concentrates heavily on children, presuming that effects are strong on children and perhaps unimportant with adults; and second, that researchers almost always test for negative effects of popular culture. Even when crime rates drop, as they generally have in the U.S. over the past decade, these studies don’t investigate whether media could explain positive events. We might want to ask why many researchers are so committed to finding reasons to blame media for social problems and use popular culture as the central variable of analysisrather than violence itself.
Many people now view the media explanation as a common sense explanation. While most of the general public has never actually read the research, we frequently hear reports on it in the news, allegedly demonstrating a clear connection. Headlines like “Survey Connects Graphic TV Fare, Child Behavior” (Boston Globe), “Cutting Back on Kids’ TV Use May Reduce Aggressive Acts” (Denver Post), “Doctors Link Kids’ Violence to Media” (Arizona Republic), and “Study Ties Aggression to Violence in Games” (USA Today) are commonplace. The media-violence connection seems very real, with studies and experts to verify the alleged danger in story after story. But the popular press often provides no critical scrutiny and fails to challenge the conceptual problems much of the research contains.
In 2004, the Dallas Morning News published a story titled “Link Between Media and Aggression Clear, Experts Say.”59 The article reports on claims from a recently published article without any critique. While the researchers quoted concede that most people who consume violent media will not become violent, they suggest that anyone could possibly be triggered by media violence and that we have no way of predicting this beforehand. The article does not mention any other predictors of violence, by omission implying that media is the biggest contributor.
Stories like this run in newspapers across the country. The Los Angeles Times ran a story called “In a Wired World, TV Still Has Grip on Kids.”60 The article provides the reader the impression that research provides overwhelming evidence of negative media effects: Only three sentences out of a thousand-plus words offered any refuting information. Just two quoted experts argued against the conventional wisdom, while six offered favorable comments. Several studies’ claims drew no challenge, in spite of serious shortcomings.
For example, researchers considered responses to a “hostility questionnaire” or children’s aggressive play as evidence that media violence can lead to real-life violence. But aggression is not the same as violence, although in some cases it may be a precursor to violence. There is a big difference between rough play at recess, being involved in an occasional schoolyard brawl, and becoming a serious violent criminal. Nor is it clear that these effects are anything but immediate. And aggression is not necessarily a pathological condition; we all have aggression that we need to learn to deal with and channel appropriately. Second, several of the studies use correlation statistics as proof of causation. Correlation indicates the existence of relationships, but cannot measure cause and effect. Reporters may not recognize this, and some researchers may forget this, but in either case journalists have the responsibility to provide some critical context.
This pattern repeats in story after story. A Denver Post article described a 1999 study that claimed that limiting TV and video use reduced children’s aggression.61 The story prefaced the report by stating that “numerous studies have indicated a connection between exposure to violence and aggressive behavior in children,” thus making this new report appear part of a large body of convincing evidence. The only quasi challenge to this study came from psychologist James Garbarino, who noted that the real causes of violence are complex, although his list of factors began with “television, video games, and movies.” He did cite guns, child abuse, and economic inequality as important factors, but the story failed to address any of these other problems.
The reporter doesn’t mention the study’s other shortcomings. First is the assumption that the television and videos kids watch contain violence at all. The statement we hear all the time in various forms?“the typical American child will be exposed to 200,000 acts of violence on television by age eighteen”is based on the estimated time kids spend watching television, but tells us nothing about what they have actually watched.62 Second, in these studies, aggression in play serves as a proxy for violence. Author Gerard Jones points out that play is a powerful way by which kids can deal with feelings of fear.63 Thus, watching the Power Rangers and then play fighting is not necessarily an indicator of violence, it is part of how children fantasize about being powerful without actually intending to harm anyone. Finally, the researchers presumed that reducing television and video use explained changes in behavior, when in fact aggression and violence are complex responses to specific circumstances created by a variety of environmental factors. Nonetheless, the study’s author stated that “if you . . . reduce their exposure to media you’ll see a reduction in aggressive behavior.”
A spring 2003 study claiming to have long-term evidence that children who watch television violence become violent adults ironically made news the week that American troops entered Iraq. This study is unique in that it tracked 329 respondents for fifteen years, but it contains several serious shortcomings that prevent us from concluding that television creates violence later in life.64 First, the study measures aggression, not violence. The researchers defined aggression rather broadly; they constructed an “aggression composite” that includes such antisocial behavior as having angry thoughts, talking rudely to or about others, and having moving violations on one’s driving record. Violence is a big jump from getting lots of speeding tickets. But beyond this composite, the connection between television viewing and physical aggression for males, perhaps the most interesting measure, is relatively weak. Television viewing explains only 3 percent of what led to physical aggression in the men studied.65 Although some subjects did report getting into physical altercations, fewer than 10 of the 329 participants had ever been convicted of a crime, too small a sample to make any predictions about serious violent offenders.
