Bulletstormgate: Weichman Clarifies Position

By John Walker on February 23rd, 2011 at 12:53 am.

But will Fox News ever respond to our interview request?

I’m very pleased to say we’ve heard back from the last of the experts we contacted after the Fox News Debacle. We’ve now spoken to Jerry Weichman, Ph.D who was quoted by John Brandon as warning that games such as Bulletstorm could do serious damage to children, as an example of an expert who was “worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.” And while Weichman explains that he was not misquoted, he certainly has far more moderate views on videogames than someone reading the article may have believed. When calculating the rather odd maths that led to Brandon’s “nearly universally” angry experts, we counted Weichman amongst the two who were actually against the game. This was incorrect, as our interview with the clinical psychologist reveals, in which he explains, “there is nothing wrong with the game being produced and sold to the users it is intended for.” And we also learn that Dr Weichman is rather partial to a game of Call Of Duty.

We approached Weichman to find out what had led to his statement on Fox News that,

“If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm’s explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant. Violent video games like Bulletstorm have the potential to send the message that violence and insults with sexual innuendos are the way to handle disputes and problems.”

Weichman tells us he is firmly of the belief that greater regulation of videogames is necessary, because he wholly believes that minors experiencing violent games can experience serious consequences. As you’ll read below, when asked for evidence proving this Dr Weichman was only able to offer non-specific anecdotal claims rather than any peer-reviewed publication of studies. But he’s also a gamer himself, who wants to make sure that age ratings are enforced.

Dr Weichman began by clearly explaining his position on the subject.

“My full opinion on games like Bulletstorm is that they should be enjoyed by the users that the game developer intended – mature audiences/adults – and parents need to play an active role in monitoring their child/teen’s gaming activities and cannot solely rely on “the system” to effectively filter out negative or possibly harmful influences. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the game being produced and sold to the users it is intended for.”

We asked him if he could offer us evidence to support his claims, especially demonstrating significant damage to young people. He told us,

“My experience as an adolescent psychologist lies the behavioral work I have done with thousands of teens, including many teen gaming addicts. My opinion, as stated in my quote, is that there is potential to do harm, but certainly this is not the outcome for 100 percent of the game’s users. And obviously the folks at ESRB agree, since it’s rated M for Mature and was not designed for young audiences.”

Leaving aside the other debate about offering evidence for “gaming addicts” (something no one has been able to provide RPS on all the occasions we’ve asked) we then asked whether gaming violence, sexual or otherwise, is as affecting to young people as growing up amongst real-world violence or sexually inappropriate adults.

“No. The real world experience is the most important shaper/affector of all. Video games play a minor role when compared to the influence that parents, family, friends, and environment can play. But for heavy-users and for users who consider the game to be an alternate reality (more common than many think), the potential to serve as an influencing factor certainly exists.”

And what about TV, comics, films, books, and so on? Are games specifically more harmful?

“It is likely to be more damaging than violence in books due to the strong visuals – plus my experience with young gamers is that they tend to choose gaming over reading violent books. However, explicit films/TV certainly are right up there with video games in portraying an abundance of violence. However, my opinion is these very realistic first-person shooting games have more potential to lead to the greatest desensitization toward violence than the third-person nature of movies/TV. Similar to Rated R movies, the games are appropriate for a mature audience and should be enjoyed by such. I’m not suggesting the games not be released but instead that the ratings be strongly enforced and that parents need to monitor their children’s gaming activities. Ultimately parents bear full responsibility for the content their child is exposed to.”

Interested to know if Weichman had any first-hand knowledge of Bulletstorm, we asked him if he’d played the demo at all. Or if he was even specifically aware of the game. We were being slightly presumptuous, having assumed that the psychologist might not be as aware of videogames as you might hope. We were wrong.

“I have not played it but seen videos of its content. As an adult, I enjoy playing first-person shooter games like Halo and Call of Duty and do so in my spare time quite often. But I would certainly not want my child exposed to these games either. Mature content should be reserved for mature or adult users.”

In light of his responses, we asked Dr Weichman if he felt he’d been fairly represented by Fox News. He told us the following.

“As is often the case with the media, my complete opinion on Bulletstorm could not be fully conveyed in the short article. Truthfully, I was not misquoted or misrepresented. I do believe that with a young, immature and unsupervised audience, these types of games have the potential to do harm – especially for children who are experiencing extensive pain or violence in their real life.

But I certainly do disagree with the concept that games like this should be banned entirely. I believe it should be available for mature users, just like other media with mature adult content. Retail establishments need to (and I believe many do) take the ratings very seriously. The difficult part is to monitor online downloads or Internet purchases. This is why parents need to be more involved in their child’s gaming activities, whether it’s playing with them or just checking out what games they are playing.

