Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gaming and violence - the ACL's flogging a dead horse

Mark Dapin has eloquently demonstrated today in his Good Weekend feature why arguing that playing this:

leads to this:
or more realistically this:
makes you sound really stupid.

Playing violent video games does not turn you into a blood thirsty murderer.

The hypodermic needle model, however you apply it, never works.

I could give you lots of boring references to support this but I won't let you suffer through three years worth of media effects theory. Start here if you are interested.

I'm referring to the comments Jim Wallace, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), made about why he opposes people of all ages playing violent video games.

The two main points Dapin portrayed Wallace as making are:

- 150 "scientists, scholars and researchers" argue that violent video games have been found to increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, thinking, and so on.

- All you have to do is look at the Port Arthur, Columbine and the most recent Oslo massacre (yes, he went there) to see what he (Wallace) means.

Dapin aptly pointed out:

- Martin Bryant, who killed 25 people in Port Arthur in 1996, apparently enjoyed action films with violence and "video nasties" (which could read pornography or graphic video games). He also liked Babe and The Sound of Music.

- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, played sci-fi first-person shooter, Doom. Connecting the dots, Wallace said some Wii games allow people to "use the actual weapons". Wii didn't exist in 1999.

- Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 69 people in Oslo just under a month ago, said Call of Duty was part of his "training simulation". He was also a right-wing extremist who confessed his purpose of attack was to free Europe from a Muslim takeover. Video games, naturally.

I genuinely believe the ACL have an important role in Australian politics. I don't think harping on about this subject is doing them any favours.

Just because 150 'experts' (and I would love to read their report. It's on the to do list) support Wallace's claim doesn't mean there aren't another 150 who would disagree entirely.

The debate over an R18+ rating opens up another can of worms. In this case, I think their opposition to the rating is actually detrimental to under 18s. Black market, watered down games, and so on. That's for another blog.

If, for a moment, we step back from reading one psychologists report after another, I think it is fair to say that frenzies over the increase in violence is unsubstantiated. This Australian Institute of Criminology report gives a host of reasons why.

Beyond statistics, Dapin's article outlines a few reasons why we don't see people out on the streets emulating what people do in video games sourced from people who, you know, actually PLAY the games.

More than anything, does Wallace really believe using Anders Behring Breivik as the poster child for gamers is in any way fair or appropriate?

Sometimes I wonder whether anyone who opposes such violent games has actually spent a weekend playing them.

If the ACL want to take a firm stance against violent video games and be taken seriously, they are going to have to do a lot better than trying to validate their argument by flawed references to massacres. The fact that it takes a massacre to get their point of view in the media is sad enough (the media should also partly take a wrap for this, since it always becomes a catalyst for the debate).

Anything less just makes Jim Wallace look misinformed, stereotypical and a little bit stupid.

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