Other long-term studies used correlation analysis to isolate television from other factors to attempt to connect watching television with violence later in life. A 2002 study published in Science considered important issues like childhood neglect, family income, and neighborhood violence, parental education, and psychiatric disorders. They found that these issues are positively correlated to both more television viewing and to aggressive behavior.66 The authors concede that no causal connection can be madeit is very likely the factors that lead people to watch more television are the same factors that contribute to aggression and violence. For instance, someone who watches a lot of television may have less parental involvement, less participation in other recreational activities like sports or extracurricular programs at school, or for older teens a job. And of course we have no idea what they are watching on television in studies like these, despite the authors’ blanket statement that “violent acts are depicted frequently on television.”
While television has been under the microscope for the last forty years, video games are a relatively new target for media violence researchers. While critics traditionally considered television and movies passive mediums, video games are more interactive. Because of their interactivity, we might presume that video games would create even more potential for real violence. Yes, the violent content of many of these games is shocking, and it’s worth exploring why simulated killing is frequently a young male pastime. Many of the gamers are adults; according to industry estimates, the average video game player is thirty-five, the average video game purchaser is forty, and nearly a quarter of players are over fifty.67
And as with television, media violence researchers mostly begin with the expectation that playing violent video games causes aggression in children. Articles like “Video Games and Real-Life Aggression” (2001), “Video Games: Benign or Malignant” (1992), and “Is Mr. Pac-Man Eating Our Children?” (1997) are just a few examples of a flurry of studies that have appeared in professional journals since the 1980s, all assessing that one outcome.68 We might wonder why researchers conduct so many studies on the same issue if the findings really are as conclusive as the authors sometimes suggest. A 2007 review in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior found a clear case of publication bias, where studies about video games testing for negative effects are far more likely to be published than other possible links.69 As much as social scientists claim they can be completely objective, even scholars have preconceived beliefs and agendas that color the research questions they ask, the way their studies are designed, and the interpretations that follow. In fairness, nearly all professional researchers are up front about the shortcomings of their findings and point out that their results are preliminary or that they cannot truly state that popular culture like video games cause violence. But when a journal article hits the news wires, cautious science tends to fly out the window. Serious problems in conception or method rarely make it into press reports because they complicate the story. This is not entirely the researcher’s fault, but reports ultimately lead the public to believe that a preponderance of evidence against video games exists, when instead it is a preponderance of studies that have been done to try to prove that our fear of video games is rational.
The main problem with many of these video game studies is how they define and measure aggression. For instance, a 1987 study had subjects impose fake money fines on opponents as an indicator of aggression. 70 A pretty big stretch, but equally questionable measures are often used to suggest that video game users will become aggressive, and even violent. A 2000 study by psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill is a case in point. “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings and Behavior in the Laboratory and Life” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and quickly made international news.71 Newspapers, magazines, and other professional journals reported on their study as definitive evidence that video games can increase aggressive behavior. Time magazine concluded that “playing violent video games can contribute to aggressive and violent behavior in real life,” in May 2000.72 There’s just one problem: Upon close inspection, the studies the article based its conclusions on are riddled with both conceptual and methodological problems. Let’s take a closer look to better understand why.
The Anderson and Dill results are based on two studies done with their introductory psychology students, so the sample is not representative. Part of their study looks at whether past video game use is associated with delinquency, but the most serious delinquent youth rarely make it to college, let alone show up for an appointment to participate in a study for their psychology class. Further, their first study used nearly twice as many female students as males. But males are more likely to play video games and are much more likely to commit serious acts of violence. In the first study, the students completed a questionnaire that asked about their favorite video games as teens, how violent they thought the games were, how much time they spent playing, and then their history of aggression and delinquency. Students were asked to think back and recall information from four to ten years prior, depending on their age. From this survey, researchers claimed they found a correlation between time spent playing video games and their aggressive and/or delinquent behavior.
But this study was not designed to assess causality, just the existence of a relationship between time spent playing games and rating higher on irritability and aggression questionnaires.73 Nonetheless, the authors claim that video games “contribute to the creation of aggressive personality,” a conclusion that is a clear leap in logic.74 Because correlation measures association, not cause and effect, it is equally possible that those with aggressive personalities are more likely to enjoy aggressive video game playing.