My work with teens leads me to put the bulk of the responsibility on the parent and I wish that the article had given parents more information or tips on ways they can monitor their child’s gaming activities to insure that they are playing games which contain content appropriate for the individual child’s maturity level. It’s not easy being a parent today when many children are more technologically-advanced than their parents but ultimately the parents cannot just rely on the “system” for their child’s safety. They have to educate themselves, stay involved in the content entering their home, and work a little harder to make sure that they are aware of what their kid is doing.”

While we clearly take issue with preferring anecdotal experience over published evidence, it’s interesting to learn the full, balanced expanse of Weichman’s opinion on the matter. Previously, of the contacts Fox News had spoken to, we’d only found people who entirely disagreed with the article, or people clearly unqualified to comment. It’s been very helpful to hear from someone educated in the subject who’s on the other side of the debate. It also further reveals the opportunity Fox News had for offering an informed version of their story, which was so deliberately rejected.

Fox News have so far not responded to our request for an interview.

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85 Comments »

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  1. siliciferous says:

    What is incredible about this whole, extremely well-documented (THANK YOU FOR YOUR EFFORT RPS) Bulletstorm affair has nothing to do with Bulletstorm or video games in general – it is the fact that we simply don’t know how often Fox News intentionally and maliciously pulls tricks like this in the thousands of stories on which they report on the local, regional, and national level every single day.

    • CoyoteTheClever says:

      Well, judging from people who used to work for them coming out about their bad journalistic practices as well as emails between members of the staff making very sure to couch their articles in leading terms, we do have a pretty good idea of how often Fox does this, which is to say, it dominates their journalism completely, there is absolutely no journalistic integrity whatsoever.

      Personally, if any sort of media should be illegal, it should be Fox News for deliberately advertising their product as news and journalism when it is clearly not.

    • John Walker says:

      I strongly recommend watching the documentary Outfoxed. It’s a low-budget, high-brained film that analyses the channel’s reporting style, along with interviews with ex-employees.

      http://www.amazon.com/Outfoxed-Murdochs-Journalism-Attacks-Special/dp/B0017LIDVO/outfoxed-20

    • subedii says:

      Otherwise you can also watch the Daily Show, because John Stewart regularly takes Fox and their approach to pieces, and keeps humour whilst he does it.

      http://crooksandliars.com/2006/09/14/jon-stewarts-hilarious-look-at-the-use-of-the-question-mark

    • Tim Smith says:

      Outfoxed is also available free here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6737097743434902428#

      Forgive me makers, but some of us have little money to spare.

    • Premium User Badge

      dhex says:

      outfoxed is worth watching, but it’s also worth recognizing the biases of it’s source. it does have the unfortunate side effect of promoting the false belief that other media outlets don’t shape content based upon editorial drive, political and financial interests, etc.

      good show on the ongoing bulletstorm series.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      The comments on the Outfoxed Amazon page are rather depressing :(

    • westyfield says:

      “we simply don’t know how often Fox News intentionally and maliciously pulls tricks like this”

      Indeed. I’ve become a bit paranoid since reading the first article, with its ‘rape has increased’ statement – how many other things have I been lied to about by different news sources?
      You’ve reduced me to a wreck, John Walker, all because of your so-called ‘facts’ and ‘truth’. I’ll never trust anyone again!

    • John Walker says:

      Your comment alone, westyfield, makes all the work that’s gone into these articles worthwhile. If that consciousness gets switched on as a result of my writing, I can retire a happy man.

    • Cradok says:

      “it is the fact that we simply don’t know how often Fox News intentionally and maliciously pulls tricks like this”

      I find it safer to simply assume ‘always’ and work up from there.

    • Warskull says:

      Actually we know exactly how much Fox “maliciously and intentionally pulls tricks”, All the time. The Daily Show breakdown of Fox News was pretty good too. They take a single event then take it massively out of context and proportion on their news portion. They then have their opinion segments make crazy stuff up about it. Then their news segments report that “some people are saying” based on what their opinion segments say. So essentially their crazies make up whatever they want, and then they report on what they say like it is news. The outfoxed documentary is also very good.

      Fox News has gotten to the point where it is best to assume everything they broadcast is complete and total bullshit. If you watch it, I highly recommend you stop, any other news source is better.

    • Dozer says:

      Thanks Tim Smith, I should have read on to see your comment rather than impulse-buying Outfoxed from Amazon as soon as I saw John’s post.

      At least I had the sense to switch to Amazon UK and get it for half the price that Amazon USA would have sold it to me…

    • Tim Smith says:

      Quite alright.

  2. DethFiesta says:

    I can also recommend “Outfoxed.” Another excellent source for the honest truth on journalistic integrity is Glenn Greenwald’s blog on Salon. Fox is certainly not the only culprit when it comes to journalistic malpractice!

    • anonymousity says:

      Glenn Greenwald is awesome, so intelligent and balanced in his writing.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Thirded. One of very few Western journalists who will offer you an honest, informed appraisal of events in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  3. Premium User Badge

    TheTourist314 says:

    I’d be completely surprised if Fox News would ever agree to an interview, it would be political suicide.

    • subedii says:

      Oh they’d certainly agree to an interview.

      They’d just retain the rights to edit it.

      John Walker would come off as a stark raving homicidal lunatic.

    • Optimaximal says:

      You mean he isn’t?

    • Premium User Badge

      MonkeyMonster says:

      No he’s just a really bad healer…

  4. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    He seems okay. I’m not particularly bothered by his stating that games have the potential to cause significant damage, as it’s easier than stating the opposite, and functionally the same as saying the same thing about TV/movies/other media. (only, the public doesn’t care about those any more). Better to leave the door open for such possibilities rather than risk being discredited just in case some parent comes to his door and attempts to refute some kind of “videogames are completely safe” statement with his/her addicted, withdrawn child in the future.

    Also, I get the impression he knows there’s no real evidence anyway. How would you go about testing for significant, permanent changes in character and behaivour after prolonged exposure to video games? Even one respectable publication could take years to form (though there probably have been attempts by now).

  5. aronbarco says:

    It just makes me sad to know that the stupid people that actually believe in this kind of crap thrown out by Fox isn’t the kind of RPS public…

    And it makes even more sad that all the subject was treated by the so call “specialist” in a superficial manner. Being someone who research phenomenology in my MA, and with 20 years of gaming experience, it is very easy to dismantle almost all of this kind of argument.

    We still understand too little about the gaming experience.

  6. The Codicier says:

    Watched Newsnight earlier tonight where they had the head of the BBC plus a few newspaper editors talking about the value of journalism in a world of blogs, tweets, & facebook.

    They should have just thrown a link to the Bulletstromgate series, because fuck me if this pretty much a perfect example of what great journalism has to offer.

    /salutes

  7. bobdisgea says:

    Dear RPS,
    i love the fuck out of you.
    love bob

  8. lfwam says:

    Congratulations to John, on another well written piece of journalism. Does the good doctor know of any individual case studies in the scientific literature that support his view that games can cause these problems? While still no match for experiments they might be useful in learning more about why he thinks the way he does, especially given the previously mentioned difficulty of conducting experiments of this nature.

  9. Pijama says:

    Holy shit.

    Sir John Walker, seeing you pulling real journalism against fox news is like watching Muhammad Ali on his prime against some doped up bastard.

    This is worthy a subscription.

  10. Alex Bakke says:

    A wonderful job, as always. Whether or not this makes a difference, the facts need to be stated.

    • Alex Bakke says:

      Some clarification – I feel this makes a tremendous difference, shown by Fox News giving you coverage, for example. It’s just, others on RPS would argue that it doesn’t make a difference, you can’t fight the maaaaaaaan, maaaan.

  11. starclaws says:

    Just compare these two numbers: Violent criminal offenses without influence of video games Vs. Violent criminal offenses that have played a video game. I bet you alcohol causes 100x more violent criminal offenses than a previous experience with a video game.

    • Ghost of Grey Cap says:

      Yes? Of course. Nobody reasonable would say otherwise. The fear is that superviolent videogames might affect a a few, emotionally susceptible, kids and teenagers. Not cause a million game zombies who will bomb the white house (although, I’d play that game).

  12. sassy says:

    These pieces have all been an excellent read and are a credit to both yourself (John Walker) and gaming journalism as a whole. It can be easy to think of games journalism as not real ‘journalism’ because of the much more casual style of writing, These articles (as well as some of Keiron’s) prove this assumption wrong.

    Though the writing shows a lack of practice, obviously due to long years of writing about games. It certainly has the content and amazingly mostly stays impartial despite your obvious bias. The only thing that I haven’t liked was in the last piece with the comment about the faulted German censorship, it was clearly opinion and irrelevant to the overall article. I may have agreed with the sentiment but it should have been left out.

    Thank you for an excellent read and I hope you get that interview with Fox.

  13. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    Continued nice work, John.

  14. Misnomer says:

    Yay, more from the story that never dies….. please tell me there are no more sources and the story can die.

  15. pupsikaso says:

    You’re going to interview Fox? Dude, I’d pay to see that!

