In a guest lecture at Macquarie University on Monday night (AEST), Distinguished Professor Anderson, Director of Centre of the Study of Violence at Iowa State University spoke of the risks of violent videogames, presenting a series of findings that would surprise even the most seasoned gamers.
"Research was clear by 1975 that media violence caused aggressive behaviour," Prof. Anderson said.
"We know that short term exposure to violent media can lead to aggressive behaviour and aggressive thinking within five minutes of watching a violent film or playing a violent game, while long term exposure can lead to aggression into early adulthood."
To highlight this connection, Prof. Anderson examined the likelihood of violent videogames leading to aggressive behaviour by drawing on well-known examples of cause and effect. Such examples included the chances of regular consumption of aspirin leading to heart attacks, the chances of asbestos causing cancer, and the chances of condom use reducing the risk of contracting HIV. In all these examples, violent videogames proved to be a higher risk factor, going as far as being approximately three times more likely to happen than asbestos exposure leading to cancer.
On the scale of youth violence risk factors, violent videogames were more likely to increase aggression than substance abuse, poverty, and anti-social peers.
Anderson was careful to point out that this did not necessarily mean that everyone who played violent videogames would begin committing violent acts. Rather, violent games made players more prepared to think aggressive thoughts.
He cited another study where college students were asked to play a pro-social, neutral, and violent game, after which each was tested to see how willing they were to help their peers solve puzzles. The study showed that those who played non-violent, pro-social games were more inclined to be helpful by choosing easier puzzles for their peers to complete, whereas those who had just played violent games chose difficult puzzles to impede on their peers' ability to complete the challenge.
While Anderson believes that this increase in aggressive behaviour is a cause for concern, he doesn't think that violent games are solely to be blamed for anti-social behaviour.
"Extreme acts of violence always require multiple risk factors being present. You just don't ever have a school shooter, for example, who only has one risk factor. It just doesn't happen. There's usually four, five, six, seven risk factors, sometimes more. Media violence is one of those risk factors." he said.
"Does that mean playing violent videogames is going to create a school shooter? No, not if there aren't any other risk factors. But in kids who have a lot of other risk factors, can it contribute to the likelihood of some sort of extreme violent behaviour occurring? Probably, it can. More so than other risk factors? We don't know. There's no data on it."
Despite these findings, Anderson believes that games can be great teaching tools and, in many cases, can lead to positive behavioural changes. Titles such as Chibi Robot, Mario Sunshine, and Food Force were some examples of games he mentioned that lead to pro-social behaviour in children, encouraging them to be more helpful.
"There are some games out there that teach kids how to manage diabetes, ADHD and asthma, and kids who engage in those kinds of pro-social games experienced fewer health consequences," he said.
Anderson's lecture ended with what seemed to be the obvious: ways of reducing the impacts of aggression caused by violent games.
"We have empirical evidence that shows that adult involvement reduces the harmful impact of violent media," he said.
"We have data on that from several studies now. It's not conclusive, but it does suggest adult involvement is very important."
So it seems like it's not all doom and gloom. We can have our cake and eat it too. Sort of.
I always liked Australia because they are the most no-nonsense sort of people in the world, but their government's views on game violence is just completely over the top and laughable.
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