Bulletstormgate: Analysing The “Evidence”

By John Walker on February 15th, 2011 at 11:30 am.

Imagine if I had any PS skills.

I think this shall likely be the last mention of the Fox News/Bulletstorm debacle. But it’s a pretty special one. If you followed the story you’ll know that the inestimable journalists at Fox News saw fit to run a story in which they carried claims that playing Bulletstorm would cause people to rape. Through investigating the story further we discovered that some had been misrepresented, others were completely ignored presumably because they contradicted with the desired angle, and a few people were given space to voice unevidenced and extraordinary claims. The main voice of this collection, Dr Carole Lieberman, has released a statement in which she states that she too was misrepresented by Fox News, and then goes on to restate exactly the same spurious claims. And as of yesterday got in touch with those who had emailed her for comment, this time linking to her evidence. Here we go then.

Out Of Context

Before we start, because this lengthy article is going to get pretty heavily into scrutinising claims of evidence for the effects of sexual violence on gamers, let’s remind ourselves of one important fact. The quote from Lieberman that started this all off was in reference to Bulletstorm. Bulletstorm features methods of attacking enemies called Skill Shots. They use a combination of the techniques at your disposal to kill an enemy, encouraging you to improvise with your weapons and tools to perform elaborate violent acts. Each of the very many Skill Shots is given a punning name that alludes to the nature of the kill. Some of these are sexual innuendos, like “gangbang”, and “facial”. The game itself features no sexually violent acts, nor any depictions of sexual acts. Such is the way of the American gaming market that were it to feature sexual acts, or even nudity, it would not be sold in stores. (Bear in mind the reaction to GTA’s “Hot Coffee” incident, in which a non-nude cartoon depiction of intercourse nearly brought about the apocalypse, to put this in perspective.) It’s important to bear this in mind when analysing Lieberman’s evidence for her statement.

Also having claimed to have been taken out of context is the same Dr Carole Lieberman. Speaking to Game Politics she explained that her statements were “taken out of context and made to sound more inflammatory than they were meant.” So to be fair before we begin, here’s what Fox quoted her as saying:

“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games.”

But she wants it to be clear that what she meant was,

“I stand behind my view that media violence, and particularly video game violence is harmful. Thousands of studies have shown that the more violent media a person consumes, the more desensitized to violence and the more aggressive they become. When this violence is sexualized it is even more stimulating. And rape is a violent crime. Furthermore, research has shown that, not only do people become more aggressive in a general sense, but they also act out copycat violence in response to behaviors seen in movies, TV shows, and video games.”

So, the same thing. And just in case that wording is a little ambiguous, here’s how she cleared up her opinions when Kotaku spoke to her:

“The more video games a person plays that have violent sexual content,” she said, carefully choosing her words during a phone interview with Kotaku, “the more likely one is to become desensitized to violent sexual acts and commit them.”

So, the same thing. Perhaps the key difference is she is no longer mentioning an increase in the number of rapes. However, she confirms to Kotaku that she did say the original statement, only with sentences preceding it. Sentences that do not change the context of the quote Fox chose. She originally had also said, “Video games have increasingly, and more brazenly, connected sex and violence in images, actions and words. This has the psychological impact of doubling the excitement, stimulation and incitement to copycat acts.” So essentially underlining her point. Her claim that Fox had misrepresented her seems an odd one.

The source of all this trouble.

Qualifications

When Kotaku and Game Politics spoke to Lieberman, they had called her without prior warning. Claiming to not have the evidence for her claims at hand, she instead explained that it was just “common sense” that sexually violent games cause people to rape each other. She continued to imply that rape is increasing in the wake of these games (despite all available statistics showing a remarkable, consistent drop in rape figures over the last thirty years), and made reference to an elusive collection of “thousands” of studies that demonstrated she was right.

Having spent quite a lot of time looking for studies that conclusively demonstrate links between gaming sexual violence and real-world sexual violence, I was surprised to hear a qualified doctor (albeit one who makes money from Americans’ fear of terrorism, and soundbite TV appearances) was citing so many references. But she didn’t have any of them to hand. Well, that’s changed now.

Today Lieberman sent out a mass email to all the journalists who had contacted her since the story broke, in which she explained that she didn’t have the evidence to hand because,

“I thought that everyone already knew about these studies and I had them filed away.”

It’s an extraordinary way to begin. And on what does she base her belief that everyone already knew violent games caused violence and rape? I swear this is not a parody, but her exact words:

“When the Columbine murders took place, there were national polls where people voted on what they believed caused the two young men to kill. Media violence ranked high on the list, so I, obviously mistakenly, assumed that people still knew about the studies showing this connection – and believed them to have proven the link.”

After the horrific Columbine murders took place, a great deal of irresponsible journalism took place around the world in which it was claimed that everything from Marilyn Manson to the internet to anti-depressants to Leonardo DiCaprio to violent video games was responsible for the shootings. No such links were ever proved. In fact, the FBI concluded the cause was a combination of psychopathology and depression. And while others disagreed, the most clearly argued voice that referenced videogames, that of psychiatrist Jerald Block, stated that it when Harris and Klebold were banned from using their computers that their violence and aggression was no longer dealt with through their interest in games like Doom, and was refocused on the real world. In no way did he claim that games were to blame – if anything, they had been the treatment.

But the mass media leapt from blame to blame. The Basketball Diaries was a favourite target, and of course videogames were spuriously linked because the pair enjoyed making maps for Doom. Few felt the need to report the conclusions of the experts and officials, that their miserable lives and chronic depression as a result of bullying, and the diagnosis of Harris’s being a “clinical psychopath”, had been the apparent cause. It was no wonder that a poll taken at the time should hear the public – that’s a few hundred strangers who had no links or information or insight into the case at all – should report back that they’d heard it was videogames’ fault. And this, we’re informed, is what gives medical doctor Lieberman cause to believe that the case was sewn up.

In her email, Lieberman explains her qualifications in the subject of violent videogames, after various accusations that she was not qualified to make the comments she had. The published papers and journals she has written on the subject are as follows:

“I have worked in the area of media violence for many years. This included testifying before Congress on the issue, being the head of the National Coalition on TV Violence, doing numerous media interviews, stopping the ‘Schwarzenegger rocket’ that was to have had an ad for “Last Action Hero” on it, being invited to contribute an essay on video game violence to Larry King’s book Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, etc.”

Well, there we go then.

An Aside

(And what was that about Last Action Hero? A strange inclusion, what with that being a film and all. Let’s take a quick diversion for her claim to have stopped the advert.

As notorious as Natural Born Killers!

First of all, Last Action Hero was 1993 Schwarzenegger film that was rated PG-13 in the States, and 15 in the UK. While containing some moderate action movie violence, it was not noteworthy for anything horrendous or offensive (other than the plot, acting, direction…). But there was a mad plan by studio Columbia to advertise the film on the side of a space-going rocket. They intended to paint the title logo on the main fuselage of an unmanned rocket. But then after a disastrous test screening of the film word got out about how bad it was going to be, and the plan was scrapped. I have been unable to find any evidence of Lieberman’s involvement, but a great deal citing the damaging word of mouth after the terrible response to the test version.

Even more ridiculously, anyone who’s seen Last Action Hero will know that it’s a film that satirises movie violence, with the film’s child protagonist having to explain to Schwarzenegger that film violence is not acceptable in the real world. Quite a film to pick on. Although this was the same year that Lieberman was loudly campaigning against Jurassic Park for selling associated toys to children. In the linked New York Times article they include a quote from Lieberman at the time that sums up the mind behind these campaigns:

“The studio says the movie is a spoof on violence,” Dr. Lieberman said. “Well, how can you be responsible and spoof violence? There are two major epidemics in the country: violence and AIDS. Spoofing violence in a movie is as unthinkable to me as making a movie that spoofs AIDS.”

)

The Evidence

But back to the point. Lieberman has been frantically Googling found her evidence in her files, and is ready to present it. It’s not the “thousands” promised, but eight. At the end of the email Lieberman says that she would “appreciate your including a mention of these studies on your websites, blogs or comments, or at least including a mention of the fact that I did provide such studies to you. Thank you.” So let’s take a look. She begins:

EXAMPLES OF RESEARCH LINKING VIDEO GAMES TO REAL LIFE VIOLENCE (INCLUDING RAPE)

1) AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION-Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media

2) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-fantasy-becomes-reality/201003/making-video-game-out-rape

3) Vulnerability to violent video games (includes committing rape) – [er, then nothing, no link]

4) Violent pornography and rape

Malamuth (1989) noted that violent pornography might contain themes that normalize rape and other sexually violent acts, minimize the perception of harm to the victim, place responsibility for the act on the victim by virtue of her seductiveness or supposed deservingness of aggression, or perhaps elevate “the positive value of sexual aggression by associating it with sexual pleasure and a sense of conquest” (p.165). Sexually violent pornography stimulates the development of rape-supportive attitudes as hypothesized by Malamuth and his colleagues (e.g., Malamuth, 1989; Malamuth & Briere, 1986). The notion that sexually violent pornography, but not non-violent pornography, is associated with potential and actual sexual aggression suggests further that, as hypothesized by Demaré et al. (1988), Donnerstein (1984), Malamuth and Briere (1986), and others, it is not merely the presence of sexually explicit material that supports sexual aggression, but instead the unique combination of sex and violence in pornography that is most potent. As noted by Malamuth (1984) in this regard, “coupling of sex and aggression in these portrayals may result in conditioning processes whereby aggressive acts become associated with sexual arousal, a powerful unconditioned stimulus and reinforcer” (p.31).

5) Full Meese Report

6) Meese report re: rape

7) http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/pspi/pspi43.pdf

8) http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/brad.bushman/files/bul-136-2-151.pdf

The infamous RapeLay - not exactly typical of mainstream gaming.

Analysis

Let’s go through them.

1) The APA summary of various studies linking media violence to real world violence is deeply peculiar. Most of it has nothing at all to do with sexually violent videogames. The only relevant portion is the following:

“WHEREAS studies further suggest that sexualized violence in the media has been linked to increases in violence towards women, rape myth acceptance and anti-women attitudes. Research on interactive video games suggests that the most popular video games contain aggressive and violent content; depict women and girls, men and boys, and minorities in exaggerated
stereotypical ways; and reward, glamorize and depict as humorous sexualized aggression against women, including assault, rape and murder (Dietz, T. L., 1998; Dill, K. E., & Dill, J. C., 2004; Dill, K. E., Gentile, D. A., Richter, W. A., & Dill, J.C., in press; Mulac, A., Jansma, L. L., & Linz, D. G., 2002; Walsh, D., Gentile, D. A., VanOverbeke, M., & Chasco, E., 2002)”

The entire article of studies absolutely ignores all the contrary studies – something that seems wildly ethically unsound. It’s certainly relevant to gather together studies on the subject, but such selective choosing implies something else is afoot. For instance, if one were attempting to analyse the data from studies into the subject, one would surely want to include studies such as Call of (civic) duty: Action games and civic behavior in a large sample of youth, which concluded that,

“These results indicated little support for the belief that exposure to violence in video games decreases prosocial behavior and/or civic engagement. Conversely some support was found for the possibility that playing action games is associated with small increased prosocial behavior and civic engagement in the real world, possibly due to the team-oriented multiplayer options in many of these games.”

