Friday, March 09, 2018

Useless violence studies

I made mention in a recent post how people who defend high level, realistic looking violence in video games having no skepticism at all of psychological studies that claim "no connection with violent behaviour".

Here's a good example:  a website reporting on Trump meeting with video game industry people says:
A recent York University study backs up the ESA’s claim, finding no evidence of a link between violent video games and violent behavior.
When you go to the linked report on the study, this is what they did:
The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in 'real life'.

This is known as 'priming', and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.

Dr David Zendle, from the University's Department of Computer Science, said: "If players are 'primed' through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.
Um, yeah.  Tells me a lot about freaking realistic gun violence in video games.

OK, maybe another study did more:
In a separate, but connected study, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players. Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.

Dr Zendle said: "There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results. There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the 'real world', such as the way characters behave for example.

"Our experiment looked at the use of 'ragdoll physics' in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured."

The experiment compared player reactions to two combat games, one that used 'ragdoll physics' to create realistic character behaviour and one that did not, in an animated world that nevertheless looked real.

Following the game the players were asked to complete word puzzles called 'word fragment completion tasks', where researchers expected more violent word associations would be chosen for those who played the game that employed more realistic behaviours.
Oh come on.

Look, common sense tells us that this is going to be hard to study.  Not many people in the world are of a mind set, or have the weaponry available, to replicate in real life an ultra violent scenario in a video game.    (I suppose they could ask to do studies with criminals already in prison for violent crimes - has anyone actually done that?)

Common sense also tells me that these sort of studies as described above are highly unlikely to tell us anything about the worst possible influence with these games.  Because no, I am not worried that they turn a relatively normal person into a willing mass murderer.  But that's not what I'm interested in. 

So how about some skepticism about what these airy fairy studies about "priming" can actually tell us?

Here's what annoys me - video games can be made to be exciting without the highly realistic and bloody depiction of killing people (or for that matter, aliens or animals.)    To my mind, repeated depictions of sadistic and graphic violence is just obviously morally dubious - sadism should not be not something for which people should be encouraged to get a participatory thrill.   I don't need a freaking psychological study to tell me that - just as I don't need a psychological study to tell me that a porn video of some guy having sex with an underage girl (even if with her full consent) is wrong.  Or put it this way - it should not be made, regardless of whether you can prove that, on balance, it might mean less pre-teen sex by adults because they masturbated over the video, rather than encourage men to seek out underage sex.   (And I would say the same even if it was a question of a computer generated video of underage sex.)

If game makers were moral, and serious, they could still make exciting games that do not raise legitimate concerns over the deadening effect on some deadbeat's qualms about actually doing a mass shoot up, of the kind he has probably rehearsed on a video game scores of times.

But they don't.  Because they can show gross and graphic head explosions with bullets, they do it - looking for violent novelty all the time.

This is not a good thing.  It is, in fact, a bad thing.

No comments: