Obama Announces New Research Into Games & Violence

By John Walker on January 16th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

At a press conference on dealing with gun control in America, President Obama has announced that he wishes there to be further research into any possible relationship between gaming and real-world violence. As Venture Beat reports, he has asked the Center For Disease Control (CDC) to study the causes of violent behaviour, including movies, TV, and of course gaming.

This instruction to the CDC, according to Polygon, at first appears to be in conflict with a bar against using Congress funds to “advocate or promote gun control”. However, it seems it has been ruled that this is not a barrier here.

As part of a package of actions from Obama, this is in response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where many children and staff were killed. Also included is an appeal to pass bills to more broadly require a background check before selling weapons, and a limitation on the sales of assault weapons. Moves that are likely to be met with hostility from gun lobby groups in the States.

For us, it’s tempting to see the headline, and to let those knees jerk. But I’d argue that the news that Obama wants to invest money in research to investigate the links between gaming and real-world violence is good news for us all. Of course the fact that it’s being investigated will cause the lazy and the ignorant to suppose there must be a link to investigate in the first place, and you’ll likely see a fair few misleading or outright ridiculous headlines as a consequence. But the reality is, more independent research can only be a good thing for gamers.

It comes down to two scenarios:

1) There is no demonstrable causation link between experiencing fictional violence, and performing violent acts in real life, and the studies will prove this.

2) There is a demonstrable causation link between experiencing fictional violence, and performing violent acts in real life, and we as gamers damn well need to know about it.

Yes, abundant previous studies have tended toward number 1. And yes, there’s the very obvious common sense fact that over half the population of the Western world are gamers and there is no recent horrendous outbreak in violence from previously peaceful people. But while the bumbling nonsense that gets reported by the mainstream press of a nation in the grip of a violence epidemic is patently false, this isn’t a black and white issue. Respectable studies have shown links between raised aggression levels in players with a predisposition for violence, when playing violent games. Some have claimed to show mildly, and short-term, raised aggression levels in those without violent predispositions. No one has ever found any evidence to show that a game, film, or TV show can turn a teenager into a killer, and it seems fairly astronomically unlikely that anyone ever will, but that doesn’t discount it being worth investigating any possible relationships there may be.

Especially research that isn’t being funded by poorly disguised fundamentalist Christian organisations (How to spot a poorly disguised fundamentalist Christian organisation: their website looks like it was made with Angelfire in 1996, and they have “family” somewhere in their title). So such investigation should only ever be welcomed by gamers. As I’ve said over and over, if there are dangers out there, we are the ones who need to know the most. And if there aren’t, we are the ones who need to be equipped with the evidence and knowledge to explain it to others.

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209 Comments »

  1. Baal_Sagoth says:

    These are some well-argued points. I genuinely hope the research will be conducted with an open mind and yield interesting results. I’m really curious how the seemingly pretty reasonable idicators for short-term aggression levels will be contextualised once a bigger picture (hopefully) emerges.

    • Pindie says:

      Well, here is my fear:
      It is pretty obvious video games cause aggression. Watch some videos on YouTube of people gaming and you quickly notice they become agitated.
      So here, research done.

      This can be easily misinterpreted to mean “video games make people violent”, where “violent” becomes a character trait, rather than temporary state of agitation.

      This is how some researchers jumped to conclusions in the past.

      Now, the other risk is people who commit violent acts or have violent fantasies might turn out to be drawn to virtual violence as well. Correlation mistaken for causation and backwards reasoning creep into research papers regularly when hot topics are concerned…

      • ScorpionWasp says:

        Yeah. If we were to research the effects being stuck in a traffic jam has on “short term aggression”, we’d probably find a much larger link. Therefore, fluid transportation should be priority number one, and frustration in general is the cause of violent crime.

  2. Pindie says:

    I think it’s time we realize violence and sex in our media are not the causes but symptoms of decay of society.

    On a side note, since people seem very vocal about it, you cannot research influence of civilian firearm ownership on violent crime because there are too many variables and it becomes pointless if you also notice that crimes that were stopped by show of force are not being reported.
    Smaller studies showed that concealed carry permit holders are the most law obedient citizens.
    I think there is no study required to state that firearm ownership does not cause people to become more violent.

  3. Emeraude says:

    Seen The Wire “Drugs on the Table” episode?

    Well that’s it really: everyone involved knows this is useless if not even counter-productive, but it is a necessary move to comfort the belief in a deemed important portion of the population that the political structure in place as it exists can do something about the problem at hands, even if it is not the case.

  4. Squishpoke says:

    “Moves that are likely to be met with hostility from gun lobby groups in the States.”

    And not U.S. citizens?

  5. Strangerator says:

    Spoiler: In every single case where a twenty-something kid goes on a rampage this study will reveal the SHOCKING TRUTH that the kids had violent video games in their houses. Just like every other non-Amish twenty-something male in America.

    What the CDC won’t be studying is the mind-altering prescription drugs that seem to always be a factor in these shootings. “May cause thoughts of suicide or aggressive behavior” ring a bell? It’s not the guns, it’s not the games, it’s the way we always treat mental illness by throwing mind-altering pills at these kids, making them even more unstable. For whatever reason, it is not advantageous for either side to look this actual meaningful connection between all these killers.

  6. Sayori says:

    Great header picture. It shows exactly how he spent his previous term.