But back to that apparently relevant quote. What have the references listed to say about the impact of sexualised violence in videogames? Let’s take a look at them all.

Dietz, 1998 was, “An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior”, which studied 22 Nintendo and Sega Megadrive games, but not of their impact on people. It found that a proportion of the games contained violence directed toward women (21%), and that 28% portrayed women as sex objects. Unfortunately the full paper is not available online to see its conclusions, which it strangely leaves out of its abstract.

The second, Dill & Dill 2004, is titled “Video game violence exposure correlated with rape myth acceptance and attitudes towards women”. It might be fascinating, but it’s unpublished. And thus not credible evidence.

The third, Dill, K. E. et al, in press, is “Violence, sex, race and age in popular video games: A content analysis” which does not study the effect of violence nor sexual violence on players. It concludes, as we know too well, that videogames present “a systematic over-representation of males, white and adults and a systematic under-representation of females, Hispanics, Native Americans, children and the elderly.” The paper has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual violence nor its effects on people.

Mulac et al, 2002, is titled, “Men’s behavior toward women after viewing sexually-explicit films: Degradation makes a difference”, and thus has nothing whatsoever to do with videogames nor their effects on players. The abstract specifically states that it studies “nonviolent sexual media stimuli”.

And finally Walsh et al, 2002 is the “MediaWise video game report card” which links to a dead site, the core URL now redirecting the Technology & Media pages of something called ParentFurther. The MediaWise Video Game Report Card was not a study or scientific paper, but in fact a report for parents informing them which violent games they should avoid buying their children that Christmas. It therefore has no relevance.

So what in the blue hell is the APA is doing putting its name to such an incredibly spurious series of claims? A list of references after a statement claiming to prove “sexualized violence in the media has been linked to increases in violence towards women, rape myth acceptance and anti-women attitudes”, that does no such thing. Four out of the five have nothing to do with the claims, and the fifth is unpublished (and thus not peer reviewed nor scrutinized by any respectable publication, and of course invisible to critique). It’s inexplicable, and very concerning.

2) The Psychology Today article also happens to be written by Karen Dill, she of two of the papers mentioned above. And is of course not about sexualised violence in mainstream videogames, but instead a reaction to 2010’s headline grabbing Japanese peculiarity, RapeLay. In the article she states, “My own research, and that of my colleagues, has demonstrated that exposure to sexually objectified and demeaned women in video games causes males (but not females) to be more lenient towards a real-life act of sexual harassment.” While clearly RapeLay is not being defended by us, the article’s insinuation that it is representative of gaming and “defended by players” is irresponsible and unscientific. She finishes with a list of references, three of the five not referencing videogames.

However, finally here we find Dill’s paper that is actually about the claimed subject, Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment. This paper concludes that there was evidence of a short-term change in men’s tolerance to sexual harrassment. A second linked paper, Sexual Priming, Gender Stereotyping, and Likelihood to Sexually Harass: Examining the Cognitive Effects of Playing a Sexually-Explicit Video Game also found that exposure to a sexually explicit videogame encouraged men to see women as sex objects, and then slightly more spuriously, “lead to self-reported tendencies to behave inappropriately towards women in social situations.” It’s important to note that neither used sexually violent videogames.

3) There’s not much that can be done with that one.

4) Well this has absolutely nothing to do with games, violence, or gaming violence, let along sexual gaming violence. It’s about violent pornography, which is an odd inclusion for someone arguing that Bulletstorm (a game that uses sexual innuendos to describe its specialised kills, rather than any sexual content – lest we forget that fact in all this) is a problem.

Mr Meese, who spent a lot of time looking at pornography.

5) The Meese Report is a 1986 study of pornography commissioned by the then Attorney General. It has a section buried within titled “Sexually Violent Material”, in which it discusses sado-masochistic pornography, or simulated depictions of rape. It argues that there is a causal relationship between viewing sexually violent materials, and an increase in aggressive behaviour directed toward women. Being written in 1986 this unsurprisingly has nothing at all to do with the current nature of videogames, nor does it mention games, nor indeed sex or violence in mainstream media.

6) Here Lieberman somewhat confusingly linked to the same report, perhaps to make her list a little longer, but this time directly to part 4, chapter 5 (she may have missed the above entry I found in part 2, chapter 5) which discusses victimisation as a result of pornography. Again, this has nothing to do with violent videogames that allude to sex acts.

7) This links to a 2003 report called The Influence Of Media Violence On Youth, in a publication titled Psychological Science In The Public Interest. The paper begins by explaining that its “most extensively researched domain” is “television and film violence”, before elusively adding, “The growing body of video-game research yields essentially the same conclusions.” Scientific stuff. It also states that its results do not show data that is relevant to “extremely violent criminal behaviours (e.g. forcible rape, aggravated assault, homicide)” because they are rare, and therefore “new longitudinal studies with larger samples are needed to estimate accurately how much habitual childhood exposure to media violence increases the risk for extreme violence.” So it’s a paper that doesn’t really look at videogames, that draws no conclusions regarding sexual violence.

8) Finally we have “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review“. It concludes, “The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.” It, of course, makes no mention of sexual behaviour, and no mention of rape. The only time the word “sex” is mentioned is in talking about gender.

