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Jeremy Jastrzab
18 Mar, 2010

EveryonePlays: Violent Games and Aggressive Behaviour - Part 2

PALGN Feature | The other side and just what these studies recommend.
Protect Children from Mature Games.

PALGN and Everybody Plays, in partnership with GAME retailers, have set up a petition for everyone who believes that Australian video game classifications should include an adult R18 rating, in order to protect children from mature games. Politicians, lobby groups and the sensationalist media will often point to psychology studies and the perceived link between video game violence and aggressive behaviour, as a reason for not having an R18 rating. However, what do these studies really say. Are they really denouncing violent video games as the devil, or have the academics been taken out of context? Having already examined the side that the R18 antagonists follow, we observe the other side of the argument in the second part of our feature, as well as the lessons to be learned from all of this.


Violent Video Games and Aggression: Studies from Dr Christopher Ferguson

Dr Christopher Ferguson may not be as distinguished or prominent in this academic field as someone like Professor Craig Anderson, but distinctly, has been something of an opponent to Anderson’s studies (possibly unintentionally). In response to a lot of the ‘negative’ studies on video games, he criticises them for not taking into account the potential positive effects of playing violent games. Studies have primarily shown an increased performance in cognition (particularly visuospatial – so being able to take scope of your surroundings faster), while at GCAP 09, the positive effects of the game Re-mission were discussed in terms of helping cancer patients recover faster.

In response to the publication of Anderson’s latest study (which was discussed in the last feature), Ferguson brought up his own study. One of the contentious points of the GAM and this study was that it was supposedly meant to hold regardless of personality, family environment, genetics or other biological contributions. It’s the exclusion of these factors that has academics such as Ferguson critical of Anderson’s methodology and findings.

As discussed in the last feature, Meta-Analysis is subject to ‘publication bias’, something that Ferguson mentions in a number of his studies. Ferguson has done a number of studies attempting to show that the results in Anderson’s studies are unreliable due to this. In his latest study, Anderson addresses these concerns, and some that he’s found with Ferguson’s studies on publication bias… Basically, these two don’t eye-to-eye on this issue, in what is becoming an academic stand-off (a little bit like a Mexican stand-off, but no layperson knows exactly what they are on about).

More substantially, Ferguson has done a number of studies that are more related to the second school of thought discussed in the first feature. Essentially, where as the first school of thought looks for a causal relationship between video game violence and aggressive behaviour, Ferguson’s studies concentrate on the relationship between video game violence and aggressive behaviour while accounting and controlling for other potential factors. In his studies, factors such as genetics and family environment are accounted for.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson.
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A Multivariate Analysis of Youth Violence and Aggression: The Influence of Family, Peers, Depression and Media Violence (2009)

Published in the Journal of Paediatrics, Ferguson shows this study as an alternative to the findings of Anderson’s latest study (which was discussed previously). Unfortunately, Ferguson cannot boast the size and diversity covered by the Anderson study, as this one has a sample size of only 603 and primarily examines children of Hispanic origin. However, this study accounts for many more variables than any of Anderson’s studies, even including the parents of the children.

Ferguson gathers the information used in the study from a variety of surveys common to criminal behaviour:
  • Negative Life Events (NLE) – a survey that covers neighbourhood problems, negative relations with adults, antisocial personality, family attachment and delinquent peers.
  • Family Environment survey
  • Family Violence survey (known as the Conflict Tactics Survey)
  • Media Violence Questionnaire
  • Depression (Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) Youth Self Report)
Ferguson reports additionally that the ‘Olweus Bullying Questionnaire’ results were used to add information about bullying and it’s effects, while factors such as aggression and delinquent behaviour were extracted from the NLE and CBCL surveys.

Ferguson then uses what is called ‘hierarchical multiple regression’ modelling to fit the data gathered above. The simplest way to put what he has done is that he has tired to create a linear equation that is meant to create a linear prediction for the data. To start off, he adds gender and depression levels to the equation and then ‘re-estimates’ the results. Followed this, he continually adds each variable and re-estimates after each addition in the following order: NLE, Family Environment Survey, CTS and the Media Violence Questionnaire. The overall purpose of this is that we can put in a value from any of these variables into the resulting equation and use it to ‘predict’, in this case, the affect on aggression, rule-breaking, crime or bullying, as reported by the surveys, of that particular variable.

