Backward Messages

The straight story on influences that turn teens violent.

Beth Winegarner

Beth Winegarner
SAN FRANCISCO, California, United States
March 05
At Backward Messages, Beth Winegarner gives you the straight story on all the influences you’ve been told will turn your teen violent: the occult, violent video games, heavy-metal music, and more. Winegarner is a San Francisco author, journalist, and mom writing a book for parents on the most controversial teen influences and why they’re a healthy part of growing up.

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MAY 4, 2012 2:14PM

Resident Evil 4 might make you a better shooter, but it doesn’t put a loaded gun in your hand

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A new study shows that playing 20 minutes of Resident Evil makes you a better marksman. Photo by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Anytime someone defends video games, or discusses the benefits they provide, often the first words out of their mouth will be, “hand-eye coordination!”

It’s said so often that it’s almost a joke at this point. But it also has real-world applications. For example, small studies have found that gaming can improve surgeons’ dexterity.

In some ways, it seems like a “duh” moment to reveal that video games improve players’ real-life shooting accuracy. After all, didn’t Anders Breivik claim that Modern Warfare helped him train for his Norway attacks?

Scientists already know that playing video games — like learning any other skill — changes brains. At Ohio State University, Brad Bushman and Jodi Whitaker showed one way brains do change after gaming.

They had 151 students played 20 minutes of a video game:
1. Resident Evil 4, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
2. A target-practice game (in Wii Play) with bullseye targets, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
3. Super Mario Galaxy, which involves no shooting.

Then they took the students out for target practice with black airsoft training pistols.

Students who played Resident Evil using the pistol controller had the most head shots, an average of 7. They also made more body shots, an average of 6.

Students who played Super Mario Galaxy had the fewest head shots — about 2 — and the fewest body shots — 4, on average.

Students who played Resident Evil with a standard controller were somewhere in between the pistol players and the SMG players.

The participants who played the most video games outside the study, particularly those who played violent shooting games, had the best marksmanship of all.

“The more frequently one plays violent shooting games, the more accurately one fires a realistic gun and aims for the head, although we can’t tell from this study which factor is the cause,” Bushman said.

Of course, what the researchers should have done is have the students shoot first, then play the games, then shoot a second time to see if their marksmanship improved. Not having that baseline data leaves out some important information.

I’d like to think that most people wouldn’t view the ability to shoot accurately as a bad thing. It’s a skill, like anything else. In and of itself, it’s not a problem.

Unfortunately, Bushman thinks it is:

“We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss violent video games as just harmless fun in a fantasy world — they can have real-world effects,” he said. “This study suggests these games can teach people to shoot more accurately and aim at the head.”

Bushman seems to be missing some steps. Playing a video game doesn’t give you access to a gun. It doesn’t load the gun for you. And, most important, it doesn’t make you want to shoot anybody. If this study is accurate, the most it’s saying is that games could make you a better shot if those other things happened.

Gamers are going to learn plenty of skills in any video game that they’ll likely never use in reality. For example, Resident Evil 4 might also teach players how to run away from zombies, hunt birds in a forest, explore abandoned houses, and use grenades.

Even if Breivik “trained” by playing a video game, the most that game could have given him was better accuracy. It didn’t give him the paranoia or mental illness that propelled him to make bombs or shoot people in the first place. That didn’t come from Modern Warfare. That came from somewhere inside Breivik. And no video-game study can tell us how to find that.

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Have you read Lt. Col. Dave Grossman?? The foremost authority on this subject....well done!!
Yeah, virtually every study has shown that the negative propaganda around video games is wrong. Not only are the studies themselves flawed as a general rule, but the conclusions are generally non sequiturs.

I've never understood the tremendous animosity toward video games. Heh, I recall one time playing Monopoly and one young girl who lost got so mad when I teased her a little, that she ran into the other room, grabbed a lit candle and came back and threw hot wax in my face. I guess Monopoly teaches kids two kinds of violence; physical AND emotional. ;-)
If these games are teaching kids to aim for the head, that's great. They're more likely to miss should they take it into their own heads to use a real gun on real people. I also applaud the movies that portray the correct way for any self-respecting hoodlum to hold a pistol is with the grip horizontal. That also makes them more likely to miss their target.
Brazen Princess, I have, and I don't agree with his findings.
It isn't the fact that you shoot in these games that brings about violence. It's the world depicted in the game, which leads the kids to think in those terms.