Please, someone think of the kittens.

Conclusion

So for the conclusive evidence that games like Bulletstorm, that pun words like “facial” and “gangbang” in the context of shooting enemies in specific ways, cause an increase in rape really doesn’t seem to be present, even after the hours I’ve spent poring through it. There is some very interesting reading regarding the effects of playing violent videogames, and increases in aggression of players. However, it is vital to note that this is a prime example of selection bias. Much as the shocking APA paper picked its sources to fit its agenda, so has Lieberman. And much like the shocking APA paper, Lieberman hasn’t picked very well. Of her eight examples, only one had anything to do with the claimed subject, and even then it was hidden in a couple of papers mentioned in the article’s references. Which I’d speculate she hasn’t read, or she’d surely have linked to them.

Those two papers definitely merit further analysis. Purely because they actually have something to do with the claims that playing sexually explicit games may cause men to change their tolerance of sexual harassment. Of course, they still have absolutely nothing to do with Bulletstorm, which contains no sexually explicit material at all. It contains some rude words, as puns for violent acts.

But it’s important to remember the way that scientific papers work. One needs to do meta-analysis, considering the results of multiple studies. So far the specific matter of sexual violence has had so few studies that results are currently inconclusive. Which is not to say that they should be dismissed at all – just that bold statements to the press that “thousands” of papers prove it are perhaps inappropriate. And for every study concluding that games definitely do cause increases in violent behaviour, another appears demonstrating the opposite, even suggesting beneficial results. The reality is, right now, we really don’t know. No long-term studies have been carried out, because there has not yet been time. Announcing “games obviously don’t cause violence” is currently equally as ridiculous as shouting, “games cause violence”. The best we’ve currently got is, “Games may cause violent people to be more violent, or the may cause violent people to be less violent.” And we certainly don’t have enough evidence to be drawing conclusions about sexual violence. And let’s not forget that while there are obviously enormous issues with the depictions of women in games, and there’s certainly still the likelihood that women will be sexualised in games, there are very, very few games that feature sexual violence toward women. It’s not a current epidemic, and it’s certainly not one that Bulletstorm is contributing toward.

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185 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    As others have said: congratulations on being one of the few Journalists in games journalism. It’s a fair old achievement in itself. With all the articles you’ve done on this and the different claims, you should start inking a book on the matter.

    What always annoys me about any quoted study is that they pretty much always look at short term effects – i.e. we got Person A to play Badly Engineered Example Game and after an hour of play we showed them some pictures of women and asked what they thought. AFAIK (and please do correct me on this if relevant) there has never been a study that had Person A to play a game and a week later we asked them to look at these pictures of women.

    Immediate effects do seem like “common sense” to me – after the 150th time of crashing out in Stuntman: Ignition I could very probably break something valuable, but 2 minutes away from the console box fixes that issue. All short term studies like the aforementioned show is that if a woman walks in while you are playing a rape game there might be an increased chance of you raping her there and then. Playing a game and then having to leave your house is probably enough to negate any effect from the game.

    Of course, no studies even show that. If anything did I would be more inclined to shout “correlation does not imply causation!” than take it seriously – after all, wanting to play a game based around rape would generally signify something a little distorted in the mind already.

    More could be said but I am rather too prone to waffle so I should shut up now. TL:DR; bravo Mr Walker. Bravo.

    • John Walker says:

      It appears to be endemic in papers in this subject for their internal critique to include a line saying, “Further study needs to be carried out on the longer-term effects…” And yet no one ever seems to do that study. Which, as you say, is rather infuriating.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      I think you’ll find the reason this sort of statement is “endemic” in papers is that researchers always want to angle for more funding. Which they may or may not atually acquire.

    • Tom says:

      ““Further study needs to be carried out on the longer-term effects…” And yet no one ever seems to do that study.”
      hate to sound like what’s-her-face (she clearly loves a spot of sensationalism, and seams like a caricature of herself to me), but there have been long term studies, and what they demonstrated wasn’t pretty.
      Milgram’s experiments are worrying, and a possible explanation to Nazism. Hitler did, after all, pull Germany out of one of the worst depressions ever.
      The Standford Prison Experiments are disturbing.
      Harry Harlow was a sadist imo.
      Human’s are so susceptible, at any age.

  2. Mercurialau says:

    I know they say exposure is good exposure but shouldn’t big publishers taking some legal action against these wild claims which keep being made about their games

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      On what grounds?

      Before you say defamation, remember that in the US, you need to be able to *prove* information was published with malicious intent to win. Selective quoting does not prove malice.

    • realityflaw says:

      Nah, its great publicity.

  3. Pew says:

    I salute you for doing this John. Of course it had to be the usual suspects in the field she had to come up with :(

    The APA resolution in particular is such an odd artifact of its time. Thankfully research of prosocial effects is slowly countering the movement a little.

  4. castorp says:

    Thank you, Mr Walker, for this fantastic article, your thorough research and (mostly) serious handling of this sorry affair.

    Best regards
    Carsten

  5. Premium User Badge

    DarkWeeble says:

    Just wanted to leave my thanks for this article here.

  6. thegooseking says:

    Announcing “games obviously don’t cause violence” is currently equally as ridiculous as shouting, “games cause violence”. The best we’ve currently got is, “Games may cause violent people to be more violent, or the may cause violent people to be less violent.”

    It’s not so ridiculous. I want to clear this up a bit. Let’s not conflate violence and aggression. Just about every study that has been done about the effects of violent video games has focused on aggression, not on violence. Violence is an extreme (and actually relatively uncommon) manifestation of aggression, and while it’s possible that a video game can make a player more aggressive (though the aggregate studies are inconclusive), there is absolutely no way that that video game can cause that aggression to manifest as violence.

