US teen violence study exonerates video games

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US teen violence study exonerates video games

Shoot 'em ups 'not to blame', says American Sociological Association.

The American Sociological Association (ASA) has published a report claiming that there is no link between violent video games and homicidal behaviour in children. 

Following high profile school shootings in the US, most famously at Columbine High School, many reports have attempted to create a link between such events and violent video games such as the first person shooter Doom.

The ASA article focuses on why people are so ready to blame video games for violent attacks by troubled teens, pointing out that in the 10 years following Doom's 1993 release, homicide arrest rates among juveniles fell by 77 per cent.

School shootings remain extremely rare; even during the 1990s, when fears of school violence were high, students had less than a seven in 10 million chance of being killed at school.

The ASA said that video games and other violent entertainment are being used as a "folk devil" and have no real impact on the behaviour of children.

Jonathan Freedman, of the Department of Psychology at Toronto University, reviewed every media-violence study published in English and concluded that "the majority of studies produced evidence that is inconsistent or even contradicts" the claim that exposure to media violence causes real violence.

According to the ASA article Do Video Games Kill? (PDF) such studies do not demonstrate that media violence causes aggressive behaviour, only that the two phenomena exist together. 

"Excluding a host of other factors (such as the growing unrest during the civil rights and antiwar movements, and the disappearance of jobs in central cities) may make it seem that a direct link exists between the introduction of television and homicides. In all likelihood any connection is incidental," the article states.

The report points out some of the inconsistencies that have been found in a single journal.

For instance, a 2001 meta-analysis in Psychological Science concluded that video games "will increase aggressive behaviour", while a similar review published the same year found that "it is not possible to determine whether video game violence affects aggressive behaviour".

A 2005 review found evidence that playing video games improves spatial skills and reaction times, but not that the games increase aggression.

Finally the article also delves into the murky waters of racial and societal separation by suggesting that "the video game explanation constructs the white, middle-class shooters as victims of the power of video games, rather than fully culpable criminals".

"When boys from 'good' neighbourhoods are violent, they seem to be harbingers of a 'new breed' of youth created by video games rather than by their social circumstances," the report states.

"White, middle-class killers retain their status as children easily influenced by a game, and victims of an allegedly dangerous product. African-American boys, apparently, are simply dangerous."

The conclusion arrived at by the ASA is that, when looking at the problem of homicidal and violent children, society needs to look at the broader social contexts and note the roles that guns, poverty, families and the organisation of schools may play in youth violence in general.

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