Anderson and Dill conducted a second study in a laboratory; in this experiment, students played a video game for fifteen minutes. Some played a violent game and others played a nonviolent educational game. When they finished, the students were asked to read “aggressive words” (like “murder”) on a computer screen and were timed to see how fast they said the words aloud. Because the violent game players repeated the words faster, they were deemed to have “aggressive thoughts” and perhaps be more prone to violence. Another leap in logic and questionable interpretation, as the words they read on the screen were not indeed their own thoughts, nor are aggressive thoughts necessarily dangerous. It is what we do with our hostility that is important. The researchers have stumbled onto something interesting: Even a short time spent playing computer-generated games appear to quicken visual reflexes.
Other studies have supported this finding: A 2005 review published by the National Swedish Public Health Institute found no reliable link with violence, but instead found spatial abilities of players improved.75 While video games strengthen hand-eye coordination and improve reflexes, the claim that video games create the desire to actually kill a live human is not supported by evidence. If this were the case we would see far more of the millions of video game users become violent instead of an extreme minority. It seems we’re less interested in learning about actual effects of video games than we are in trying to justify our anxieties about media and violence.
The Anderson and Dill study also included a follow-up one week later. Students returned to the lab and played another game for fifteen minutes. If they won, they were allowed to blast their opponent with noise (unbeknownst to the subjects, they played against a computer and their opponent wasn’t real). The violent-game players blasted their perceived opponents slightly louder and longer, and this was taken as the indicator of increased aggression caused by video games. We have to seriously question whether making noise is a good proxy for aggression, and if this form of aggression is in any way linked with violence. Making loud noises one day, murder the next?
The authors admit in their report that “the existence of a violent video game effect cannot be unequivocally established” from their research.76 Nonetheless, an Alberta, Canada, newspaper reported that this study is proof that “even small doses of violent video games are harmful to children,” even though children were not the subjects of the study.77 The article skillfully used preexisting fears to prime readers before presenting the findings of this study. The Alberta Report article titled “Mortal Konsequences” begins by introducing Jane Baker, a regular “Calgary mom” who doesn’t like video games. The story goes on to proclaim that this study “discovered what some parents have always suspected” and then presents claims of the Anderson and Dill study.
Apparently Calgary mom Jane Baker will now never allow video games in her house; the message here is no other parent should either. But it’s not just a small Canadian newspaper reporting on these findings as fact. Time magazine concurred: “None of this should be surprising,” the author stated, listing the violent nature of games like Doom and Mortal Kombat.78 Even the British medical journal The Lancet reported on this story without critical scrutiny.79 It doesn’t matter how weak a study may be; it can still gather international attention as long as it tells us what we think we already know.
The results of studies that challenge the video game-violence connection don’t make headlines, but there are plenty of them, dating back at least to 1993. Psychologist Guy Cumberbatch found that children may become frustrated by their failure to win at video games, as most games are designed to be increasingly difficult, but this anger does not necessarily translate to the outside world. Cumberbatch concluded, “We may be appalled by something and think it’s disgusting, but they know its conventions and see humor in things that others wouldn’t.”80 In 1995, psychologist Derek Scott concluded that “one should not over-generalize the negative side of computer games playing” after his study found no evidence that violent video games led to more aggression.81
Beyond individual studies, reviews of research appear regularly in scholarly journals, and their findings are often contradictory. Although a 1998 review in the journal Aggressive and Violent Behavior declared that a “preponderance of evidence” suggests video games lead to aggression, a review the next year in the same journal argued that methodological problems and a lack of conclusive evidence do not enable us to conclude that video games lead to aggression. In 2004, the same journal published another review, which noted that “there is little evidence in favor of focusing on media violence as a means of remedying our violent crime problem.”82 A 2001 review in Psychological Science concluded that video games “will increase aggressive behavior,” while another 2001 analysis in Journal of Adolescent Health declared that it is “not possible to determine whether video game violence affects aggressive behavior.”83
Clearly, the research on the effects of video games and other violent media cannot allow us to conclude they are a significant cause of real violence. But fear persists for other reasons. Video games represent the digital age, where play and much of our daily routine is mediated by a microchip. Video games, a strange new world to many older adults, seem easy to blame for creating violence, alienation, and disconnection. Politicians and policy makers can conveniently overlook other factors that explain America’s violence problem.
The Politics of Blaming Media for Violence
Many of the Columbine victims’ families, robbed of their day in court when the killers committed suicide, filed lawsuits against those who seemed like the next in line of responsibility, the video game manufacturers. Claiming that the games led to the shootings by “making violence pleasurable and disconnected from reality,” a $5 billion lawsuit was filed against Eidos, maker of games like “Sword of Berserk” and “Urban Chaos.”84 Another suit alleged that the creators were responsible because they knew that violence would result from playing the games. Both suits were thrown out and never went to trial, and to date no court has found popular culture liable for causing violence.85 Curiously, the same fervor was never directed against gun manufacturers, whose products will clearly kill or maim when used correctly. On the contrary, a bill breezed through Congress in early 2000 that made it more difficult to sue gun manufacturers, a victory for the powerful gun lobby. Are joysticks really more dangerous than guns?
Video game fears are not just reinforced by news reports and lawsuits, but by the involvement of elected officials. In 1993, the Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee met to discuss video games, which resulted in the industry’s agreement for more self-regulation in the form of ratings. Calls for self-regulation are just about all the government can do, since the First Amendment generally prohibits intervention.
But that hasn’t stopped politicians from appearing to take on the video game industry. For the most part politicians are limited to meetings with industry leaders and making speeches expressing their disdain for video games, which resonates with their constituents. They cite the problematic research discussed above and tell their constituents that the video game violence/real violence connection has been scientifically proven and can lead to tragedies like the Columbine massacre. Chances are good none of them had ever played a video game or seen more than a few of the most shocking clips.
There is no shortage of witnesses to testify at hearings like these. During July 2000 hearings, physician Michael Brody told the Senate that video games are “Darwinian, paranoid and controlled,” and encourage players to lack empathy.86 He declared that they are “not toys or even games in the traditional sense,” arguing that they “do little to act as catalysts for the telling of a child’s own stories, as real toys do.” He also charged they do nothing to “promote imagination” or “develop strategies for problem solving.” Of course, the same might be said of coloring books, and reading a book doesn’t necessarily help children tell their own story either. But should the government decide what qualifies as a toy?
“This is one of the vehicles by which politicians try to be famous,” complained a video game distributor in Tampa, Florida.87 A few of his state’s members of Congress proposed new legal restrictions that would prevent minors from purchasing or renting M-rated games. In late 2001, Representative Doug Wiles (R-FL) spoke of making violent video games “on par with . . . the rental or purchase of adult movies.”88 M-rated video games would be displayed in a separate room like pornography, according to this plan, which Representative Joe Baca (D-CA) introduced as the “Protect Children from Video Sex and Violence Act of 2002” in May of that year. Baca claimed this bill was necessary since video games are allegedly “brainwashing and conditioning our kids to violence.”89 Selling or renting violent video games to minors would become a federal crime. First-time offenders would be fined $1,000, and repeat offenders could be fined up to $5,000 and serve a possible ninety-day jail term.
Although the bill eventually died in the subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security, criminalizing video rental clerks is hardly realistic in the Netflix era. In any case, Forbes estimates that 90 percent of video game purchases are made by adults, not “two year-old [s] with a bunch of money,” as the Tampa Tribune hyperbolically warned.90 It’s likely that parents make many of these purchases and rentals; Forbes reported that of the adult game buyers, nearly two-thirds have children in their households. In spite of congressional attempts to regulate retailers, it appears that many parents have not bought into the video game menace and are the main purchasers of video games.
Several states have also tried to restrict video game sales. California, Illinois, and Michigan have all passed laws making it illegal for minors to purchase video games considered violent or sexually explicitand courts have ruled each of these states’ laws to be unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.91 (Ironically, the California statute was signed into law by a former movie action hero, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The federal judge who struck down the California law determined that the claims of psychological harm rationalizing the law had not been proven.
