NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

April 29, 2010 -

NPR’s Diane Rehm turned her focus to violent videogames yesterday in a radio show that featured California State Senator Leland Yee, Grand Theft Childhood co-author Dr. Cheryl Olson, the Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) Richard Taylor, Eugene Volokh, Professor of 1st Amendment Law at the UCLA Law School and researcher Craig Anderson from Iowa State University.

The nearly hour-long show began by discussing the Supreme Court’s decision to review California’s violent videogame law with Yee, before moving on to Anderson, who mentioned his recent research. Rehm then indicated that she watched “a bit” of Grand Theft Auto in order to become familiar with the subject, before asking Taylor to explain how popular “these games” are, who is playing them and what the effects are.

Taylor replied, “The average videogame player is 35 years old,” and explained that game makers do create some media for adults, much like film makers do. Rehm then asked Taylor to differentiate between the interactive aspect of games and the passive nature of movies. “That’s one of the reasons (the interactivity) it (videogames) is the fastest growing form of entertainment,” he answered.

Olson was asked how she viewed the connection between violent videogames and aggressive behavior in children. “This is an incredibly complex issue that’s not sound bite friendly,” she answered, before detailing results from a study of middle school kids which showed that Grand Theft Auto was the most popular game among 13-year old boys, and second among girls.

“On the one hand, you could say, ‘Oh My Lord what does this mean for our society?’” said Olson. She continued, “Well, given that youth crime is down, youth violence is down… it (games) must be meeting healthy needs for kids…”

Volokh was then queried on how the First Amendment relates to violent videogames. “That’s a complicated question, in part because the Supreme Court hasn’t given us a lot to work with in this area,” said Volokh. He continued, “The animal cruelty decision is actually not terribly helpful here... and the specific holding of that case is not going to be terribly relevant here.”

He continued:

One thing I do think the Court is going to say is that violent videogames, excuse me videogames generally, are a medium that is protected by the First Amendment. I think the Court will recognize that it’s a medium, for among other things, telling stories, sometimes for sending political messages, artistic expression and the like.

Likewise I think the Court would have no trouble concluding that violent videogames are, generally speaking, also constitutionally protected. The really tough question here, is to what extent will the Court be willing to say, when it comes to communication of this material to minors, the government may essentially impose something like the movie rating system, although this would be legally binding...

The Court has said in the past, that when it comes to sexually-themed material, including material that is constitutionally permissible as to adults, it is OK for the government to say ‘Look, you can sell Hustler magazine, but you can’t sell it to children.’ Especially the fact that there’s an exception here for parents conveying material to their children, suggesting that this is kind of a way of increasing parental controls at the expense of the free speech rights of children.

Later in the broadcast, in response to a listener comment that videogames are not to blame for a perceived increase of aggressiveness in today’s youth, Anderson responded, “When you eat a bag of potato chips, you don’t suddenly feel your arteries hardening.”

Olson then jumped in, offering her take on desensitization among kids:

If a kid plays a game over and over, or sees a scary movie over and over, they probably will say ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ or might even laugh at the over-the-topness of it. But if you see that same child; their friend gets hit by a car or gets injured on the sports field, they react differently.

Comments

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

Taylor replied, “The average videogame player is 35 years old,” and explained that game makers do create some media for adults

They must be talking about the Playstation average age. B/c most mature games are geared towards people 18 and up. Not just 35.

If a kid plays a game over and over, or sees a scary movie over and over, they probably will say ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ or might even laugh at the over-the-topness of it. But if you see that same child; their friend gets hit by a car or gets injured on the sports field, they react differently.

Duh!

Later in the broadcast, in response to a listener comment that videogames are not to blame for a perceived increase of aggressiveness in today’s youth, Anderson responded, “When you eat a bag of potato chips, you don’t suddenly feel your arteries hardening.”

But Anderson makes a good point too. & I don't think the Supreme Court will care, b/c it is a medium. Just another attempt to try & run everyone's lives by the government.

 

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Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

"They must be talking about the Playstation average age. B/c most mature games are geared towards people 18 and up. Not just 35."

 

No that means that there's many people over 35 years (and under as well) that are PLAYING videogames, not that those games are created for 35 year olds. The word "average" isn't there just for decoration.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

The only problem with Anderson's reply, is you could apply it to anything that doesn't seem to work, any theory that seems to lack validity.  "Hey you're magic beans didn't grown into a beanstalk."  "Hey, an oak tree doesn't grow overnight, does it?"

Apples and oranges.  Comparing video game research to medical research is disingeneous.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

What did people think about the talk from the 1st Amendment Expert.  I think this is what we may need to focus on.  I'm not sure it was as reasurring as I would have liked.  It still seems to be an "anything can happen".

Other thoughts/impressions.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

Anything can happen in court cases, even the most criminal of criminals can walk free as much as the innocent of innocent people can mistakenly be sent to jail.

All that matters is how the information is gathered and how the arguments are linked to the evidence that is provided, or at least that is how I understand things.

TBoneTony

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

"Rehm then indicated that she watched “a bit” of Grand Theft Auto in order to become familiar with the subject..."

