Saturday, August 12, 2006

Sessler v. Thompson

I was never a big fan of what G4 did to TechTV when it took over, but this recent exchange on Attack of the Show, G4's horrid incarnation of what used to be The Screensavers, was very interesting.

In this clip, Adam Sessler and Jack Thompson debate the link between video games and violence.

For those who don't know, Sessler is the host of G4's video game review show X-Play, while Thompson is a lawyer whose career has turned towards activism against violence in video games. His Wikipedia entry contains much more background.

I have three points to make about this:

When people like Thompson quote these psychological research reports about video games and violence, they often do so disingenuously. I'm not familiar with the specific reports that Thompson is citing, but many of these research documents do not report an increase in violent behavior after exposure to violent media, they report an increase in aggressive behavior. The difference is subtle but important, especially because "aggressive behavior" is often so broadly defined as to be meaningless for the Jack Thompsons of this world.

Additionally, even if there is a correlation of violent media to violent behavior, no causation has to be present. Millions of people play violent video games every day, and yet very few of them commit violent acts. Before video games existed, people still committed acts of violence. Even if video games are a cause, it is extremely unlikely that they are the only cause. Something else has to be wrong inside that persons head, meaning the best one could argue for is that video games were the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."

The best point to be made here is the statistical evidence: Since the 1970s, the rate of violence amongst youth has decreased. Every year, it has gone down. This means that even after video games were first becoming main stream, and even after they started to become "ultra-violent," the rate of youth violence continued to decline. If the Jack Thompsons of the world were correct, one would expect to see a massive increase once the era of Doom and Halo began.

I'm no expert, but I would say that the biggest factor behind violence in high schools is gang activity. Unless people like Thompson wants to argue that all of those gang-bangers would be morally upstanding honor students if they'd just put down the joystick, then I think they need to find a new dog to run.

There will always be people like Thompson, but I still find their appearances both amusing and infuriating.

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