If retailers aren’t constructed as the problem, then parents are. When politicians run out of ways to try to restrict game makers and distributors, they then blame parents for not policing their children as much as the government may wish it legally could. A Chicago Sun-Times headline, “Parents Cautioned to Heed Ratings,” is an example of calls for parents to restrict their kids’ video game use.92 An ABC World News Tonight report on video games in July 2002 featured a parent who felt her son was mature enough to play Grand Theft Auto III. The reporter described her decision as “giving in” to her son, which an expert called “irresponsible.”93
In spite of politicians and well-meaning experts’ attempts to act as super-parents, there is no clear and consistent age boundary between maturity and immaturity. Any attempt to make such decisions should be made by those who know a young person best, not the government acting like a punitive parent. Politicians who try to micro-manage childhood and adolescence will fail on several counts: They miss the big-picture issues that could explain why some young people may spend so much time playing video games and what else could be done instead (like providing more extracurricular activities or job training programs). Of course there is nothing wrong with kids having leisure time and fun too. Politicians who fail to understand the pleasure in popular culture alienate young people, who may feel more like pawns of the political system than true constituents. Government attempts to regulate what video games kids play simply won’t work in a digitized era. And yet attempts to crack down on popular culture generate bipartisan support from across the political spectrum.
While some fear that the content of video games and other violent entertainment may be harmful, we also need to consider the harm of diversion from the issues that politicians could be exploring instead of leading the media phobia brigade. We might ask why so many parents are afraid for their kids to play outside in their communities, and why many neighborhoods have few spaces for teens to safely congregate. We could also consider using video gaming to build other skills and interests. The army has created a game to promote enlistmentironically this is a nonviolent game, while real military service is often anything but nonviolent.94 We should see through the games politicians play too, and avoid falling into the culture-blaming trap we are so often led into.
Violence elicits fear because it sometimes may seem to defy prediction, as the Columbine shootings and the September 11th attacks exemplify. We look to find predictors so we can know better for the future. In the face of something so horrific we are open to lots of explanations, including the role that video games may have played. After the high-profile shootings of the 1990s, the FBI conducted a study to produce a profile of school shooters. In the end, they couldn’tschool shootings are so rare and they shared many characteristics with nonviolent kidslike playing video games.
This is not to say that we cannot predict what leads to violence. The majority of young people who turn to violence have a number of other risk factors that we need to focus on more: violence in the home and/or neighborhood, a personal and/or family history of substance abuse, and a sense of hopelessness due to extreme poverty. Specific contexts also must not be ignored; for instance, in the study of youth violence in Los Angeles I noted earlier, we found that the vast majority of homicides involving young offenders are gang-related, drawing on the aforementioned problems, not video games. If kids in impoverished communities actually had video games there may even be a reduction in violence, not because of any cathartic effect, but because they would have something else to do other than congregate in dangerous places. I say this only semiseriously, but to understand why people become violent we need to start by looking at garden-variety violence rather than the headline-grabbing exception.
Politicians, researchers, and the news media may be fascinated by media violence, but the everyday causes of actual violence often receive little attention from policy makers. Yes, media violence may be a small link in a long chain, but certainly it’s not the central link. Much as the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” allegedly sent Charles Manson the message to start a race riot or J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye inspired John Lennon’s killer, for people who view the world through violent lenses, violence in popular culture may reinforce their perception. The media-violence story, the research, and its emotional baggage make open debate next to impossible. Those who fear media violence police the boundaries of this dogma to avoid challenging their intuitive belief that popular culture is dangerous. But taste and influence are two very different things: Media researchers are often media critics in disguise. There’s nothing wrong with media criticismwe could probably use more of itbut when media criticism takes the place of understanding the roots of violence we have a problem. Dissent is dismissed as Hollywood propaganda, reinforced when the press quotes a studio executive as the only person refuting popular culture’s alleged danger.
To hear that “Washington is again taking on Hollywood” may feel good to the public and make it appear as though lawmakers are onto something, but real violence remains off the agenda.95 This tactic appeals to many middle-class constituents whose experience with violence is often limited. Economically disadvantaged people are most likely to experience real violence, but least likely to appear on politicians’ radar. A national focus on media rather than real violence draws on existing fears and reinforces the view that popular culture, not the decades-long neglect of whole communities, leads to violence.
Unfortunately many children are exposed to real violence, not only in their communities, but sometimes in their own homes. We should not deny this and use the illusion that childhood is always carefree until the media gets to them to shield ourselves from this reality.
- 1 John Leo, “When Life Imitates Video,” U.S. News and World Report, May 3, 1999, p. 14.
- 2 Ibid.
- 3 Max B. Baker, “Armey Urges Reunion to Rethink Planned Marilyn Manson Concert,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 20, 1999, p. 3.
- 4 Scott Mervis, “Devil’s Advocate: Marilyn Manson Is a Panty-Wearing Soldier in the Battle for the First Amendment,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1997, p. 20.
- 5 James H. Burnett III, “Detractors, Fans Greet Marilyn Manson Here,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 26, 1999, p. 1.