  16. noom says:

    I rather agree with Dr. Weichman on most of his points tbh. I don’t think children should be experiencing this kind of comic violence either. That’s not to say they should be wrapped in cotton wool; just that violence should be experienced by them in a negative way perhaps.

    (I do not mean via beating them)

    (although that may be fun)

    • RegisteredUser says:

      I disagree. The solution is to avoid the pitfall of the alternate reality, and instead view the GAMES as, well, GAMES.

      If it’s fun to shoot off someone’s head, then it’s fun. It’s not a sinister, anger fueled rush of hate. It’s fun.
      When I was gunning down imps and cacodemons in DOOM, I sure as heck was not in any way at a point of “M for Mature” rating age, but I knew clearly enough what is real and what is not.
      Sure it’s also fun to imagine that you are mowing down colleagues, co-workers, principals, stupid girls, children, etc pp.
      But the point is that you do this KNOWING that it’s a fantasy, and not an alternate reality.
      And that you work OFF your frustration and enjoy yourself for the release, not the increase of it.

      I think this is the part where all the opponents just don’t “get it”, and where I will give anyone arguing that there is a danger to those who are unable to make this reality distinction a fair point.

      Because you DO need to be smart enough to realize that a pixel kill is all fun and games, and getting hurt in real life, emotionally or physically in an abusive fashion, sucks. If you can do that, you will never be able to be fazed by games.
      What’s more, you will find the point of “too much” yourself. I abhor the Manhunt series simply because it does it’s violence in a too serious fashion rather than arcade gore. I’m all for dismemberment and kicking bodyparts around and mutilation.
      But repeatedly stabbing people in the eye with glass shards is just being a meanie. And that’s just no fun to me. Dito all the gorezombiesplatterslasherwhatever movies, btw.

      So, yea. If you have the capacity, nothing can faze you and you are your own censorship device. No need for state-based supernanny to rush to my rescue there.

    • noom says:

      You’re quite right Registered User, but you’re talking about adults. I’m only referring to children, which I would categorize as more or less pre-teen. Sure, most of us have probably grown up playing violent video games and consider ourselves perfectly reasonable people. But the games we were playing as children lacked the realism and political context that games today have (OK, so I’m pretty much thinking purely Modern Warfare here). I think perhaps comic was the wrong word to use above; it’s more the realistic-with-obvious-bias that I think children should be kept away from in their formative years.

      For the record, I am totally against all censorship of anything intended for an adult audience.

  17. mondomau says:

    Keep it up, John – if half the popular gaming sites took this much effort to bring these scaremongering whores to task, the gaming violence myth would have been well and truly put to rest ages ago.

  18. BAReFOOt says:

    Weichman tells us he is firmly of the belief

    That’s what people say who know nothing. They have to believe it, because they don’t know it.

    It’s a very common classical sign of ignorace in the face of incompetence. You don’t listen to such people.

    • Premium User Badge

      TheApologist says:

      I think you are being unfair here. He doesn’t know nothing, and he states the bases of his belief clearly. He is an experienced psychologist with many years working with the age group in question, and has a view also informed by personal knowledge of the medium in question, and the genre of game, and has viewed, though not played, the game in question. He has formed his opinion on these bases. And these bases are not nothing.

      I personally think he is being very reasonable, open and honest in stating his view and letting us know why he holds it. I think a balanced view of this might be to say, well, it isn’t peer-reviewed academic research (which we might well have a preference for) but it is the opinion of a trained professional with relevant experience which is worth respecting and taking seriously.

      I do research in a different field. In my view, it is useful to hold the distinction between belief and knowledge a little bit lighter.

    • cocoleche says:

      Psychology ain’t math. Testing your research on a large sample of the population will make the validity of your hypothesis seem more likely, but not absolute. So in the end, you believe.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      Errrrr are we having a bit of a definition crisis here? The word belief merely means something one holds to be true, if you “know” something it’s because you have a belief. The man wasn’t saying he had blind unqualified faith in something.

      I think the article is slightly unfair in passing off professional experience working with children as simply anecdotal. Obviously it’s not as good clinical trials and peer review. However professional experience is still important in the way knowledge is developed and spread through society.

      If a video games programmer with decades of experience told you technique X is better than Y, there is normally not much evidence just the guys professional opinion from having worked on it for years. It’s not entirely equivalent of course, but people would usually accept someone’s opinion more readily if they have years of experience in a field. Especially if it’s stated in a qualified and reasonable way as above.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      The basis for you being able to even act in this reality is that you BELIEVE that when you do x, y will happen.
      If this were not so, you – not the doctor, but you as a human being – would not be able to interact with your environment at all in a sensible fashion.
      Everything would be random, nothing would contain certainty or any sense of causation, and you’d be in a worse than autistic state.

