Olson’s paper, entitled “Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development” (PDF) argued that “The debate has moved from whether children should play video games to how to maximize potential benefits and to identify and minimize potential harms.” Querying 1,254 kids on the reason they play games, Olson found that the top responses were “It’s just fun,” It’s exciting,” and “something to when bored.”
Olson’s paper plays up the positive impact games can have on kids, including the “joy of competition,” “youth teaching each other,” “opportunities to lead,” “making friends” and even “regulating feelings.”
The Scientific American rebuttal, penned by Dara Greenwood, a social psychologist, said that such a positive spin on games “sounds more utopian than dystopian, right?"
If only it were that simple. As laudable as it is to debunk negative stereotypes about non-violent game play, it is less laudable to gloss over the negative effects of violent video games. Olson’s rosy spin on violent video games positions her on one side of a heated academic debate with staggering stakes in policy and industry.
Olson also routinely counsels parents to limit or monitor time spent with games, to which Greenwood responded, “If the games facilitate healthy development, allow pre-teens to “purge negative feelings” and to inhabit the role of the bad guy while bonding and competing with their peers, why should we worry?”
Greenwood goes on to cite additional research that implies a link between violent games and negative effects on young gamers before suggesting that the game industry should focus its efforts on creating “non-violent but equally exciting, challenging and enjoyable games.”
We asked Dr. Olson for a response to the Scientific American piece. She responded:
It’s sad to see how quick people (who should know better) can be to take research findings out of context, and pile them into a shaky platform from which to jump to conclusions.
This writer misses the main point of the article, which is to go beyond the knee-jerk “games hurt kids” and look at young people’s video game play through a different frame, in hopes of better understanding potential benefits and risks.
The irony is that my own research – with a larger and more representative sample of young teens than anyone else’s – found a significant correlation between spending a lot of time with violent video games, and a greater risk of bullying or getting into physical fights. But because I’m not willing to force-fit data to make a political point, or willing to pretend that a correlation implies causation, I sometimes get tagged as biased.