By Erin McNeill

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed video game via Feminist Frequency

Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed video game via Feminist Frequency

I’m not sure why it is so controversial when a group such as the American Psychological Association confirms that there is a link between violent media and aggression, as they did last week. Can you doubt that there is a link, some sort of link, when a man stages an attack similar to a movie scene, in a movie theater playing that violent movie?

And for those who say “I play lots of violent video games and I haven’t killed anyone” well; 1) The study isn’t claiming that playing violent video games leads directly to violent crime incidents, and 2) Your anecdote isn’t evidence.

There is already a general consensus among researchers that violent media can contribute to children acting aggressively, according to the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The link between media violence and aggressive behaviors is largely due to the following:

  • Children imitate what they see.
  • Children learn from media what is socially acceptable. And they see a lot of problem solving through violence.
  • Children become desensitized.

(source: CMCH)

Why are studies finding a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior so controversial? For several reasons, I’m guessing;

  1. Fear of government censorship.
  2. Concern that acknowledging the link will mean that we, as a society, will have to consider the repercussions of increasingly violent media, and possibly seek a change.

Media Literacy Now will never call for government censorship. But we will call for people to consider the consequences of the media that we produce.

I believe that the issue is not just the presence of violence in the media, but the messages around the violence. Violent media often tell a story, especially to boys, about solving problems through violence, and proving one’s masculinity through violence.

Along those lines, the Center for Media Literacy says many people are asking the wrong question. Not, “does playing violent video games lead directly to individuals taking violent action in the real world,” but rather,

What is the long term impact on our national psyche when millions of children, in their formative years, grow up decade after decade bombarded with very powerful visual and verbal messages demonstrating violence as the preferred way to solve problems and normalizing fear and violence as ‘the way things are?’

The new APA policy based on the research calls for a lot more study of particular aspects of violent video games and behavior, such as the persistence of negative outcomes over time, and the effects as associated with age, or with boys vs. girls. That’s a good idea to help us find the answers to CML’s question.

Media Literacy: Critical thinking as a solution

The APA, in a new resolution based on the recent research, calls for research into the role of media literacy in mediating negative effects associated with violent video game use.

CMCH already recommends media literacy to parents as a solution.

And schools can implement media literacy curriculum. A recent evaluation found that the CML media literacy curriculum on violence is an effective health intervention strategy.

So you don’t necessarily have to put down your controller, you may just have to think about what you are doing a little bit more. Yes, that’s the scariest idea of all.




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