Monday, November 23, 2009

Violence in Video Games, An Academic's Take.

I have an Internet friend who's currently working on his PHD in Psychology. He's actually only 6 months away or so. His PhD thesis is actually on Violence in Video Games and how it affects the human mind. After making my post on MW2 I asked him to give me a quick summery of this Thesis:
I know MW2 is getting a lot of press about this. Unfortunately, I haven't seen/played the most controversial scene so I really can't comment on it.

I'm pretty tired, so some of this may not make sense. I tend to connect things in one discipline to similarities in other disciplines. In psychiatry, it's understood that Drug A gets rid of Symptom A in 65% of patients. People think Drug A works this way because it probably affects Chemicals A, B, C, which is shown through side effects. Does that mean imbalances in Chemical A leads to Symptom A? Or Chemical B leads to Symptom A? Maybe Chemicals A and C lead to Symptom A. Maybe the drug works differently and the chemicals are just collateral damage.

Either way, all we know is Drug A gets rid of Symptom A in 65% of patients. What we don't know is how or why it works, how or why it doesn't work on the other 35%. We also know that before Drug A came along, there were other ways that people were able to get rid of Symptom A, but maybe there were more side effects or less than 65% of the people were successful.

This relates to the video game issue in that we know that X% of people will play a violent video game and have a reaction during or after that society doesn't like. Say that's 65% of players who played that game. Some of those players will recognize it, and eventually stop playing or spend more time distancing themselves from the fantasy of the game. So now that's down to say 35% of players left who have a bad reaction who don't stop playing or don't spend time separating fantasy from reality. That 35% shrinks down to an almost negligible percentage after you filter out the moment of clarity just before a violent act is committed that would tell the person "I should not do this." So now roughly 2/3rds of players say "Damn that was crazy! I'm going to talk to my friends about how insane and fun that was." Half of those people (1/3 of population) snap at their significant other more often, get frustrated more easily, etc. A small group of those people (1/100 of the population) will consider joining a gang because they like the idea of hurting those with opposing views.

What a game like this does is throw the population of players into the spotlight, with all the smaller groups exposed as well. The 1% will get the most headlines, and yeah, the game DID have something to do with it. We don't know why or how that 1% got affected, nor do we know why or how the other 99% did not, or what kind of person can move from 100% to 65%, 65% to 35%, or 35% to 1%. We also don't know if the 1% people would have committed their acts anyway regardless of the game. This is much like in my above psychiatry example where treatments for Symptom A have existed, and people have been getting better on their own. Players and non-players have of course acted violently without the influence of video games, it's just that a video game like this may act like a very well-designed drug and throw people right into the spotlight who would have otherwise not gotten as much attention. Johnny killing his parents in NYC makes page 2, Johnny killing his parents in NYC and he has a closet full of GTA, MW2, Doom, etc makes front page.

Sorry if I rambled, hope it made sense and answered any questions you had in mind. Let me know if you need further clarification.

Bgbopper, M.A. Clinical Psychology
There you have it. I thought this was an interesting take on the subject. No Bgbopper isn't his real name, he only wishes.