- 6 Marilyn Manson, “Columbine: Whose Fault is it?” Rolling Stone, June 24, 1999, p. 23.
- 7 See Jonathan L. Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), p. 43.
- 8 Dorothy Dimitre, Letter to the editor, San Francisco Chronicle, September 18, 2000, p. A16.
- 9 Ibid.
- 10 Richard Saltus, “Survey Connects Graphic TV Fare, Child Behavior,” Boston Globe, March 21, 2001, p. A1.
- 11 Ibid.; Rosie Mestel, “Triggers of Violence Still Elusive,” Los Angeles Times, 7 March 2001, p. A1.
- 12 “A Poisonous Pleasure,” editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2000, p. B2. Psychologist Jonathan Freedman suggests that the claim of 1000 studies is inflated, and that there have been more like 200 studies conducted. Freedman, Media Violence, p. 24.
- 13 “A Poisonous Pleasure,” p. B2.
- 14 Freedman, Media Violence, p. 200.
- 15 Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001), p. 145.
- 16 Jim Sullinger, “Forum Examines Media Violence,” Kansas City Star, August 29, 2001, p. B5.
- 17 Kathy McCabe, “Taking Aim at Youth Violence,” Boston Globe, March 12, 2006, p. 1.
- 18 Jennifer Blanton, “Media, Single Parents Blamed for Spurt in Teen Violence,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 2, 2001, A1.
- 19 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ten-Year Arrest Trends, Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 2006 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2007), http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/data/table_32.html.
- 20 James Alan Fox and Marianne W. Zawitz, Homicide Trends in the United States (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).
- 21 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Arrests by Age, Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 2006 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2007), http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/data/table_38.html; Population estimate from U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Annual Estimates of the Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006 (Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2007).
- 22 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1964-1999 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).
- 23 Lori Dorfman, et al., “Youth and Violence on Local Television News in California,” American Journal of Public Health
- 87 (1997): 1311-1316.
- 24 Los Angeles Police Department, Statistical Digest 2007, Information Technology Division, http://www.lapdonline.org/get_involved/pdf_view/40457.
- 25 E. Britt Patterson, “Poverty, Income Inequality and Community Crime Rates,” in Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, Theoretical and Societal Reactions to Youth, 2nd ed., ed. Paul M. Sharp and Barry W. Hancock (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998), pp. 135-150.
- 26 Wayne Wooden and Randy Blazak, Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws: From Youth Culture to Delinquency, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001).
- 27 Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2006), p. 67, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter3.pdf.
- 28 Cited in Glenn Gaslin, “Lessons Born of Virtual Violence,” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2001, p. E1.
- 29 Ronald K. Fitten, “Trial to Begin for Teen Charged in Triple Slaying,” Seattle Times, August 24, 1997, p. B1.
- 30 Ronald K. Fitten, “Loukaitis Jurors Hear Parents, See Pearl Jam Video,” Seattle Times, September 9, 1997, p. B3.
- 31 Ibid.
- 32 Alex Fryer, “School Violence Pervades Films, Books and Music,” Seattle Times, April 25, 1999, p. A1.
- 33 Caroline J. Keough, “Young Killer Wrestles Again in Broward Jail,” Miami Herald, February 17, 2001, p. A1; Michael Browning, et al., “Boy, 14, Gets Life in TV Wrestling Death,” Chicago Sun-Times, March 10, 2001, p. A1; “Wrestle Slay-Boy Faces Life,” Daily News, January 26, 2001, p. 34.
- 34 “13 Year-Old Convicted of First-Degree Murder,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, January 26, 2001, p. 1B.
- 35 Caroline Keough, “Teen Killer Described as Lonely, Pouty, Disruptive,” Miami Herald, February 5, 2001, p. A1.
- 36 Tamara Lush, “Once Again, Trouble Finds Lionel Tate,” St. Petersburg Times, May 25, 2005, p. 1B.
- 37 “Murder Defendant, 13, Claims He Was Imitating Pro Wrestlers on TV,” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2001, p. A24. Later in media interviews, Lionel said that Tiffany was lying down on the stairs and he accidentally crushed her when he came bounding down the steps.
- 38 Tamara Lush, “Once Again, Trouble Finds Lionel Tate,” St. Petersburg Times, May 25, 2005, p. 1B.
- 39 Abby Goodnough, “Ruling on Young Killer is Postponed for Psychiatric Exam,” New York Times, December 6, 2005, p. 25.