Results

The results are spread over seven different aggression and violence indicators:

  • CBCL-reported aggression – children
  • CBCL-reported rule-breaking – children
  • CBCL-reported aggression – parents
  • CBCL-reported rule-breaking – parents
  • NLE-reported Non-violent Crime
  • NLE-reported Violent Crime
  • Bullying Behaviour
So effectively, Ferguson has provided seven different predictive equations, where the above seven left hand side variables, while the rest of the factors (explained above) on the right hand side are used to predict the left hand side. In the results table below, the left hand side of the equation is represented along the top axis, while the right hand side is along the vertical axis. So, each of the numbers represents how a predictor variable (male, neighbourhood, video game violence, etc.) effects the outcome variable (e.g. CBCL-reported aggression (child)). This gives an individual predictor effect (e.g. video game violence) for each of the seven outcome variables.


Across all of the CBCL reported studies, the ‘right hand’ predictor variables that were found to have a significant and expected influence on aggression and rule breaking were: reported depression, negative adult relations, antisocial personality, delinquent peers and psychological aggression. In the CBCL-reported rule-breaking studies, being a male had a significant influence on aggression in the children study, while physical assault was significant in the parent study, and family attachment had a significant effect in both cases.

Across all of the CBCL-reported studies, the factors that were found to have a NO significant or expected influence on aggression and rule-breaking were: Neighbourhood quality, Television Violence and Video Game Violence. Essentially, it was found from this that neither TV nor Video Game violence had any predictive capability for aggressive behaviour or rule-breaking.

For the NLE studies, only depression and delinquent peers had any predictive capability over non-violent crime, while only delinquent peers had any predictive capability over violent crime. In both cases, video game violence does not appear to have a significant effect for predicting either violent or non-violent crimes.

It seems that video game violence only has predictive capability when it comes to bullying, along with depression, negative adult relations, antisocial personality, delinquent peers and psychological aggression. However, the magnitude of the predicted effect of video game violence on bullying is much smaller than antisocial behaviour, delinquent peers and psychological aggression.

Comments/Criticism

In the end, Ferguson concludes on the basis of the predictive results that the strongest and most significant factors on youth violence and aggression are depressed mood and delinquent peers. He notes this as a positive, as these are areas that can be improved upon through intervention and prevention. While this study is primarily concerned with criminal behaviour, we’re mainly interested in the effects that are associated with video game violence. While the only significant effect was found with bullying, Ferguson says that the magnitude makes it negligible, especially given the stronger effect of other factors.

It’s difficult to directly compare this study to Anderson’s, especially since the methodology behind each one is significantly different to the other. However, the key issue to take form this study is that the results will differ when you start accounting for other variables, unlike the approach taken by Anderson.

Criticism may be launched at the scope and reliability of the study. While Anderson’s experimental methods came under criticism, you could say that using surveys come under scrutiny as well. After all, just how objective or subjective are the answers that are provided? Furthermore, the sample only contains 603 participants across a single cultural group, where as Anderson’s takes into account over 68,000 participants from both Eastern and Western cultures on aggressive behaviour alone. Whether or not Ferguson’s sample size is sufficiently big enough to be representative and conclusive is something that will be debatable.

Experiments or Questionnaires? Which is the more accurate?

Experiments or Questionnaires? Which is the more accurate?
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Lessons to be learned

So at the end of the day, who is right? Does Anderson’s extensive research really prove that violent video games cause aggressive behaviour in children? Does Ferguson mount a successful argument that other factors such as genetics, personality and environment need to be accounted for as well to fully understand the effect of violent video games on children’s behaviour? As is the case with such debates, the truth is most likely to lie between the two extremes. And while the debate over media violence effects has been going for over half a century with no concrete answer in sight, both Anderson and Ferguson (among others) actually illustrate key points that are overlooked in the mainstream debate. And these are some of the most important points when examining how to protect children from mature games.

Firstly, Ferguson illustrates that video games, like action movies and comic books before them, are the latest scapegoat for the cause of violent behaviour, even in light of plummeting crime rates. In the pursuit for easy answers to accompany inexplicably violent acts, the mainstream media often irresponsibly resorts to reporting headlines such as “Violent Games cause Aggressive Children”, but as we have demonstrated across this two part feature, this headline needs to be put into context. Unfortunately, politicians ride on the coattails of such headlines that evoke emotional responses, thus gaining support for popular but potentially unconstitutional censorship legislation, all in the name of ‘protecting the children’. This is all the more disappointing when there are many more constitutionally sound and pragmatic ways of protecting the children.

