Blog Post 2: Response to Ferguson

The argument that playing violent video games leads to increased aggression and shootings has bothered me for awhile now.  The sheer amount of people that currently spend hours online playing games like Halo 4 and COD Black Ops II is enormous, especially compared to the past.  If such a link did exist, wouldn’t the amount of shootings rise at a proportional rate?  As Ferguson reveals in his article (using data from 1996 to 2005) the opposite is happening.  Ferguson does diplomatically acknowledge that this trend doesn’t rule out the possibility that violence in video games can lead to aggression in high-risk youth.  However, the phrase “high-risk” necessitates that other factors (prior to any exposure to violent video games) have greatly influenced the youth in this category.  So why focus so much on video games?  Ferguson’s theory of the moral panic wheel offers a very plausible explanation for the perpetuation of this idea.  While the moral panic wheel is certainly cyclical, and all parties are to blame, the part I find most troubling about it is the upper left portion- “research supportive of fear accepted uncritically”.  This is a terrible way to construct societal opinions on issues.  

I do wish Ferguson went into more detail about some of the research that has been conducted on videogames and violence, because there are so many different video games that involve violence.  On one end of the spectrum you have the Grand Theft Auto series, where crime and violence are glorified (note: Ferguson actually references Grand Theft Auto IV, arguing that it doesn’t award “antisocial” behavior but does allows it.  While I do agree that video games don’t cause violence, I disagree with him here.  Everyone I’ve ever met who plays GTA has been on a killing spree in the game.  It’s inevitable).  On the other end of the spectrum you have popular FPS games like Halo.  In all of the Halo campaigns, you use futuristic weapons to kill different alien species that vaguely resemble human beings at best.  Both games involve weapons and violence.  However, if you forced a panel of concerned mothers to play a couple hours of each game, they would probably unanimously prefer that their children play any Halo game over GTA.  Maybe the conversation would switch from “video games promote violence” to “GTA [or any other specific game] promotes violence”.  They would still be wrong in their hypothesis, but at least society would take a step away from its current Turkle-esque refusal to understand and embrace video games.  It’s these people who refuse to learn anything about societal issues that accept research supportive of their views without questioning it.

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3 Responses to Blog Post 2: Response to Ferguson

  1. knystrom2013 says:

    BPR #1

    This is the stuff I had hoped we would get into more in class. Especially about other factors that we briefly touched on – Ferguson starts to go into the subject of bad parent-child relationships, and how this has a strong correlation with gun violence, and then stops before he got to what could’ve been the meat of his argument – an actual correlation that could be elaborated on and studied further. I don’t think he would have ever blamed that as the sole cause either, since it seems Ferguson is very much aligned with the scientific approach for discovering truth. But I know that it would go with the last line of his argument; something along the lines of, “If this paper has simply caused more in-depth research about this topic, then its mission will have largely been achieved.” He has so much data about these shooter demographics that it may have been to his advantage to postulate a possible major cause before simply “putting off” the blame for later.

    Your point about different forms of game violence especially resonates with me too. One example that I remember well is one of the Call of Duty games (I don’t own any, so I can’t remember which one, but a newer one) that has you in an airport murdering innocent civilians with a team of soldiers. The scene is so shocking and raw, and hard for some people to play as they witness the absolute power they have over innocent people. The mission was designed to illustrate the reality of some of these scenarios, and to bring to light the atrocities and grey-areas of war. Sometimes I can’t help but think that some games actually teach us more about violence than we already knew – so far, it’s the only way for us to experience a virtual environment.

    It’s that sort of thing that makes the question of the role of video games so interesting – at their roots, they are alternate realities with sets of rules that we enact to reach some goal. And when thought of as alternate realities, there can’t really be a bias on the medium itself. I believe games can be whatever their player wants in them; they can change people forever, or bore them, or simply kill time, or even inspire them to create their own worlds. Or possibly move them to violence, I would have said before reading this Ferguson article. But I think it’s interesting how this negative light on video games continues, especially when those who talk about them haven’t the slightest clue what goes on in them. It reminds me of SOPA and PIPA, the awful anti-piracy laws that could’ve been made a reality by those who did not even understand what the Internet was.

    • ewiggins2013 says:

      It’s funny that you mention the airport massacre in COD, because that is one of the scenes that I would have liked to have explored in more detail. While there is definitely no data to support this theory, I would imagine that someone who chose to open fire on the innocent civilians in that scene would be more at risk for aggressive and violent behavior than someone who enjoys playing online (where you are shooting at people who are firing back at you). I agree that there is an element of realism in that COD scene that can teach people about violence, but I don’t think it is a possible lesson for everyone.

  2. cstabile says:

    Incredibly smart original post and equally smart response. Maybe the two of you can bring up the moral panic wheel in tomorrow’s class when we wind up our discussion of Ferguson?

    In terms of E’s original post, he raises issues similar to those P raised in a previous post about how we define and quantify video game violence. There’s a film scholar who is asking similar questions of cinematic violence and trying to generate a schema that’s more effective than the MPAA’s system. I posted the video game rating system below, but here’s the system for motion pictures, which defines violence only in terms of violence (compare to language on alcohol and tobacco).

    G – General Audiences
    All ages admitted. This movie contains nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.
    Such films may contain only mild fantasy violence or crude humor. Such films have no nudity, sex or drugs of any kind. Alcohol and tobacco may be used in small amounts by adults in the movie, but not by minors, especially in older G rated films. The violence must be cartoonish in nature and/or minimal in quantity.

    PG rating symbol

    PG – Parental Guidance Suggested
    Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents are urged to give parental guidance as the motion picture contains some material that parents might not like for younger children.
    Such films may contain only mild violence, language, drug references, brief nudity and/or implied or inferred sexual activity.

    PG-13 rating symbol

    PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned
    Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious and contain some material that parents might not like for their pre-teenagers.
    Such films may contain moderate violence, some suggestive material and nudity, some sexual situations, brief strong language and/or soft drug use.

    R rating symbol

    R – Restricted
    Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian. This movie contains some adult material and parents are urged to learn more about this film before taking their young children with them to see it. Generally, it is inappropriate for parents to take them to see it.
    Such films may contain rough and/or persistent violence and suggestive material, hard language and horror, crude sexual content, sexually-oriented nudity, and/or hard drug use.
    Admittance to these films is prohibited for anyone under the age of seventeen unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Children under 17 or those who does not have IDs including state IDs and drivers license are not allowed to attend R-rated movies unaccompanied by an adult.

    NC-17 rating symbol

    NC-17 – No One 17 & Under Admitted
    This film is patently adult and children are not admitted. Such films may contain brutality/pervasive strong graphic violence, explicit sexual content, sexual assault, extreme horror and/or crude indecent language.

    I’ll say it again: this would be a fantastic final blog project — to come up with a more descriptive and effective system of categorizing video game violence!

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