A special issue of the Review of General Psychology published this month turns its attention entirely to videogames.
Guest edited by Texas A&M International University researcher Christopher Ferguson, the special issue features articles by Ferguson (Blazing Angels or Resident Evil? Can Violent Video Games Be a Force for Good? [PDF]), Charlotte Markey from Rutgers University and Patrick Markey from Villanova University (Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A Review and Integration of Personality Research [PDF]), Cheryl Olson (Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development [PDF]), Pamela Kato from the University Medical Center Utrecht (Video Games in Health Care: Closing the Gap [PDF]) and Massachusetts General Hospital’s T. Attila Ceranoglu (Video Games in Psychotherapy [PDF]).
For our purposes, we will focus on the writings of Ferguson and the Markey’s, as they focus on the subject of violent videogames and aggressiveness.
The Markey’s study suggests that “that the notion that all, or even most, individuals who play violent videogames will inevitably become aggressive may be unwarranted,” instead, the authors concluded that it was “crucial” to “consider various personality traits of the person playing” the violent game when attempting to predict any adverse effects.
The researchers wrote that the “perfect storm,” in terms of FFM (Five-Factor Model of personality) traits which might make a person susceptible to violent media were high neuroticism, low agreeableness and low conscientiousness.
The Markey’s added:
Although the incidences of violence, particularly school violence, linked to video games are alarming, what should perhaps surprise us more is that there are not more VVG [violent videogame]-driven violent episodes.
Ferguson’s piece outlines the moral and social panic caused by violent videogames in the past decade or so, and includes a longer look back at media violence debates that may have begun in the time of Plato (who cautioned that “plays and poetry might have a deleterious effect on youth") and Socrates (who “is reported to have been suspicious even of the alphabet").
Ferguson then lays out a laundry list of “methodological and theoretical” problems which limit interpretation of videogame violence and aggression research:
• Many aggressive measures used are invalid
• The “third variable” effect – “Univariate statistics may be overinterpreted at the expense of multivariate statistics”
• Citation basis – “media effects scholars ignore work, even from their own results, which contradicts their hypotheses”
• Publication bias
• Small effect sizes
• Absence of clinical cut-offs
• Unstandardized use of aggression measures
• The mismatch between violent videogames consumption and violent crimes
• Low standards of evidence
Ferguson goes on to point out the positive effects of violent videogames, which include visuospatial cognition, social involvement and use in education, before concluding:
Particularly in light of increased video game consumption and declining youth violence, at present time, there appears to be little reason for speculation that violent video games are a significant factor in promoting youth violence. Unfortunately, by maintaining a myopic view on negative issues related to video game violence, a broader discussion of the benefits and risks of violent game playing is prohibited.
It is argued here that if psychology is serious about understanding violent video games from an objective rather than ideological view, a broader and less activist stance must be taken.