a guest blog article by Ryan Hughes-Fenchel (student, gamer, world citizen)
Not too long ago, I went to a seminar held at my college which had a large number of booths talking about both child and domestic violence. A very worthy cause, if you ask me. However, there was one booth that both caught my eye and unleashed more then a little fury in me. No, not because it was talking about a bad subject, but because the subject it was covering was outrageous. It was making a lot of claims, but it all came down to (and said on the handout they gave me) that “media is a form of child abuse.” Word for word, that is exactly what the hand out says. I even have it right next to me as I write this article. It is my goal then, in this little blog, to voice why I believe that Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, the man behind a different seminar where he spoke about this, doesn’t know what he’s talking about (at least according to this hand out).
Because the worksheet I was given by this booth was poorly formatted, I might be jumping around some so please forgive the haphazard order these will be coming in.
First, let’s start with the claims against media this booth was making. The booth claimed that violent TV shows, movies, video games, and music leads an increase in violence, bullying, and obesity. He claims that brain scan research conclusively proves that kids with violence exposure in games, TV, and movies also prove that media increases violence. The claim is also made that media can lead to sleep deprivation. The worksheet I received even goes so far as to claim that iPods are negative and should be banned in schools without citing a single source. He even makes the claim that simply reducing the amount of time a kid spends watching TV will increase their math grades and their verbal skills (by 15% and 18% respectively). Finally, I come to the claim that hit me right where it hurts. According to the worksheet, video games create sleeping disorders, creates depression, and, finally, increase suicide. I am a huge gamer and have been ever since I was a little kid. I am even planning on going into the gaming industry as a programmer once I get more experience under my belt. I have long been keeping a close eye on video game violence, as well as the laws and research made around it. However, those three claims are truly three of the most outrageous claims I have heard on the subject. Well, they were before he also made the claim that “adults [are] not effected due to mentally preparedness. Violent visual imagery okay with adults, not kids.” For such a high ranking U.S. Army veteran, it astonishes me that he’d make the claim that adults seeing violent imagery has no effect on them.
Alright, I’ve ranted enough about what’s on the actual paper. Now let me do my best to explain why these claims are either false or unjustified. Any claims made here that media causes an increase in violence and bullying, as of the writing of this article, does not have much ground. Not because there have been no studies that prove that statement correct. There have been quite a few. But because there have also been a lot of studies that say otherwise. Most studies done on the subject, most of all on video games, were either done by a partisan group (hence making them biased and working towards an intended result) or did not take all variables into account. And, more specifically, trying to connect video games to violence these days is nearly impossible. There are so many households that have a video game console and at least one violent video game that you might as well be trying to see if Crest toothpaste causes violence. It has become so common that making the connection has become nearly impossible. And of course playing a violent game will make your brain light up in sections that show violence. Just like your brain would likely light up in sections that show fear when you watch a horror movie. Simulations are just that. Simulations. Just because the brain lights up to show your brain is showing violent activity does not mean a healthy mind will do violent acts.
I don’t even think I need to justify why the claim that iPods are negative and should be banned from schools needs to be justified. They’re iPods. You know, music players. The only difference between an iPod and a CD player is that the music is stored digitally instead of on a disk. Banning them from schools just creates another thing for school faculty to police. My high school just dropped the whole ban and simply said “don’t listen to music during class lectures”. Seems that option has worked much better in the school’s favor. An increase in grades should also be expected if parents aren’t making sure their kids aren’t goofing off instead of doing homework. Just like any hobby, media related activities take up time and are often fun to do. More fun then homework, obviously. So if a child is cut off from goofing off, of course their grades are likely to go up.
Finally, I come to the last few big ones. Video games increasing depression and even suicide. These claims are so foreign to me that I sent an email to Grossman requesting his sources. I have heard that bullying causes depression and suicide, but he couldn’t possibly be saying that video games create bullying so they also increase suicide. That would be like saying drinking causes drunk driving which can lead to people dying which can then lead to children losing parents which means that drinking creates orphans. Or saying that guns can cause property damage which could make someone homeless so guns can make people homeless. And even the two examples I gave have some basis in proven fact. As I stated, any connection between violence and video games is still being debated and tested.
But the last claim is something I’d really like to examine. Adults are not effected by violent imagery. This coming from someone who was once in the United States Army is appalling. Of course adults can be effected by violent imagery. I’m wondering if you’ve heard of something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD. It is often caused when a person experiences something, as the condition suggests, extremely traumatic which can result in constantly reliving the event, avoidance (emotional numbing, feeling detached, showing less of your moods, etc), or arousal (difficulty concentrating, startling easily, feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger, etc). The reason I bring this up is because, in case you haven’t figured it out already, PTSD is a serious problem for veterans of war. Ironically enough, video games are actually being used to help veterans recover from PTSD by giving virtual simulations of going to a mall or attending a kid’s parent teacher conference. If this isn’t evidence that adults can be effected by violent imagery, I don’t know what is.
Overall, it’s obvious this guy is trying to tackle something he doesn’t quite understand. Yes, everything he claims does have some basis in fact. I will freely admit that video games and other violent media can act as a catalyst to violence. But never as the cause. Never in a healthy, mentally sound mind. And I will admit that video games can result in sleep deprivation in kids. But only if you actually stay up late playing video games. The only reason video games can cause sleep deprivation without playing late is through mental stimulation. And if that’s really a problem, then maybe you should stop playing so close to bed time. In the end, the media, violent or otherwise, will only effect someone as much as they let it. Parents, you can’t hide your children from the media. These days, it is everywhere. Instead of putting a blindfold over your children, actually try and explain it. Perhaps if children have the correct context for the violence that’s on the screen, the violence wont act as a catalyst towards other things.
Board, A.D.A.M. 2013. Editorial. “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Jan. 0001. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Veteran Journal. 2013. “Play Therapy for PTSD | Veteranjournal.com.” Veteran Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
ADDENDUM from the author (5/14/2014):
Because it has been pointed out, I wish to make something entirely clear. As I likely made it clear in the article, I am far from unbiased. I am very much a product of my generation and not only am I a mass consumer of media, but also someone very interested in entering the video game industry. While I can understand this bias may lead many to throw my points aside, I believe that the points I have made are worthy of at least some consideration.