      So yes, belief and inherent trust that that which you see is actually what you see is not some wibbly-wobbly superstition, but actually the first and foremost enabler of us being able to actually do anything and live.

    • John Walker says:

      “belief” was my word, not his. His words are all in quotes. But I believe it’s a fair use of the word, since he acknowledges himself he has no empirical evidence.

    • Premium User Badge

      TheApologist says:

      @John Walker
      Why do you say he has no empirical evidence, what he says that he does in terms of his professional experience? I agree that this empirical evidence hasn’t been gathered in a systematic and planned way, and he hasn’t organised it and presented it for review by other qualified experts in his field. But that doesn’t mean it can be dismissed as non-empirical.
      I am not seeking to be pedantic, but to point out a possible negative consequence. That consequence is that we start dismissing good kinds of evidence (in this case years of professional experience) because we don’t have what we might judge to be the best kind of evidence (peer reviewed publications about experiments that use control groups for example). If we do that, we might be guilty of setting the bar for acceptability of evidence so high that no-one could ever provide adequate evidence of the claim – in this case the claim that violent video games are the cause of violent behaviour.
      It’s hard to imagine an ethical experiment that could test this hypothesis – we can’t subject young people to material that we postulate might harm their development and potentially the safety of others.
      This has been a great series of articles – this is just a thought.

  19. MrEvilGuy says:

    I am violent ga me

  20. bokkiedog says:

    His “beliefs” are worth nothing. Until recently, psychologists and psychiatrists believed that homosexuality was a dangerous mental illness.

    Data is not the plural of anecdote. This man is no better than a special-pleading homeopathist. The complexities of mimesis, when studied, indicate that even a young mind is remarkably resilient. But that makes for a less hysterically compelling story.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Parents should monitor their child’s media consumption” isn’t a hysterically compelling story, it’s common sense.

    • sassy says:

      His beliefs mean a lot. He has the training, knowledge and experience to make a sound opinion. He is not just guessing but does not have adequate evidence to back up his own theory, which is why he states it is his belief.

      It is the same as me (as a student teacher) stating that I believe video games has an adverse effect on students grades. I can tell you numerous anecdotes (despite not being a full teacher) but studies are inconclusive as games certainly have the potential to increase knowledge or various attributes relating to the acquisition of knowledge and sound reasoning. In the end though I believe that video games just take too much time away from intellectual pursuits (like reading or even doing homework in many cases).

    • Rugged Malone says:

      If only it was common sense.

    • bokkiedog says:

      Sassy: “His beliefs mean a lot. He has the training, knowledge and experience to make a sound opinion. He is not just guessing but does not have adequate evidence to back up his own theory, which is why he states it is his belief”

      That is a fallacy: “The Argument From Authority”. However many certificates, medals or letters suffixed to his name, his beliefs are worthless if they have little or no data to back them up.

      He has no data to back them up.

      That is the end of the matter.

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Sassy: The problem is that you (and the “expert” here) are almost certainly basing your conclusions on self-created evidence. How do you know which of your students play games? How often? What kind of games? What other factors influence their “intellectualism”? How do you define that term? How much time do they devote to their studies?

      Real scientists use intuition and the breadth of their experience to make assumptions all the time. But then they gather data to test their hypothesis before they decide they know the truth.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      @bokkiedog.
      No it’s not. Sassy stated that the clinician involved had plenty of experience to back up his beliefs. He in no way stated “Dr X believes Y, Dr’s are always correct, therefore Y must be true.” He made a perfectly valid and qualified statement about degrees of belief.

      I believe what Sassy was getting across was more along the lines of Dr X has lots of experience Z which relates to Y, therefore I place a greater weighting upon his opinion of Y.

      Contrary to popular opinion there are degrees of truth and fact. Especially in Science.

  21. Metonymy says:

    You’re still pushing this ‘news source, not impartial?!?!’ nonsense, and ignoring the fact that this exact publicity is carefully engineered for the purpose of selling the game.

    Failing to educate your readers, or just staying carefully neutral? Same problem either way.

    • Urael says:

      Well, Metonymy – do we want to live in a world where fear and untruth are used to sell products (even assuming that highly-cynical method of advertising is true)? Do we want to live in a world where our hobby is accused – spectacularly loosely – of causing rape? Do we want to let Fox News get away with blatant and wholly biased misrepresentation of our favoured hobby, like it does with practically any item it touches on?

      I say no. RPS is staffed by journalists, for whom the answer to those questions should be no in every case otherwise they don’t deserve the title. John’s efforts on this issue are nothing less than heroic, not to mention fascinating reading. Long may it continue.

    • John Walker says:

      While we’d of course all love to dictate our editorial content based upon your personal conspiracy theories, unfortunately The Man is paying us far too much for that to be an option.

