The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has weighed into the ongoing polemic regarding a possible link between violent video games and "real-world aggression".
The Uni says the findings of the first long-term study into exposure to video games and subsequent stroppy behaviour may be "surprising", given that they show "robust exposure to a highly violent online game" did not cause any substantial increase in said aggression.
The findings will indeed suprise attorney Jack Thompson who has vowed to prove the link between Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the 2003 murder of two police officers and a civilian police worker in Fayette, Alabama.
As we recently reported, after being arrested for the triple homicide, 20-year-old perpetrator Devin Moore was alleged to have said: "Life is a videogame. Everybody has to die some time." Moore is known to have spent many hours playing GTA:VC, dubbed a "murder simulator" by Thompson.
Thompson declared: "Moore rehearsed, hour after hour, the cop-killing scenarios in that hyper-violent video game. The makers, distributors, and retailers of that murder simulator equipped Moore to kill as surely as if they had handed him the gun to do it. Blood is on the hands of men in certain corporate board rooms from Japan to New York."
While the eventual outcome of Thompson's campaign in uncertain, the Illinois findings will do little to further his cause. Report lead author Dmitri Williams said researchers found "no strong effects associated with aggression caused by this violent game", referring to Asheron's Call 2 (AC2) which guinea pigs played an average 56 hours over the course of a month.
Williams explained: "Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they were before playing." He added: "Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners."
Williams did, however, warn: "I'm not saying some games don't lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet. Until we have more long-term studies, I don't think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding."
In fact, the issue is rather more complicated than critics and defenders of video games might suggest. Williams noted: "This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outer space or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes."
Williams admitted that because the test didn't centre solely on younger teenagers, he could not say that "teenagers might not experience different effects", while noting that "older players in their study were "perhaps more strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more than their younger counterparts".
Williams summarised: "If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the games they are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders of the industry's products are operating without enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon."
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's findings appear in the June issue of Communication Monographs in an piece entitled "Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game". ®
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's test was conducted as follows:
The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a "treatment" group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG [massively multiplayer online roleplaying game] play and who played AC2 for the first time; and a control group of 138, who did not play. The participants were solicited through online message boards and ranged in age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years.
Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-test online and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personality variables. Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R. Huesmann’s Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressive social interactions were measured with two behavioral questions: in the past month, did the participant have a serious argument with a friend, and in the same time period, did they have a serious argument with a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
Because of the study's design, only moderate or large effects caused by exposure to the game were capable of being detected.