- 40 Tom Farmer, “Out of Control; Child Stabbing Puts Focus on Violent Movies,” Boston Herald, February 6, 2001, p. A1.
- 41 Ibid.
- 42 Jessica Heslan, “Stab Victim’s Classmates Counseled,” Boston Herald, February 8, 2001, p. 14.
- 43 “Tackling Violence Puzzle,” editorial, Boston Herald, February 7, 2001, p. 24.
- 44 Quoted in M. B. Hanson, “The Violent World of Video Games,” Insight on the News, June 28, 1999, p. 14.
- 45 Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001), p. 92.
- 46 Chris Zdeb, “Violent TV Affects Kids’ Brains Just as Real Trauma Does,” The Gazette (Montreal), June 5, 2001, p. C5.
- 47 Jim Sullinger, “Forum Examines Media Violence,” Kansas City Star, August 29, 2001, p. B5.
- 48 Marilyn Elias, “Beaten Unconsciously: Violent Images May Alter Kids’ Brain Activity, Spark Hostility,” USA Today, April 19, 2001, p. 8D.
- 49 Michele Norris, “Child’s Play? Grand Theft Auto III Provides Video Gamers with a Virtual World of Extreme Violence,” ABC World News Tonight, July 2, 2002.
- 50 I would like to thank Cheryl Maxson and Malcolm Klein for including mea sures in their study, “Juvenile Violence in Los Angeles,” sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, grants #95-JN-CX-0015, 96-JN-FX- 0004, and 97-JD-FX-0002, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The points of view or opinions in this book are my own and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. All interviews were conducted in 1998. The content of the interviews involved the youths’ descriptions of a selection of the violent incidents that the youths had experienced, the major focus of the study. At the end of each interview, youths were asked whether they thought television and movies contained a lot of violence. This question was posed to ascertain their perceptions of the levels of violence in media. Following this, respondents were asked whether they thought that viewing violence in media made them more afraid in their neighborhoods and why or why not they felt the way they did. This topic helped respondents begin to compare the two types of violence and consider the role of media violence in their everyday lives. Finally, respondents were asked to name a film or television program that they felt contained violence, and compare the violence in that film or program to the violence they experienced and had described in the interview earlier. This question solicited direct comparison between the two modes of experience (lived and media violence). The subjects were able to define media violence themselves, as they first chose the medium, and then the television program or film that they wished to discuss. Definitions of media violence were not imposed on the respondents. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Data were later coded using qualitative data analysis software to sort and categorize the respondents’ answers. Data were collected by random selection by obtaining a sample of addresses from a marketing organization, and households were then enumerated to determine whether a male between the ages of twelve to seventeen lived in the residence for at least six months. (Interviewees were sometimes eighteen at the time of follow-up.) It was determined that if youths had lived in the neighborhood for less than six months, their experiences might not accurately reflect activity within that particular area. They were excluded in the original sampling process.
- 51 But not necessarilyresearchers who study media violence often have backgrounds in communications, psychology, or medicine.
- 52 No females were included because primary investigators concluded from previous research that males were more likely to have been involved in violent incidents.
- 53 David Buckingham, After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media (London: Polity, 2000), p. 130.
- 54 David Buckingham and Julian Wood, “Repeatable Pleasures: Notes on Young People’s Use of Video,” in Reading Audiences: Young People and the Media, ed. David Buckingham (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1993).
- 55 Ibid., p. 132.
- 56 Ibid.
- 57 Ibid., p. 137.
- 58 Garry Crawford and Victoria Gosling, “Toys for Boys? Marginalization and Participation as Digital Gamers,” Sociological Research Online 10, no. 1 (March 31, 2005); Garry Crawford, “The Cult of the Champ Man: The Cultural Pleasures of Championship Manager/Football Manager Games,” Information, Communication & Society 9 (2006): 523-540.
- 59 Karen Patterson, “Link Between Media and Aggression Clear, Experts Say,” Dallas Morning News, April 19, 2004.
- 60 Rosie Mestel, “In A Wired World, TV Still Has Grip on Kids,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2000, p. F1. The same article also appeared in Montreal’s Gazette as “The Great Debate: Experts Disagree Over the Extent of the Effects of Media Violence on Children” on September 30, 2000.
- 61 Susan FitzGerald, “Cutting Back on Kids’ TV Use May Reduce Aggressive Acts,” Denver Post, January 15, 2001, p. A2.
- 62 Ibid.