    • John Walker says:

      That’s a really important point – thank you.

    • frenz0rz says:

      In my experience, the only aggression I’ve ever experienced or witnessed in relation to videogames is due to frustration, particularly in an online competative environment or on a particularly brutal portion of a game. Im sure we’ve all yelled out out in anger whilst gaming for one reason or another, right? While this form of aggression does have the potential to become violent in some people, that is entirely down to the individual in question, and is not unique to the medium of videogaming.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      That’s a good point. I’d say violent videogames which cause an increase in aggression might cause, say, more trash talking and coarse language, but violence? Not convinced.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      If I had a penny for every cutesy-but-badly-done, puzzle based or simply interface-being-crap game I played and turned off with an eerily high amount of aggression, I could order myself a pizza.

      I dare say aggression comes from being aggrevated, whereas I always felt a lot better after mowing down legions of imps in DOOM.

  7. hamster says:

    There’s a reason why psychology is widely recognized as a pseudo-science. But even within its ACTUAL limitations a lot of stuff could be done better. The general lab conditions, sampling methods and in general just the quality of thought, whether in experimental design or the interpretation of results, and even the writing, leaves much to be desired.

    It’s only when you get to the stuff that has some physiological basis that things get more scientific and therefore credible.

    • Premium User Badge

      toastmodernist says:

      Psychology is widely recognised as a pseudo-science?

    • Premium User Badge

      Dolphan says:

      Nope, that’s a really terrible way of putting it (the only way a subject area, as opposed to an approach/theory can be pseudo-scientific is if its subject matter’s existence is dubious, i.e. crystal energy – the idea that this applies to human behaviour is obviously nonsense), but a great deal of the actual work done in psychology is certainly very poor. A considerable part of which is to do with the difficulty in actually investigating the subject, of course.

      Also worth mentioning that a fair amount of very poor work (though almost certainly proportiionally less) is done in the hard sciences too, but gets no comparable publicity.

    • Nick says:

      “There’s a reason why psychology is widely recognized as a pseudo-science”

      Its not.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I think what you meant to say was that psychology is generally considered a ‘softer’ science compared to fields like physics or chemistry. This is changing fast, though, because many experiments are now using techniques borrowed from neurology, for example.

      Obligatory xkcd link: http://xkcd.com/435/

  8. SanguineAngel says:

    John, just wanted to be another one to say thank you for the outstanding effort you’ve gone to on this. It’s great work, and wholly worthwhile.

    Every piece you’ve done in this story has been informative, even handed, rational and offered an important voice to those who have been misrepresented or ignored entirely.

    Thank you

  9. dtgreen says:

    I wish to Huzzah in the general direction of the author.

  10. airtekh says:

    Cracking bit of journalism there Mr Walker.

    Well done.

  11. Severian says:

    Just to be clear, I agree with John’s argument that Lieberman’s statement that sexual violence in video games leads to sexual violence in real life is unsubstantiated. However, people shouldn’t walk away from this argument thinking that there’s no evidence at all to support the hypothesis that violent video games can have a detrimental psychological effect on (some) people. The last article cited (#8 in the above list) is a pretty good (and recent) review and meta-analysis of this literature. There *are* dozens of studies that have linked violent video game exposure to specific changes in psychology – the big question has always been, do these changes in experimental psychology translate into real-world changes in aggression. Obviously, that experiment is not possible to run (you can’t expose a bunch of kids to violent video games on purpose, track their behavior throughout their entire life, and observe aggressive/violent behaviors). So people who aren’t convinced by a lack of “hard” causal evidence will probably never be convinced.

    But as someone who loves and plays video games incessantly, and hasn’t a violent bone in their body, I don’t feel validated dismissing a large body of scientific knowledge on the topic (esp. since I’m a scientist myself).

    • John Walker says:

      I absolutely agree with what you’re saying, and have always maintained that we need to be open to reading and analysing the findings of these studies. But I’d also point out that there are also very many studies that discover quite the opposite results. For as many people who say this article is preaching to the choir, it’s the choir that needs to care the most about any possible detrimental effects from all their singing.

  12. Premium User Badge

    TheApologist says:

    @kobzon – ‘The fact that the most popular games are celebrations of xenophobia and violence doesn’t get anyone worked up.’

    Totally agree with this – and personally would add sexism and homophobia to the list. Would love to see some critical writing on the subject, and someone challenging developers in a serious way about these aspects of their output. How about it, RPS?

  13. John Walker says:

    We routinely delete any instance of “TLDR”, because it’s just *astonishingly* rude, and we’ve no desire to have it be the first thing anyone reads at the top of the comments. It also added nothing to what you had to say.

  14. bill says:

    Statistically, if games caused violence and rape, or if pornography caused violence and rape, we should have an epidemic of both right now.

    Game consumption has increased by 1000s of percent. The advent of the internet must have increased pornography consumption (including sadistic stuff) by 1000s of percent.

    Yet both violent crime and rape have fallen dramatically in most developed countries.

    So either there is no statistical link, or there is another factor so strong that it’s reducing violence and rape by 1000s of percent. Cellphones or x-factor.

    • Premium User Badge

      toastmodernist says:

      x-factor definetely.

    • Fraser Allison says:

      It’s possible that violent videogames and/or pornography do increase rates of violent sexual aggression, and some other factor is having the opposite effect to an even greater degree. But it doesn’t seem likely.

