We’re all on pins and needles waiting for the Supreme Court to finally release its decision on Brown v. EMA, so why not relieve some tension listening to an academic offer his less-than-impressed analysis of the evidence supporting the violent video game law authored by California State Senator Leland Yee.
Dr. Paul Ballas is a Philadelphia psychiatrist who deals with examining psychiatric illnesses in children and one of dozens who signed an amicus brief in support of the EMA. At the recent Games Beyond Entertainment conference in Boston, Ballas examined whether Yee's evidence supported his argument that playing violent video games is a harmful thing for the kiddies to do.
Believing that any law based on research-backed harm has the responsibility to prove that it will actually alleviate said harm, Ballas looked at three studies Yee used to support his law.
The first was Douglas Gentile’s 2004 study that surveyed 607 eighth and ninth graders, asking them what types of video games they played, how violent the games were, what the students’ hostility levels were, etc. Ballas pointed out that none of this self-reported data was corroborated.
"I've worked with 14-year-olds long enough to know that if you give them a long list of questions, and they're bored, and there's no downside to making up stuff, they'll just make up stuff," Ballas said. “What's fascinating is that there's stuff that [the study authors] could have absolutely double-checked, like grades. But they didn't do that. They didn't send requests for report cards in this study.”
The second study was covered in Craig Anderson’s 2004 book “Violent Video Game Effect.” It measured the blood pressure of 130 college students after they had played a violent video game. The obvious problem is that this study didn’t look at kids so it’s not applicable as evidence in the first place. Also, Ballas wasn’t impressed by the increases in blood pressure the students experienced.
“Blood pressure goes up when you do lots of different things,” Ballas said, citing that musicians often report a rise in blood pressure whenever they perform. “It doesn't mean that they should stop performing, it just means that they were excited to do that activity.”
The third study (Jeanne Funk, 2004) measured the empathy levels of 150 fourth and fifth graders after they had played a violent video game. While Ballas found the measures used in the study reasonable, the study’s conclusion doesn’t do much to support the need for Yee’s law anyway.
“The authors stated at the end of the study, however, that the relationships identified between the source of violence exposure and indicators of desensitization did not necessarily translate into causality. The authors further noted that children with lower empathy scores, and pro-violence attitudes, may simply have just been drawn to violent video games. The study also had a small sample size with no control group for pertinent variables like deviant peer influence and family violence.”
While it’s always fun to watch someone in the know eviscerate a law most of us actively dislike, the big question remains: what does the Supreme Court think? We’ll find out sometime in the next month or so. At least, as long as the world doesn’t end today.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen