Instructor, students question violent video game study

A researcher and professor of communication and sociology at The Ohio State University claims his new study provides the first evidence suggesting that the negative effects of playing violent video games can accumulate over time.

Dr. Brad Bushman recently invited 70 college students in France to participate in a project that would investigate the effects of brightness of video games on visual perception.

It wasn't until three days later that he revealed to the study subjects he was actually conducting a project delving into the cumulative effects violent video games potentially have on a person's behavior.

"This is different from any other experimental study because it's longer than any other experimental study that's ever been conducted on violent video games, rather than just 50 minutes, it's three days long, three consecutive days," Bushman said.

In the study, the researchers flipped a coin to see which of the 70 French college students would be given a violent video game, and which would be given a non-violent video game to play for 20 minutes, three days in a row.

Then, and after each gaming session, the subject's aggressive behavior was measured.

"We can't give them guns or knives, so what we do is they compete with another person on who can press another button faster, and the winner gets to blast the loser with loud noise through headphones, and the noise is a mixture of people really hate like fingernails on a chalkboard, dentist drills sirens all mixed together," Bushman said.

And he says the results of the research were conclusive.

"On day one, the violent game players were more aggressive than the non-violent game players were, and more. Day two the effect was even larger. And day three, larger even still. We found that violent video games make people more and more and more aggressive over time. They have a cumulative effect," Bushman said.

At the New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich, another professor is training what promises to be the nation's newest round of video game creators.

Assistant professor David Johnson thinks there's probably more to that aggressive behavior than the study reveals.

"I don't feel that video games are causing violent behavior or any kind of uptick in violent behavior. I know this because when I look at the types of students that I have, they all play games often, everyone plays games, and yet they're a smart bunch of people, and I think they know the difference between simulation and reality," Johnson said.

Johnson said he believes there are dozens of other factors that could contribute to aggressive behavior that the study does not take into account, such as movies, TV, and a person's upbringing.

And many of the New England Tech game developers we spoke with agree with their mentor.

Tyler Caffelle is a senior at the school.

"What I would ask the people who give the study is, 'Did you look at people who played a sports (video) game? Or who played an actual sport? People who went outside and played basketball, or football, or soccerwere they the same way (after playing)?" Caffelle said.

Fellow senior and Caffelle's gaming team partner, Ken Lambert, is also on board with the theory.

"I think there are definitely other issues at play; I think parenting is being the biggest one of them," Lambert said.

And believe it or not, Johnson said he rarely, if ever sees a student turn in an extremely violent video game as a final project at New England Tech.

"In terms of combat games, if we have had 50 games out of this program, I can't think of any that were combat oriented, necessarily. I mean, some were more aggressive than others, but they're fantasy type games. You might have a space shooter. You might have a medieval theme, dragon-slaying, that kind of thing. So, I think that's the extent of the violence we get," Johnson said.

Lambert said he thinks that's because this new generation of game developers seeks to be unique.

"I think it's more the about wanting to be creative. Because right now the market is pretty saturated with shooters, so the avenue to be creative with them is kind of limited. It's kind of hard to come up with something that hasn't been done before," Lambert said.

"Unfortunately, the main game industry, especially in this generation of consoles, they seem to think that the shooting mechanic is what's going to sell, so they tend to focus on that, and if it's not a shooter, they tend to have a hard time, you know, wanting to back it. But, that's changing. For example, another game that came out this year, that's called 'Unfinished Swan,' is all about throwing paint around. You're just throwing paint. It's an entirely white world, and you're just throwing paint to discover what's there."

Johnson and most of his students agreed it may be a "bit of a reach" to claim users of violent video games become more aggressive over time after conducting only a three-day-long study.

"It strikes me as funny that three days would be enough," Johnson said.

But the Ohio State professor says he's also studied other, similar research projects regarding violent video games, and claims they too revealed the games, when played over time, create an increase in aggressive thoughts, and a decrease in empathy and passion for others.