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.