Huh, the interviewer did more homework than most researchers.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I heard that too, however I didn't expect that the interviewer was ever going to be able to play Grand Theft Auto 4, unless if she also had experience with gaming on the Wii with Wii Sports.

It may be more likely that she might have seen someone else play the game and asked about what they could do, she might have had some surprizes from the game that she saw, realizing that even though GTA does have some bad content in it, the game also has allot of good content in there too like what happens if you need to drive your girlfriend to a certain place or something like that.

 

TBoneTony

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

One thing to note is that Olson got one comment wrong.  Just as there is no real data proving that games are bad for people, there's also no real data suggesting that games "must be meeting healthy needs for kids."  I like her, she's very level headed about the issue.  But you can't just imply that the introduction of video games is responsible for the reduced youth-crime rate.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I think she was pointing out that jumping to simplistic conclusions was a mistake (no matter which side of the issue you're on). That's why she said the stuff about sound bytes.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I agree.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

“When you eat a bag of potato chips, you don’t suddenly feel your arteries hardening.”
 

It is supposed that you can´t argue with this kind of argument, and that´s exactly the way they like. You can easily refute this crap saying that it depends if somebody is eating junk food in excess or just eating it with moderation.

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Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

"You can easily refute this crap saying that it depends if somebody is eating junk food in excess or just eating it with moderation."

No, no. That's the wrong thing to say in response. By saying that, you give merit to the statement. You are admitting that playing video games is exactly like eating potato chips. And that an increase in violence is a natural result, just like clogged arteries are a natural result of eating potato chips.

You have to chop off ideas like these at the knees. This statement is clearly not analogous to the relationship between violent video games and an increase in real world violence. The proof is that there exist no research studies showing that eating more chips (specifically ingesting more grease) has no relationship to or reduces the clogging of arteries. For violent video games the same cannot be said, and the lawyers who are against the California law will certainly have a stack of such research studies to show for it.

If you want to take it a step further then you might be able to turn it around once you've established the baselessness of the claim by asking if someone who clearly does not understand the issue should really be talking on the topic. For someone like Anderson (who made the analogy) having no clue about the effects of violent video games is not so big since his area of expertise is first ammendment law (basically he's an advisor for the people who actually do things). But if a similar comment were made by someone like Senator Yee who wrote the law, then pushing further might be prudent. Either way, just be careful not to sound smug or sarcastic.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

Every time I hear about Anderson I can't help but think he has quite a knack for finding, through his research, exactly what he's looking for.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I have to agree with you wholeheartedly.

I heard there's a spot in the show where the host asks Anderson point blank if his research can really be generalized to real world violence and he became tongue-tied.  Anyone hear that part?

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I heard that Anderson was mostly tongue tied though most of the radio show when he had allot of opposition counter his claims.

I mostly think that Anderson has never really talked to gamers, and instead of listening to them he has been quoted by Michael Atkinson as saying "Everytime you hear a gamer all you get is opinion."

My first reaction to Mr Atkinson's comments were like..."Well isn't this also the same when you hear from someone who just does not understand videogames all you get is also opinion?"

Although, hearing how Mr Anderson tried to counter Mrs Olson's comments I can suspect that he believes that everyone who does not agree with him "has an opinion" no matter how much evidence he lacks and people like Mrs Olson can back it up with their own evidence.

However the real battle that will be important will be in the surprime court, like Yee and Anderson think it will be an easy ride for them but they have to understand that even though they have öpinions that they think are "ëvidence" supporting their views, they clearly don't understand that allot more people have "evidence" that shows that both Yee and Anderson are talking nothing but rubbish.

 

TBoneTony

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

"If a kid plays a game over and over, or sees a scary movie over and over, they probably will say ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ or might even laugh at the over-the-topness of it. But if you see that same child; their friend gets hit by a car or gets injured on the sports field, they react differently."

 

this.

i grew up playing violent games, was even in Duke3D and Quake by 10 years of age :)

but the first time i saw a marine corpse crossing the deck (why it wasn't bagged i'll never know) i damn near went into shock. as peacefull and clean as all appeared something inside still shuddered at that sight.

its something you never truly get over IMO, wether its in the field or at home, you just never really get over it. learn to adjust and live with yes, but i don't see how anyone could truly be desensitized to it without some serious mental ailments following.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

Yeah, it's nice seeing a psychologist say something that I've only ever had anecdotal evidence for.

My younger brother's played Doom, GTA, et al from a relatively young age (he's in his 20's now), and yeah, he's totally desensitized to over-the-top cartoon violence of that sort.  But I've seen him walk out of the room when the evening news was on just because he couldn't stand listening to the stories of bloodshed and suffering.  No, killing hookers in GTA doesn't faze him -- but he's much MORE sensitive to real-life violence than the average person.

Again, anecdotal and unscientific, but Olson using a similar argument suggests there are a lot of other kids out there who react similarly to my brother.  Haven't read Grand Theft Childhood yet, but I imagine she goes into more detail there.

Re: NPR Discussion on Violent Videogames

I am reading Grand Theft Childhood and there is an account in the book very similar to what you're describing that kid playing GTA did not want to be in the same room when his parents were watching violent news stories.

 
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