Violence in media has always been a topic of controversy. For decades, critics have claimed that violent subject matter in everything from books, to films and video games can have a severe and long-lasting negative societal effect. Because of this, there have been many scientific studies into the effects of media violence on how society acts.
Most recently, these studies have often focused specifically on video games. This could be due to the inherent interactivity of the medium of video games, or down to the much-publicized violence of video game series such as Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Doom from the 1990s onward. As it stands, scientific studies have fallen on both sides of the argument. Whilst some claim that video games can lead to increased aggression and deviant behavior, others state that there is no correlation between video games and bad behavior in children.
Now, a team of scientists in the US has developed a study into the effects of violent media, and whether violent films and video games can lead to violence in society. The study, led by psychologist Christopher Ferguson, was initially published in the Journal of Communication, and holds some fascinating findings. Ferguson and his team found that not only was there no correlation between violent media and violent acts, but that there are some serious questions to ask about the methodology of any studies that did find a link.
The first section of Ferguson's study looked into the effects of violence in film from 1920 to 2005, and found that violence in society fluctuated differently in comparison to film violence. In fact, an increase in movie violence even met with a decrease in real-world violence in the latter part of the 20th century. The team then proceeded to take a closer look at video games.
The study looked at video games from 1996 to 2011, using ESRB data to estimate the violence of titles. When this was compared to youth violence within the same time period, Ferguson's team found that violence "dropped precipitously," even when there were "very high levels of media violence." Why, then, have video games faced such criticism? Ferguson suggests that a lack of "resources and attention" on fighting the root of violence may have led to video games being seen as a problem. The psychologist pulls no punches, wishing that the study will help society "avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value."
The criticism does not end there, either. The study also questions previous studies on the subject. Older studies have submitted test subjects to "brief clips of media," instead of "full narrative experiences." As a result, aggressive behaviours from test subjects are, according to Ferguson, "outside of a real-world context." Ferguson's study, meanwhile, appears to be focused on the realities of societal violence. Let's hope it can open the door to a more accepting view of video games, and more studies into the real effects of playing.
Source: Journal of Communication