      Still, imagine if the eventual conclusion of all the research was that violent videogames made people significantly more prone to sexual violence, but also prone to social isolation, laziness and stay-indoors-ish-ness to such an extent that the overall rate of sexual assault dropped. That would hardly be an ideal outcome. (Again, it doesn’t seem likely.)

  15. Furius says:

    I’d love it if Fox quoted this article verbatim.

  16. Avenger says:

    Comments getting deleted here for some reason… “Welcome to RPS” I guess?

    • John Walker says:

      RPS has always reserved the right to delete any comment we feel like. And those making misogynistic remarks about Dr. Lieberman have been removed. No apologies here.

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      Thirith says:

      @John: Thanks for the blog – and isn’t it sad that issues such as this bring out the sexism, misogyny and tons of sexual verbal abuse from a very loud minority? (Also see the dickwolves story.) It must be frustrating to write a reasoned counter-argument (or first argument, since Lieberman hardly can be said to present a coherent argument herself) and then any positive effect this has is pretty much demolished by loud sexist trolling from others.

    • Avenger says:

      @John Oh. That must be it. I thought it was a technical issue.
      Apologies for the comment

    • Premium User Badge

      toastmodernist says:

      @Thirith

      The ‘Dickwolves’ thing is an absolute black hole. I kept wondering if RPS would ever comment on it but certain it’s for the best that they haven’t.

  17. Fraser Allison says:

    Thanks John. This is work that needed to be done.

    Now, if only there was a way to get this “media psychiatrist” run out of TV town in the disgrace she so clearly deserves.

    I wonder if People Can Fly could sue her for something like defamation?

  18. Pani says:

    Thanks for you hard work John, you did a fine piece of analysis.

  19. battles_atlas says:

    I love the humanity of this site.

    Though I do think its good practice for mods to leave a calling card when they edit/delete a post, even if its just ‘you’re being a dick – stop it’. After all, sometimes it is the mod being the dick (though not in this case) and there should be a paper trail .

  20. Fraser Allison says:

    @Kobzon That is a completely different discussion. What you wrote is equivalent to walking into a murder trial and saying “Why is someone defending this guy? He’s rude!” Games are on trial here for causing rape, not for being stupid or offensive.

    @TheApologist There’s plenty of great critical writing on those topics outside the popular sites. It often crops up in the Sunday Papers. The high water mark for that stuff is The Border House, and Critical Distance often picks it up as well. (I may also have written something on the topic in the past…)

  21. jrr says:

    you make the internet a worse place every time you use the “gate” suffix

    • Premium User Badge

      dhex says:

      it’s unavoidable, though i’m guessing there’s a knowing wink thrown in.

      and i’ll echo those who said great job by saying “great job!”

  22. battles_atlas says:

    TheApologist is spot on.

    @ Fraser Allison
    It really isn’t a ‘completely different discussion’. They may be separate, but they are very much related. Nuts and Zoo might not [i]cause[/i] rape, but they certainly contribute to a mysogynist environment in which, for example, rape victims find it difficult to convince a jury that they weren’t ‘gagging for it’ purely because they wore a short skirt.

    I personally think the games industry is now big enough (and it is fucking huge, lets be honest), and mature enough, that it can start seriously critiquing itself, as well as defending itself. I know that games blogs exist where that happens, but I haven’t seen much sign of it here on RPS. I buy Custom PC quite often, and the advertising in there makes me embarassed to be associated with gaming. Its all big-titted babes and oversized guns. Gigabyte’s new range of motherboards features a heatsink in the shape of a AK47 magazine, and includes names such as ‘Assasin’, ‘Killer’ and ‘Sniper’.

    How about a RPS piece naming and shaming these pathetic ads? Its a rich source of piss-taking, as well as being socially responsible. Unlike the mags, I’d like to think that you guys are free enough of corporate influence to run such a piece.

  23. Staggy says:

    I believe it was your own KG that said if Jack Thompson didn’t exist, Rockstar would have invented him (old copy if PCGamer laying around my mind).

    The great irony is the same here. A “misinformed” party takes offense (genuine or fear mongering) to the material produced from a game developer and publicly states this offense, supporting it with “evidence”. At the same time, the gaming community retaliates with outrage (or in John’s case rational journalism). The debate gets extra fuel from both sides, burns until it’s a dim issue until the next controversial example arises. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be back here again.

    The whole while, the only happy party is the game developer, whose product is getting free PR by highlighting the very selling point of the product, safe in the knowledge that the people who took offense don’t buy computer games, and the gaming community who do buy games, will be more aware of it. Hell, would Bulletstorm have had as many posts featuring it on RPS if Fox hadn’t gone on a witch hunt?

    See also: Hot Coffee and No Russian.

  24. Premium User Badge

    TheApologist says:

    @Fraser Allison – thanks! Haven’t come across those sites before. Will be checking them out.

  25. Seyon says:

    Thank you for stating the facts and discussing in an eloquent and intelligent way. You and the rest of the RPS writers really do shine as representatives of gaming.

  26. frenz0rz says:

    Thank you John, that was infinitely more interesting and commendable than the paper on the ‘Medieval Trade Ports of the Norfolk Wash’ that I was supposed to be reading this afternoon. Hang on… does that mean my interest in gaming is causing procrastination? Perhaps theres an argument that may have some actually truth behind it.

    Anyway, this is truly excellent gaming journalism; and, as someone who is looking to enter into journalism after university, quite the (dare I say it) inspiration in terms of how to tackle and respond to a completely unevidenced and astonishingly derogatory statement. I’d love to see more investigative articles like this from RPS in the future.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      Fortunately, procrastination can’t really be classed as anti-social behaviour. Especially when it involves multiplayer videogames.