  22. RegisteredUser says:

    “Video games play a minor role when compared to the influence that parents, family, friends, and environment can play” => end of every single censorship or outcry discussion over videogames ever.

    Maybe he could contact german authorities and tell them to GTFO with their game bans and censoring.

  23. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    Next up: saying the word GAME repeatedly can lead to desensitization to the phoneme GAY and increase homosexual tendencies. Are consoles destroying the continuation of our species as a whole? More on Fox, at 10!

    And because it can never be said enough in all these comment threads: John, I love you <3

  24. deejayem says:

    “I do believe that with a young, immature and unsupervised audience, these types of games have the potential to do harm – especially for children who are experiencing extensive pain or violence in their real life.”

    This is kind of hard to argue with, really – I don’t think it’s controversial to say that violent games are potentially harmful to vulnerable young people, just like violent TV and movies. In fact, John, I seem to recall you saying something similar in the past. *

    While of course properly conducted research is the ideal, I think it’s fair to make some allowances for clinical experience and expertise. That’s not to say any one expert’s view should be taken as gospel, but you can’t really dismiss it as anecdotal, especially in a field like clinical psychology where rigorous research practices are hard to implement. I can recommend “Doctoring the Mind” by Richard Bentall for a good, readable discussion of this problem.

    * Edit: Ah, this is what I was thinking of:

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/06/09/does-game-violence-create-violent-players/

    “It’s important to pay serious attention to the findings of the many studies over the decades that have demonstrated, as shown in this latest paper, that violent games do leave those with a predisposition to violence more likely to commit violence.”

  25. Pop says:

    I do like the guy’s emphasis on holding parents responsible for what their children do. We probably shy away from that too often as we live in a fairly independent culture.

    Personally I’m not so worried about violence in video games, as in most games it’s pretty instant. Were someone to make a war game where soldiers bleed out over a period of hours due to bullet wounds, suffer shellshock and break down into tears etc (having never been in a real war, these are just my best guesses of some of the things missing from “violent” video games) I might change my mind.

    Despite all the blood and gore, it’s rare for a character in video games to suffer. Even the pretty brutal scene in CODBLOPS with the pipe was over in an instant.

    I do reckon games are effecting us in someway though. You can’t indulge in anything obsessively and not become changed by it. I just reckon it’s in more subversive and subtle ways that we expect.

    I came out of CODMOWAR with a strangely strong desire to take hold of life and sort out problems now. I guess that’s the way the game portrays it’s heros’ answers to life: get things done now and push others aside.

    I came out of Red Dead Redemption wanting to grow facial hair, so it’s not always a harmful effect…

    Dunno what other peoples’ experiences are.

  26. Pamplemousse says:

    I have nothing but respect for this website.

  27. cheesetruncheon says:

    While I applaud the high Quality of Journalism, I don’t think he could Legally give the information about Teen Gaming Addicts.

  28. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    Thank you John for not letting this thing fly, games get enough flak already, no need to let big media have this ultimate leverage of sex + violence + kids uncontested. Chapeau!

    Now this series of articles has got me thinking about why people who don’t play games (and even some that do) are irrationally scared of them, as in, they corrupt the youth with some kind of evil mind trickery. And it led me to the following thoughts.

    In a game, you control an agent in an environment, wherein it has tasks to solve (“avoid missing ball”, “get the girl”, “kill with skillshot combo”). Now for a game to work, you need strong motivation to accomplish this task, most often by offering a satisfying reward (“you win”, “high score”, “achievement ‘Gangbang’ unlocked”). But for a game to induce “fun” in the player, she/he has to connect empathically or emotionally to the agent, so that the agent’s (implied) motivation becomes the player’s motivation, and the agent’s reward is felt by the player, too.
    What I mean to say is, that if a game expects my agent, e. g. Gordon Freeman, to protect Alyx, I, the player, need to care about doing so, by somehow inducing feelings through story telling or character modelling (I remember how Valve bragged about going the extra mile with facial expressions towards the engine’s camera by slightly insetting the parallax of the eyes, as humans do when talking to one another). This provides me with adequate motivation to play what instead would just be a boring escort mission.

    But what is then the motivation for “killing the enemies”, it being one of the main task in games?
    The motivation given in most games couldn’t be farther from the setup that would be required in the real world lead to one person killing another, especially for the mere fun of it. We humans just don’t work that way (extremely deranged people aside). We need damn good motivation to even go to war as soldiers, be it extreme ennui (WW1), existential anxiety (the enemy will rape your mother and sisters and take your land!), or a long history of hatred towards the enemy, possibly for multiple generations.
    But can games motivate you to feel genuine hatred (at least not towards the enemy am i right?!) or anxiety? I mean, the example of escort missions above kind of implies that games need you to genuinely care for another character. Do you play chess to win because white will burn down the black cities if you couldn’t stop them?

