Collateral Damage? Researching a Connection Between Video Games and Violence 

The Learning Network Blog: Lesson Plan | Researching a Connection Between Video Games and Violence

Jimmy Turrell

Finally, explain to the class that they will now jump into the current public discussion over purported connections between violence in video games and violent behavior by assessing some of the current research in the field.
Related | In the article “Shooting In The Dark,” Benedict Carey reports on conflicting studies about the role of violent video games in promoting aggression among gamers:
Mark Kegans for The New York Times

The young men who opened fire at Columbine High School, at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and in other massacres had this in common: they were video gamers who seemed to be acting out some dark digital fantasy. It was as if all that exposure to computerized violence gave them the idea to go on a rampage – or at least fueled their urges.
But did it really?
Social scientists have been studying and debating the effects of media violence on behavior since the 1950s, and video games in particular since the 1980s. The issue is especially relevant today, because the games are more realistic and bloodier than ever, and because most American boys play them at some point. Girls play at lower rates and are significantly less likely to play violent games.
A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming. Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive – as measured by clashes with peers, for instance – at least over a period of a year or two.
Yet it is not at all clear whether, over longer periods, such a habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit a violent crime, like murder, rape, or assault, much less a Newtown-like massacre. (Such calculated rampages are too rare to study in any rigorous way, researchers agree.)

Read the entire article with your class, using the questions below.
Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

For how long have social scientists studied the effects of violence in the media on behavior? Why do you think the author calls the topic “especially relevant” today?
What are the three categories into which research on video games and aggression fall? What are correlation studies?
In one study referenced in the article, students played the game “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” and then measured out portions of hot sauce for students who, they were told, did not like hot sauce. What was the purpose of this study? What characteristic were the researchers trying to assess by having participants measure out servings of hot sauce?
What did the researchers conclude in the hot sauce experiment? How did they come to this conclusion?
According to the author, “Some studies done in schools or elsewhere have found that it is aggressive children who are the most likely to be drawn to violent video games in the first place; they are self-selected to be in more schoolyard conflicts.”

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