    • Shadram says:

      “Hang on… does that mean my interest in gaming is causing procrastination?”

      It certainly does for me. I’ve been at work for 2 hours and all I’ve done so far is read this article and the comments in reply to it.

      Like most other posters here, I’d like to commend John on an excellent bit of journalism here. The research he’s done and the quality of the write-up is far beyond what is usually expected of the gaming press, and far, far beyond the quality of journalism on sites like Fox.

  27. ix says:

    “Das Kapital” is a book that has led, in a very real sense, to the deaths of millions of people. But I don’t see people plastering the thing in parental guidance stickers.

    I do think games can “cause violence” in the same way books and films can. But this focus on games that simply feature violence as part of the gameplay, and the idea that they somehow influence us differently than any other medium, seems quite extraordinary. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The onus is on the “games will destroy our society” crowd to actually come up with evidence that games are any different from other forms of media. So far I haven’t seen anything, not even in studies that purport to show a rise in agression, that would suggest a significant effect. So I will continue to laugh off their claims, and I think others should do.

    Now, games are both a reflection of and a negative contributing factor to the views in our society of women, homosexuals, foreigners, specific cultures and religions. Just as books and films. I do agree with others here that we can have a far more important and interesting discussion on how that manifests and what we want to change and how it should change.

  28. ShaunCG says:

    Great piece of writing, John. It’s exactly what’s needed; well-researched investigation of claims, footnotes and referenced studies. Tempting as it is to just dismiss a rentagob it does little to advance the argument outside whipping up a chorus of cheers from people inclined to defend their hobby (or passion, or career).

  29. Archonsod says:

    “The fact that the most popular games are celebrations of xenophobia and violence doesn’t get anyone worked up. ”

    Erm, the most popular entries in any media are sex and violence. If you wanted to get worked up about it the boat went out when Gutenberg built his printing press.
    I don’t see any difference between the games industry and the movie or book industry in that regard. Nor do I see any reason why it should be any different.

  30. OCDgamer says:

    Thanks for this, it was just a wonderful read.

    It’s just a damn shame that some idiotic gamers bombarded this womens amazon page, there just as bad as her if you ask me, and now she will continue with her crazy views but with more conviction.

  31. Mukatsukusan says:

    I frequently come to this website just to gather news about the industry, but I had to register just to say thanks for the article.

    As an aside about the root of the article, the unofficial rape capitol of the world is Goma, D. R. Congo, where the general population doesn’t even have electricity, let alone games. If Dr. Lieberman and Fox News are really intent on diminishing the occurrence of rape in the U.S., maybe they should look for another root cause.

  32. Harvey says:

    He did you a favor by not saying he’d edited your post. It could have saved you from being verbally smacked. I’ll follow the mod’s lead though and play (mostly) nice. Do yourself a favor and read the article. You may learn something. In case you don’t bother, said article does not include instructions on how not to make an ass of yourself. You’ll have to find that elsewhere.

  33. bigredrock says:

    John – thank you for your time and effort in researching and writing this up.

    As you say, there isn’t yet enough evidence to be certain what (if any) effect games have on people.

    But people like Lieberman are quite prepared to blithely assert that reams of such evidence exist, and rely on the world at large to accept this fiction rather than challenge it.

    Well done for speaking up for rationality.

  34. Muzman says:

    For those calling this ‘preaching to the choir': For one thing its a terrible disservice to call it preaching.
    And for another, the real point is not that it might confirm your beliefs but how it does it. To say it’s only preaching to the choir is to take the the typical gamer position that ignores the wider discourse or assumes there’s no point getting involved with it. But the article is doing the opposite. It might only concern a single quote, in large part, but here’s a dissection of the games are bad meme. Now people can be directed to it, it can be quoted, refered to, learned from, built on etc. It’s staking a position, better than the one it’s answering too. This is a big difference from the usual wounded ‘world’s a’gin us’ whining gamers usually offer in reply. We can’t rely on crackpots like Thompson to provide their own rebuttals every time.

    You might have “known” they were wrong, but you probably didn’t know exactly how. This is about the only way to drive a wedge into the ‘common sense’ about games and their effects; hold it to account for every point and build an intellectual counter. Perhaps dull or obvious procedure to you, if games journalism is just an extension of games. That it was done and well is what you ought to really care about however.

    • Premium User Badge

      toastmodernist says:

      Think the preaching to the choir is some form of resentment at having to read a long well researched article that basically validates what you thought anyway, ignoring the importance of the actual research and proofs presented.

  35. AbyssUK says:

    Great article, am sure you already know of Bed Goldacre http://www.badscience.net the misrepresentation of scientists/doctors (yes even shrinks) has got to stupid even dangerous levels.

    In a kin to this bulletstorm rubbish printed by Fox, was a case of a students research paper on how people dress causing rapes being totally misquoted in the Telegraph. How it was twisted to mean almost the direct opposite to what the poor student said was crazy.

    Link http://www.badscience.net/2009/07/asking-for-it/
    follow up http://www.badscience.net/2009/07/rape-a-non-correction-from-the-telegraph/

    In this case a half assed correction was printed, but were is the come back? what happens to people who keep sprouting this rubbish.. the ‘freedom’ of the press has been bastardised into the freedom for them to make stuff up.. more regulation/laws are required it is getting way out of hand.

    Libermann sounds to be one of the many people that Bed Goldarce hates the most, a dodgy PhD looking only to make a quick buck from placing there name on a dodgly performed study of some sort and quoting it as many times as they can to backup any claims they want to present as fact.