- 63 See Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
- 64 L. Rowell Huesman, et al., “Longitudinal Relations Between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977-1992,” Developmental Psychology 39, no. 2 (2003): 201-221. Kids who regularly watched shows like Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Road Runner cartoons in 1977 were regarded as high violence viewers.
- 65 Based on r=.17.
- 66 Jeffrey G. Johnson, et al., “Television Viewing and Aggressive Behavior During Adolescence and Adulthood,” Science 29 (March 2002): 2468-2471.
- 67 Statistics from industry group Entertainment Software Association, http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp, accessed on November 24, 2008.
- 68 Lillian Bensley and Juliet Van Eenwyk, “Video Games and Real-Life Aggression: Review of the Literature,” Journal of Adolescent Health 29 (2001): 244- 257; Jeanne B. Funk, “Video Games: Benign or Malignant?” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 13 (1992): 53-54; C. E. Emes, “Is Mr. Pac Man Eating Our Children? A Review of the Effect of Video Games on Children,” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry (1997): 409-414.
- 69 C. J. Ferguson, “Evidence for Publication Bias in Video Game Violence Effects Literature: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Aggression and Violent Behavior (2007): 470-482.
- 70 M. Winkel, D. M. Novak, and H. Hopson, “Personality Factors, Subject Gender, and the Effects of Aggressive Video Games on Aggression in Adolescents,” Journal of Research in Personality 21 (1987): 211-223.
- 71 Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings and Behavior in the Laboratory and Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78 (2000): 772-790.
- 72 Amy Dickinson, “Video Playground: New Studies Link Violent Video Games to Violent Behavior,” Time, May 8, 2000, p. 100.
- 73 For further problems with this study, see Guy Cumberbatch, “Only a Game?” New Scientist, June 10, 2000, p. 44.
- 74 Anderson and Dill, “Video Games,” p. 22.
- 75 A. Lager, A. and S. Bremberg, “Health Effects of Video and Computer Game PlayingA Systematic Review of Scientific Studies,” National Swedish Public Health Institute, 2005.
- 76 Anderson and Dill, “Video Games,” p. 33.
- 77 Marnie Ko, “Mortal Konsequences,” Alberta Report, May 22, 2000.
- 78 Dickinson, “Video Playground,” p. 100.
- 79 Marilynn Larkin, “Violent Video Games Increase Aggression,” The Lancet, April 29, 2000, p. 1525.
- 80 Quoted in Charles Arthur, “How Kids Cope with Video Games,” New Scientist, December 4, 1993, p. 5.
- 81 Derek Scott, “The Effect of Video Games on Feelings of Aggression,” The Journal of Psychology 129 (1995): 121-133.
- 82 Joanne Savage, “Does Viewing Violent Media Really Cause Criminal Violence? A Methodological Review,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 10 (2004): 99-128.
- 83 Karen E. Dill and Jody C. Dill, “Video Game Violence: A Review of the Emperical Literature,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 3 (1998): 407-428; Mark Griffiths, “Violent Video Games and Aggression: A Review of the Literature,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 4 (1999): 203-212; Lillian Bensley and Juliet Van Eenwyk, “Video Games and Real-Life Aggression: Review of the Literature,” Journal of Adolescent Health 29 (2002): 244-257; Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature,” Psychological Science 12 (2001): 353-359.
- 84 Ashling O’Connor, “Eidos Faces U.S. Shooting Lawsuit,” Financial Times, June 6, 2001, p. 24.
- 85 “Ending the Blame Game,” Denver Post, March 6, 2002, p. B6; Leo, “When Life Imitates Video,” p. 14.
- 86 Michael Brody, “Playing With Death,” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, November 2000, p. 8.
- 87 Joe Follick, “Lawmakers: Restrict Sale of Violent Video Games,” Tampa Tribune, December 25, 2001, p. 1.
- 88 Ibid.
- 89 Accessible online at http://www.house.gov/baca/hotissues/video_factsheet.htm.
- 90 Follick, “Lawmakers.”
- 91 Declan McCullagh, “Judge Blocks California Video Game Law,” CNET News, December 22, 2005, http://www.news.com/Judge-blocks-California-video-game-law/2100-1043_3-6005835.html.
- 92 Jim Ritter, “Parents Cautioned to Heed Ratings,” Chicago Sun-Times, May 12, 2002, p. 11.
- 93 Norris, ABC World News Tonight.
- 94 Alex Pham, “Army’s New Message to Attract Recruits: Uncle ‘Sim’ Wants You,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2001, p. A1.
- 95 Megan Garvey, “Washington Again Taking on Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2001, p. A1.