As such, Ferguson argues that responsibility is the way to go and that we cannot use games as a scapegoat for personal responsibility. It may be unreasonable to posit that the mainstream media will drag themselves away from potential headlines, and even less reasonable for any vote-hungry politician to appeal for ‘what is right’ as opposed to ‘what is right for them’, but as individuals, there is a way for us to take responsibility.

For parents, taking responsibility by having an active interest in their child’s hobby is the best way for them to see whether a game is suitable for their child. Having an R18+ rating is an unequivocal way of demonstrating whether a game is suitable for their children. Currently, retailers face fines for selling goods to underage groups, and not just video games. If an R18+ rating were introduced, game retailers would face much harsher penalties over an MA15+ breach, so they would implicitly be held more responsible for these sales. For the rest of us, it’s our responsibility to show that video games are as legitimate a form of entertainment as any, and by signing an Everyoneplays petition, you’re not only taking the first steps towards an R18+ rating, but demonstrating responsibility in looking to protect children from mature games.

Secondly, while Anderson has constantly argued that violent media (not just video games) causes aggressive behaviour in children, there is very little attention paid to his potential solutions and policy recommendations. For one, while never saying that these effects are “huge”, neither Anderson nor any of his like-minded colleagues recommend outright censorship and/or banning. Unfortunately, their solution doesn’t make for a good headline or evoke a popularity vote, so it is often overlooked: Education. Basically, Anderson stipulates that educating parents and schools is the best way to address the issue of handling media violence. On 17 March, he made the following statement on the 7:30 report, “If the industry in Australia really wants parents to have more information, it's pretty easy for them to do. That is, they could create a rating system that would emphasise what the content is and would put warning labels to warn about content that has shown to be harmful - much like, at least in the United States, cigarette packages”.

Education and responsibility are more effective protection tools than censorship.

Education and responsibility are more effective protection tools than censorship.
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As we have written in a previous article, 570 games released since 2003 in Europe with an adult rating, but the majority were released here in Australia with an MA15+ rating. Wouldn’t it be more of an education to consumers if each of these games were to be classified R18+? Furthermore, by having this classification, wouldn’t it be educating our currently misinformed society that video games are not just for children? Wouldn’t we help parents and others protect children from mature games by educating them on the absence of an R18+ rating and then encouraging them to lobby for one by signing the Everyoneplays petition? And isn’t the introduction of an R18+ rating a simpler and cheaper education tool than independent organisations and their pamphlet printing?

Aside from signing a petition at your local GAME store, renowned Australian child psychologist, Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg has the following tips for helping parents and other responsible entities from protecting children from mature games:
  • Set limits and controls.
  • Talking to your children – telling them why something is acceptable or not.
  • Monitor your children’s purchases.
  • Keep the bedroom door open, or have the game consoles in an open area.
At the end of the day, there are several factors which keep this debate alive. Whether or not you agree with the studies or believe in them, the fact is that the protecting of children from mature games is the most significant issue at stake here. If the mainstream media and politicians won’t do so, then take responsibility yourself, educate others to understand our position and sign a petition today. It’s the simplest way to help protect children from mature games.

Head to the new Everyoneplays website here to learn even more.

Find your nearest GAME store by clicking here.

Have you come across any other studies on the effects of violent video games and aggressive behaviour? Do you agree with any of them? Also, do you have any other ways of protecting children from mature games? Let us know in the forums.

Related Content

EveryonePlays: Violent Games and Aggressive Behaviour - Part 1
17 Mar, 2010 Just what do these stats and psychology studies mean?
EveryonePlays: What God and Video Games have in common
12 Mar, 2010 So, who really needs the protection?
Opoona Review
19 Nov, 2008 A missed opoona-tunity?
5 Comments
4 years ago
Excellent piece, both of them. I've been critical of the EveryonePlays editorials, but this one is excellently handled. Kudos.
4 years ago
Yes, I agree with jack, these pieces are excellent.

What I read out of them is that while Anderson's study is certainly more convincing, both of them would be of the opinion that we need to introduce an R rating. So, I guess the logical thing to do (ignoring all other evidence for the purpose of this statement) would be to introduce an R rating.
4 years ago
Quality stuff. Well Done.

There is some great insights into the methods of psychological science here..... oh and some stuff about gameing too icon_smile.gif

Give yourself a pat on the back Jeremy
4 years ago
If you look at the previous article and understand the meaning of the "r" and correlation, you'll find that Anderson's study proves that the relation between video games and real-world violence is markedly small, while still having significance (as in, it's not negligible). What this means in general is that it has a miniscule effect on the majority, or a major effect on a very small minority.
4 years ago
Another stella article mate!
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