    If you haven’t already perhaps a mail to Dr Goldacre with the crazyness explained may aid the hunt, he is an expert in looking up scientists/doctors credientials and may help you uncover something.

  36. Premium User Badge

    Josh Brandt says:

    Good writeup. I’m going to come back and reread it later, too, and keep it in mind whenever this kind of discussion comes up and I need references for rebutting anti-gaming arguments.

    I also want to thank you for putting pictures of kitties at the bottom– it came along right about the point my 1-year-old was getting bored with me scrolling through text and gave him something to look at and say “meow meow” while I finished reading the summary. In the future, I’d appreciate it if you could please continue this practice, as it will make reading long articles much easier for parents of toddlers.

  37. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Meh. You can point out to a gamer that they rage after losing a Starcraft 2 match and they’ll be on Google moments later finding all kinds of excuses why rage has nothing to do with vidyagamez and you’re just an ignorant sensationalist that can’t accept this as a legitimate, adult hobby.

    Really, this shit is barely better than Fox News itself. Does it check facts? Yeah. But that’s not the important thing here — preaching to the choir is.

    You want what you say to matter? Hit up the New York Times, or the Guardian, or Harper’s Magazine. Pick a popular liberal media source read by a wide demographic who would love to slam Fox News AND would be interested in the internal workings of the growing game culture.

    If you don’t want to do this, however, all you’ve done is the equivalent of a mod on a forum taking a troll post and dissecting it line by line, refuting it one step at a time. Sure, everyone else who posts afterward pats you on the back and links you in their signatures, but all those people knew it was shit to begin with. All you’ve really done is take that wet turd and smear it across the wall, taking notes every few centimeters.

    Intelligent, free-thinking people don’t rely on Fox News for their only source of news (if they do at all) — and they’re also the type to ignore crazy articles with no sources or facts because, well, they’re crazy articles with no sources or facts.

    People who take Fox News’ opinions from on high will believe them. There’s nothing we or anyone else can do about that.

    The problem is, when you have one of those free-thinking people roll up to this site and see a blog smearing the turd along the wall, they’re likely to think two things:

    1.) By spreading this sensationalism, this community fell for Fox News’ trap.
    2.) By feeling the need to address obviously worthless sensationalism, the community really isn’t that secure in the legitimacy of its hobby — or there is at least a kernel of truth in Fox News’ story, as hitting a nerve that hard means that there actually is a nerve there in the first place.

    Politicians don’t hold press conferences refuting every ludicrous headline posted on a tabloid’s front page to sell copies. We’d be horribly suspicious of them if they did. Why are they being so defensive? It’s the fucking National Inquirer. Maybe there’s actually truth to this claim?

    Even so much as acknowledging this shit legitimizes it. Don’t feed the trolls.

  38. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Nice work as usual John.

    Apart from mocking Last Action Hero of course! Leave the poor film alone, it was a piece of enjoyable cheesy nonsense.

    Small pendantic point but meta analysis is not always required in scientific studies (though it certainly seems more important in psychology based studies such as these). Clinical trials, for example, often don’t require meta analysis because they have a significant sample size and appropriate experimental controls.

  39. mechalith says:

    Everyone and their cousin has already said this in some form but: well done. You’ve every right to be proud of both the depth and quality of the articles you’ve written on this subject and have easily outdone the vast majority of other journalists in the process.

  40. quercus says:

    What a fantastic piece of work. Mr Walker you should be congratulated in the effort that has gone into this.
    Now how do we get it sent to the mainstream media?

    Come to that, how can the APA get away with such blatantly unscientific and spurious claims themselves?

  41. Premium User Badge

    shoptroll says:

    Thank you again for the tremendous amount of work you put into this series. It’s amazing to see actual journalism in this industry and for that alone this site shall always rate above your peers. Features like this and the overall quality of writing on display are the main reasons I look forward every day to reading this site.

    I feel like you are overdue some subscription money from me and that will be remedied after I get out of work.

  42. Flobulon says:

    Thank you John Walker, this is why I subscribe to RPS.

  43. Premium User Badge

    TheTourist314 says:

    John Walker, you just made my day.

  44. mod the world says:

    Thank god, you changed the image. This isn’t MILF-central after all.

  45. Groove says:

    Thank you RPS’s John Walker. Brilliant as always.

  46. DJ Phantoon says:

    I don’t get it. Bulletstorm is like Football, and no one complains about Football. It’s meatheaded, quite violent, and the cheerleaders have skimpy outfits. And that’s a real life thing, so why is no one at Fox throwing out the panic button about Football?

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      Football doesn’t have the innuendo that Bulletstorm does. If it was just a typically violent videogame I doubt anyone would care. But the Americans do love a good outrage about sex.

    • noerartnoe says:

      Also: Football is made up to be ridiculously patriotic. No offense intended here, but watching some of the pre-game stuff from Super Bowl had me looking oddly at the screen and laughing a bit disbelievingly. Then again, I’m neither American nor much of a patriot myself, so…

      Beyond patriotism/the whole “national sport” shebang. Fox airs a lot of football. Attacking it would be a bit like biting the hand that feeds you, no?

  47. Mman says:

    Did you seriously just bring up Avatar as an example of a film that doesn’t glorify violence?

  48. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    Fantastic stuff, John.

  49. Premium User Badge

    Scandalon says:

    But Leonardo DiCaprio *WAS* responsible for a large percentage of evil in the world! (And some good movies, too.)

  50. 4026 says:

    Gosh. Phenomenal work, sir.