Friday, January 26, 2007

Don't Shoot the Messenger

I'm starting to catch up on my The Economist readings, since I don't have a daily newspaper subscription anymore. That's mostly a consequence of the geometry of my current living arrangments (I don't want to walk around the house through the snow before breakfast), but has the side-effect of me reading other stuff over cereal.

This week's issue of The Economist includes a short "leader" article with the same title as this post. It's about video games, and the subtitle is:

"Films are not banned to keep them away from children. The same should apply to video games."

The article is pretty much par for the course at The Economist: modest regulation of an industry, using mechanisms already in place or analagous to related industries - in this case, age-appropriate ratings and restriction of sale to minors, as for films - and calm, reasoned argument. It's basically a refutation of the notion that video games are so harmful some of them should be banned. The article appears to have been written in response to some legislation proposed in Germany and the Netherlands, that would ban some video games.

The evidence, once again, is presented: 2/3 of regular video-gamers are over the age of 18, and the mean age is approximately 30. There is a double standard in place regarding video games and films - nobody is seriously contemplating banning violent mass-market movies. There is no evidence that video games cause aggression, in either the short or long terms, despite 15 years (at least!) of serious study. And yes, some criminals were found (or claimed influence from) playing games, but given the massive popularity of games, it would be very odd indeed if no criminals played video games (in fact, though it's not explicitely stated in this article, such a situation would be very strong positive evidence that playing video games causes a reduction in aggressive and violent behaviour).

All of this contributes to the final two sentences:
Not all adults wish to play violent games, just as not all of them enjoy violent movies. But they should be free to do so if they wish.

Literature Cited:
Editorial Staff of The Economist. 2007. Don't Shoot the Messenger. The Economist Jan 20 2007: 18.


Carlo said...

Man, finding weak-ass correlations between aggressive behavior and videogame playing is like some kind of cottage industry nowadays. Here's a representative study.

I'm always kind-of weary of studies that give results that seem to umm, be inconsistent with REALITY. If violent video-games lead to increased rates of aggression and crime, then shouldn't there have been a general increase in violent behaviour among minors AFTER videogames came out? I'm not particularly sure that this is the case...

So if the incidences of violent behaviour since ~1981 have remained constant or decreased, it seems to me that arguing that videogames have this dangerous societal effect is pretty weak.

TheBrummell said...

I've re-posted this, with a bit more, over on RandomBattles, now that I'm an author there, too.