    We as gamers know, well, we feel that it’s mostly the feeling of accomplishment of dispatching adversary agents with the tools you have at your disposal. We can assign emotions to the problem at hand if the game motivates us to do so, but I have yet to see a mainstream game that utilizes negative emotions effectively (thank $god). People Can Fly know that too, so they don’t go overboard with antagonization, i.e. they’re just baddies, that’s it, here’s your quadruple shotgun, now go hog wild. You’re not supposed to feel genuine hate towards the enemy.

    But can someone who doesn’t know how games make us tick be faulted, if they think that motivation to complete an in game task needs to mirror real world motivation for a similar task? Especially with gamers telling stories about how they grew attached to PCs and NPCs to the point of compassion? I think this is a problem the industry will have to address: someone needs to prove that games induce and utilize genuinely positive emotions more effectively as a motivator than genuinely negative emotions, even for tasks that in the real world would be unspeakably amoral.

    • deejayem says:

      Nice post. I for one would be much more worried about a game that asked me to kill someone because I actually hate them than because it’s fantasy fun. That’s part of my discomfort about games set in real-world, present-day conflicts.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      Doesn’t that reasoning make WW2 games and GWOT-games kind of dirty? Both of those games kind of play on the hatred for the (digital) enemy.

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      stahlwerk says:

      @Dreamhacker, kind of, and that opens the whole can of worms of morality vs. heroism in war stories, but my point is that FPSes use war just as a setting, like bulletstorm uses “jerks in the future” as a setting, but can’t really employ it as a motivator. No sane gamer would say that she/he derives his motivation to play MOH:AA from the duty of liberating digital Europe from digital Nazism – he’d claim that he plays it because it is a challenge, it is fun.
      There’s an emotional disconnect inherent in shooty-killy-games that “the media” doesn’t understand – and frankly it seems paradox, because the same player may express genuine empathy to a well written NPC. It may well be that humans as a whole may just not be as bloodlust-y as we expect, and the fact that this disconnect happens may be a proof for that. Which is kind of the antithesis to the whole “game violence begets real life violence” discussion.

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      Zephro says:

      “We need damn good motivation to even go to war as soldiers, be it extreme ennui (WW1)”

      Wuh? They couldn’t keep people away from offices to volunteer at the outbreak of the first world war. Conscription was only introduced in 1916, 2 years after the fighting started. Men had been happily volunteering out of the sheer jingoism of sticking it to the bosch.

      Also I don’t think the argument actually holds water. As even if a player is logically and consciously “disconnected” from the content, that in no way says that the game can’t affect them in a behavioral/sub-conscious way.

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      stahlwerk says:

      Zephro, my wording was a bit ambiguous, of course you’re right that “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” (thanks dicitonary.app!) wasn’t the sole motivator for boys killing boys in the 1910s, but to some it was, especially those who couldn’t give two craps about their motherland. Or at least they later said it was.
      Anyway, I wasn’t actually arguing that games don’t influence us in any way. I was just trying to look at this situation from the other side, trying to ask why we (broadly generalizing) want to play games that simulate morally questionable actions in the first place, and why we don’t feel as bad* about it as we would if these actions were carried out in real life.
      * Edit: by that I mean that there’s no genuine moral threshold in killing an NPC, when in real life there is. Contrast that to the genuine feeling of accomplishment when helping a sympathetic NPC.

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      Zephro says:

      @stahlwerk
      Ah well I would agree with that then, as obviously I’m not making a moral choice. However I was just feeling a bit wary of saying it had no effect, which you weren’t so nevermind, as I did have a dream the other night where I was digging out minecraft cubes all night with my barehands….

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      stahlwerk says:

      I remember dreaming in RTS Birds-Eye when I was playing Warcraft 3 a lot a few years back. When I woke up, my face must have resembled this smiley: O_o

  29. Talorc says:

    Just want to say this had been absolutely awesome JOURNALISM. Really well constructed and researched articles.

    And I can completely understand Dr Weichman’s position – games rated as mature should be restricted to mature players.

    I am also quite happy for him to have an honestly held personal belief based on his very relevant line of work that some adolescents may be negatively impacted by violent games (or books, or movies or TV it would seem – eg video games are not unique in their effect)

    He is quite upfront his beliefs are anecdotal and not from an empirical study (which are very expensive and involved to set-up). I don’t have a problem with this.

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    MonkeyMonster says:

    Keep up the good work John (and the rest of the hivemind). This is classic well written, informed, witty but punchy RPS stuff that the majority of your readers have come to know and greatly appreciate.