I was once on the staff of a convention that put on role-playing-game conventions in Florida. With our first convention we had a major problem; the trial was starting of some kids who had killed a grandmother, who were regular players of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade game. And the live-action game of Vampire was a major drawing card of the con.

Now pay attention, because this gets complicated.

We had no trouble with the players the first year; we made it clear that for the game to continue and grow, they had to direct all press questions to us staff members. (We expected Geraldo Rivera or Jerry Springer to send camera crews down. They didn't.)

But a few years later, there was pseudo-violence. Another live-action game was set up by some friends who were writers for White Wolf - back in the long-lost days when writers were actually paid. They were going to run a game for two evenings. But they couldn't. Two players played the game in ultra-violent fashion, and killed off most of the player characters in the first night of the game.

The writers didn't believe that players would use the game for domination and winning-at-any-cost. They didn't believe playing creatures who live to rape and kill, fictionally, would engage real-world lusts. Well, they do.

Games don't intrinsically make people violent. But it gives great cover for those who are violent. And the Resident Evil series isn't even role playing, where the goal is to portray a character; it's kill-kill-kill until you die. That mindset doesn't make for social interaction.
Bah! Games schmames. Burning real ammo on a real range with a real firearm will yeild much better results than playing with electronic toys.

The marksmanship of the youth of this country is appaling, and can only be remedied by a greater intrest in the shooting sports.

Put down the controllers and pick up a rifle. Even if it's a .22, it's better than the modern day version of a zapper.

On the other hand I really enjoyed RE4, and the Zelda based "Link" whatever game on the WII.

“It isn't the fact that you shoot in these games that brings about violence. It's the world depicted in the game, which leads the kids to think in those terms.”

Heh, I have to wonder, neutron, if it’s the fictional world depicted, or aspects of the real world; you don’t specify.
I can't say whether video games make people more violent but when my son was young, I limited his game play to two hours a day. That said, when I was a kid, my mother didn't want me to watch Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour because she thought I'd think it was ok to jump off a cliff. Good article and well written!
avid gamer(jus ask my wife) and only play"1st person shooters" cause old hands cant do those complcated button moves. dont believe games make for real world violence anymore than "Gunsmoke" did.
Rick Lucke, you said, "Heh, I have to wonder, neutron, if it’s the fictional world depicted, or aspects of the real world; you don’t specify.

I meant the fictional world, but you made a good point; fictional worlds influence our perception of the real world. For example, the Resident Evil series presumes the world has been wrecked by a megacorporation, and you must kill, kill, kill to survive. That the competitiveness and greed of the world has brought us to new social values that have nothing to do with religion or social values.

It can't be claimed that Uncle Tom's Cabin convinced the North to engage in the Civil War, and that the more influential and involving world of Grand Theft Auto has no effect at all. They both influence people, and videogame creators are simply trying to shrug off responsibility for their own messages.

Look, I'd love to kill hookers I've just employed, and rob their corpses. Who wouldn't? But getting involved in that world, even fictionally, affects the way you see the real world. Cheering on Freddy Krueger as he kills teenage girls makes people less bothered when the girl next door is raped and killed by her dad. After all, she was asking for it.

You say, "...fictional worlds influence our perception of the real world"

You suggest that video game depictions of the world "influence" how we view the world. Art, music, stories like the one you reference, Uncle Tom's Cabin, virtually everything with which we come in contact "influences" us. The real underlying issue in this particular debate is not whether things influence us, but rather one of cause and effect. Video games, like art, reflect reality; they don't create it.

Someone who is "made" more violent through video gaming is someone who has the predisposition to be more violent regardless. In other words, those kids have psychological issues to begin with and certain influences can exacerbate those conditions. The games don't create that reality, it already exists. With those kids, almost anything could exacerbate their predisposition to act out.

You suggest, "...videogame creators are simply trying to shrug off responsibility for their own messages"? What messages? They're just creating entertainment. People who can't discern between entertainment and reality are a problem regardless of what they watch, see, hear. And I suggest it is not fictional worlds that cause folks to be more violent, but the realities they face every day in a society that promotes the idea that you and I are not members of a community, but competitors for our livelihoods. If video games send any message, it's that reality. As the saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger."