Synyster Graves

Gore in games breaks your brain apparently…

by on Nov.25, 2010, under Games vs "Science"

Today’s slice of anti-video game tripe was an article I came across while just flitting through pages on the internet. It comes from another piece of pointless research this time comes from a Professor of psychological sciences. As usual, the article is here and here’s an excerpt: 

Violent Video Games Have Lasting Negative Impact 

By Shannon Burke  

Video games such as Gun and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas might have been at the top of many Christmas lists this year, despite their graphic violent content and mature ratings. These games might be mere entertainment to some, but a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that playing these violent games changes a person’s brain function and desensitizes chronic players to real world violence. 

“Most of us naturally have a strong aversion to the sight of blood and gore,” said Bruce Bartholow, assistant professor of psychological sciences at MU. “Surgeons and soldiers may need to overcome these reactions in order to perform their duties. But, for most people, a diminished reaction to the effects of violence is not adaptive. It can reduce inhibitions against aggressive behavior and increase the possibility of inflicting violence on others.” 

 Bartholow, along with Brad Bushman from the University of Michigan and Marc Sestir at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asked 39 male undergraduate students how often they played their five favorite video games and how violent the games were. Next, the researchers showed participants a series of images on a computer screen, including emotionally neutral images, such as a man riding a bicycle; violent images, such as a man holding a gun to another man’s head; and negative, but nonviolent images, such as a dead dog. As participants viewed these images, the researchers measured a type of brainwave, known as P300, which is believed to reflect how people evaluate images like these. 

After viewing the pictures, participants were told that the last part of the experiment involved a competition with another participant to see who could press a button faster following a series of tones. Before each tone, participants set the level of a noise blast that their opponent would receive if the opponent lost. 

There actually was no opponent.  

The researchers found that the participants who routinely played violent video games showed less brain reactivity, measured by diminished amplitude of the P300 brainwaves, when they viewed the violent images compared to the equally negative, nonviolent image. They also found that the smaller a participant’s brain response to violent images, the more aggressively he behaved during the final part of the experiment. 

“These findings are among the first to link chronic violent video game play, diminished brain responses and aggressive behavior,” Bartholow said. “People often assume that any negative effects of playing violent games are short-lived, but these results suggest that repeated exposure to violent video games has lasting negative consequences for both brain function and behavior.”

I find these results to relatively inconclusive personally because personal gauging of violence is surely totally down to personal perception. So asking 39 male undergraduates is an accurate study to assess the human mind? This is an inaccurate cross section of society because last time I looked it is possible to play video games if you only have an X chromosone. Secondly, male undergraduates I assume would be between the ages of 18-21, hardly a fair reflection to deduce a tangible blanket analysis of gamers. Anyways, asking them their favourite 5 games if indeed they are serious gamers is like asking someone what their 5 favourite songs are. It’s almost impossible because you’ll change your mind. And is the other reason they chose immature male test subjects because they’re guaranteed to mention the usual games singled out for “violence” like the Grand Theft Auto games and Doom? It’s like trying to assess the level of violence in today’s society by only interviewing people on death row. It’s not an accurate sample making any evidence to be inconclusive.

The Deer Hunter: man with gun against head...

So then you show a bunch of benign pictures and measure your brainwaves. While this does sound like some Scientology measurement, this again is not going to prove anything. But again it’s all about perception. A man on a bike could be perceived as violent because for all you know he could have stolen it from an innocent cyclist, who is now bleeding into a drain somewhere. Ok so they show “violent” images. I personally don’t see how a man holding a gun to another man’s head constitutes a violent image, assuming he hasn’t pulled the trigger! But how is this indicative of video games desensitising you? The front cover of The Deer Hunter starring Robert De Niro depicts a man with a gun against his head. But there’s been plenty of films whereby a man has a gun against his head, why conclude that this is more accepted as a direct result from playing video games? And how many games have you played where the object is to play russian roulette?

Maximus Decimus Meridius: hated violence really...

I always like to insert myself as the average gamer, I’m not a complete noob and I’m not a pro. I’m somewhere in the middle but has a large games library and level headed opinions. But the opening statement saying that we have a natural aversion to gore may be true NOW in todays society, but I ask you, what did the Romans do for sport? They fed people to lions and had gladiatorial fights! While “surgeons and soldiers” have increased tolerance to “perform their duties”, human society has revelled in bloodshed way before the inaugeration of video games. I’m not talking in the form of religion like the Aztecs but more in the way the Romans, Greeks, Celts, etc found entertainment. But going back to myself, I’ve played a lot of these so called violent games and if this study was accurate (or carried any merit), then why do I have to turn the channel over if Holby City is on? I can’t even watch someone getting an injection, or an intra-veinous drip let alone be comfortable to someone saying “pass me the rib separators”.

But the bit which gets me is the fact that games are accused of “[increasing] the possibility of inflicting violence on others”. And alcohol, stress, barbiturates, sleep deprivation, hyperactivity, peer pressure, doesn’t? I concur that in some unhinged individuals it can exacerbate aggression, but it’s not the cause. But then again Attila the Hun did play a lot of Wolfenstein 3D I suppose…

Reptile eats heads...don't try this at home!

Gore in most games is relatively parodic and unrealistic, certainly in some of the most notorious ones. Take Mortal Kombat 2 for example. This was one of the games blamed for the Columbine Massacre (along with Doom and Marylin Manson) but the “deaths” in it were satirical and comedic. Plus its not something which an influential adolescent can copy is it? Unless they have a long tongue or the ability to materialise exploding snowballs, or even the ability to remove one’s soul, MK2 still got lambasted by irresponsible parents all because they couldn’t be bothered to read the box. But there was always a pinch of salt when you saw such “gore”, because it was quite frankly ridiculous. It would be like watching the film Airplane! from the perspective that it’s a disaster movie. Any person who takes MK2 as literal needs to be assessed properly, but in the mid-nineties when all the Mothers against violence mob started pooling against games like this, “research” such as this will only fuel it.

It’s almost too easy to blame video games for desensitising children towards violence, when in reality there’s so much media out there that to single out certain games is puerile. Saying serious gamers have diminished brain responses is nonsense too, as I distinctly remember playing copious amounts of C&C:Red Alert 2 whilst writing a dissertation which was marked as a 1st.

The test they gave them made me laugh, it essentially is the calibration section of Rock Band 3 they made them play, and to be honest if that’s all I’d play, I’d be pretty aggressive too! But the twist of having no opponent…if they’re measuring that then sure linking the game playing to aggression is nothing compared to the competitive element. I get more wound up playing games from the competitive side, not from the fact that potentially I could sandbox it and do something devious.

I don’t hate research like this, it gives me something to talk about. But again, don’t blanket all of us as desensitised idiots just because you interviewed a handful of morons.

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