  31. LionsPhil says:

    More DRM is clearly the answer to controlling the access to violent computer games by underage users. If we can just implant an RFID chip in the hands of all citizens, then this can be combined with readers in gamepads and mice, and tied to both central government database of dates of birth and to Steam accounts. The system would be totally infallable since the only way to use a parents’ authentication would be for them to sit right there with their hand in range, thus giving them no choice but to inadvertantly supervise their child’s play. As an added bonus, the obselence of Steam passwords would be a major convenience to users: simply grasp your mouse and you’re logged in as the right user, with your game catalogue and personalised settings available.

    Write to your MP. Demand mandatory always-online DRM for all games rated above U. For the children.

  32. Berzee says:

    Regarding people providing anecdotal evidence instead of peer-reviewed wotsits:

    All I’ve seen on this website are anecdotes about people providing anecdotes. Please provide a rigorous study suggesting that people are more likely to provide anecdotes than rigorous studies.

  33. Premium User Badge

    Foosnark says:

    I laughed all the way through the MSNBC video review of Bulletstorm (http://ingame.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/22/6109013-bulletstorm-is-violently-fun) because it was obvious the reviewer was referring to this whole brouhaha without ever mentioning it.

    I kind of want to play it, but I suspect I would lose brownie points with the wife. Scooter babbling about his mama’s girl parts, and that one idiot vendor with Tourette’s in Hellgate, are enough…

  34. tomnullpointer says:

    Good follow up John, its good to hear from one of the ‘contributors’ to the original article and to reveal that he generally seems like a sensible guy. I pretty much agree with everything he said.

    To be honest I dont feel that you always need ‘hard empirical evidence’ to have a valid opinion. Sometimes bringing up supporting facts/surveys just leads to another cycle of questioning the satistical methods or the interpretation of data. Sometiems professional ‘opinion’ is worth listening to, as long as it is identified as such and isnt making any outrageous demmands.

  35. Premium User Badge

    Chaz says:

    Pretty much the vast majority of news outlets have an agenda when it comes to publishing their news stories, even your small town newspaper will, and having worked for a small town newspaper I’ve seen first hand how the news can be skewed slightly. At the end of the day most news outlets are a business not a public service, and they get their readers/viewers by presenting news stories in a manner they think will appeal more to their readership. If that means leaving out information and only presenting one sided arguments, then that’s what they’ll do. Also from what I’ve seen they don’t seem to care about what effect publishing these stories will have on the lives of the people concerned in them, despite all the rhetoric of championing the causes of the common person etc. The bottom line is what counts first and foremost, the news is merely there to feed it.

    I expect most people will know this, which is the vast majority of newspapers make their money from advertising, with the cover price on the paper just being there to cover the printing and distributuon costs. So to attract advertisers they need good readership figures in the right target markets, and they try to get those by filling the pages with stories they think will appeal to those targets. The news on independent TV channels will be no different, they will still have to attract advertisers to their TV slot. Which is why you get such a variety of newspapers from sleazy scandal filled tabliods, papers with heavy politcal bias, papers with shock stories that appeal to the outraged middle classes etc. At the end of the day most news outlets are just another form of entertainment and Fox News is just the TV equivalent of the Daily Mail appealing to its conservative middle class viewers with outrageous shock stories they can get all holier than thou about.

  36. Mutak says:

    I’m very satisfied with Dr. Weichman’s balanced view on the issue and would like to express again my appreciation for RPS’s excellent coverage of this story.

    Caveats: I like shooters. I think Bulletstorm looks like a really fun game.

    I think that gamers are often too aggressive and hypocritical in their defense of games. You cannot seriously say that games are great learning tools in one breath and then deny that they have potential negative impacts in the other. Usually this disparity is handled by saying that people are capable of making the distinction between games and life, taking the positive with them into rl, but leaving the negative in the game, but that only truly applies to rational, well-adjusted adults.

    We shouldn’t censor games to protect kids and people who are emotionally unstable, but we should acknowledge the potential for problems. As Dr. Weichman suggested, we should focus on educating parents on how to monitor and control their ids’ gaming. We should educate ourselves on how to spot the warning signs of trouble in our own friends and family.

    If you really want to protect kids, educate and empower parents. Affordable child care and better schools would do more good than censorship ever will.

  37. GeorgeB says:

    Tips of the caps a’ plenty. Don’t know where you should go next but stay on this story.

  38. ManaTree says:

    Great job, Mr. Walker. As usual. :)

  39. Ziv says:

    I like how he differentiates mature and adult. There some adults I would not let them play call of duty and the similars and there are many under 17s that I would.