This Mother is Sick of Violent Video Game “Policy Statements”

Well, here we go again. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) just issued a policy statement on violent video games. It’s similar to all the statements that have been issued by associations and interest groups since kids could shoot things on screen. Although this time they gave a nod to 3D technology, which is going to, “create a more immersive experience with violence.”

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Are any other parents getting sick of these statements or is it just me? Maybe mothers everywhere are wandering around seeking advice on this issue and I’m the only one with a formed opinion.

Or maybe these organizations are trying to reach the parent of that Kindergartner playing Call of Duty online last week. I mean, he did still have that “w” for “r” speech thing going on. “I’m gonna wage quit! Wip his fuckin head off!” Take note: I’m not impressed by this parenting approach.

Here’s the thing. The jury is out; still out. Deal with it. Everyone wants to “conclude” and prove cause and effect, but the best we’ve got is wobbly, weak correlation between violent gaming and aggression. And the scientific link between violent gaming and violence is nil.  NIL, I say!

Let’s look at some research, shall we?

Back in 2005, the American Psychological Association put out a Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media, based on studies of violent games from 1977 to 2005. Some of the research was based on arcade games. Flash forward and the APA creates a Task Force on Violent Media and publishes an updated, Technical Report on the research in 2013. This report is still the primary research guiding all those varying recommendations from all the advocates and groups out there. Including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations, just updated this week.

But here’s the issue . . . the APA report is hotly contested for being an inconclusive, poorly executed meta-analysis, but that doesn’t stop associations from speculating on its “conclusions.”

Contested by whom, you ask?

Not long after the APA put out their updated 2013 report, a contingent of over 200 researchers from places like Harvard, Yale and Columbia issued an Open Letter of concern about said research, saying, “Policy statements based on inconsistent and weak evidence are bad policy and over the long run do more harm than good, hurting the credibility of the science of psychology.”

Ouch. They accuse task force members of being, “rigid or ideological”; showing “disregard for null findings” (here’s a recent one as an example) and “smoothing over inconsistencies.”

This Newsweek article from 2013 is the best I’ve read thus far on the debatable research. My favorite paragraph being:

“Peter Gray, a child psychologist and research professor at Boston College who also signed the 2013 letter to the APA, [says] ‘The only correlational studies looking at real-world violence generally present very little if any evidence of correlation [between violent gaming and violence].’ Mark Appelbaum [chair of the APA task force] concedes the correlation is ‘not very big.’”

In fact, the APA isn’t really claiming a violence link, they’re claiming an aggression link and then implying (or others do it for them) that aggression is violence. It’s not. As the Open Letter authors rightly state: “During the video game epoch, youth violence in the United States and elsewhere has plummeted to 40-year lows, not risen as would have been expected if the 2005 APA resolution were accurate.”

So, what’s this aggression we’re seeing? Well that’s another point of contention for the Open Letter researchers. They’re not impressed by “laboratory measures of aggression.” These include things like acting out against toys, being rude and teacher assessments of aggressive playground and class behavior, etc.

The other issue brought forth by the Open Letter folk was the process of the actual meta analysis. In addition to leaving relevant studies out of the mix, the Open Letter researchers were not impressed by the APA’s lack of ability (and effort) to control for unrelated correlations.

Take gender for example. Gender and aggressive behavior is its own large area of study. And since boys are by far the ones playing the games studied, there may be some correlation problems if proper controls were not in place when measuring for aggression.  

But maybe these ivory-tower, Open Letter peeps are being a little nit picky. I mean, this is the APA — also filled with respected researchers in their own right. And why would they skew this data? What do they have to actually gain by honoring a cultural or political bias against video games?  

Well… this isn’t their first go around with bias. There was that torture thing. Turns out the APA doesn’t have a clean record for drawing weak connections for political and popular gain.

The New York Times reports on another accusation by fellow scholars and a human rights group that, “The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners.”

But, you know how accusations are . . . although, six month’s later, The Guardian reports,  “Three senior officials lose their jobs at APA after US torture scandal.” And three months after that, “New APA policy bans psychologist participation in national security interrogations.”

While we’re dissing the unbiased status of associations and their recommendations, let’s go back to where this all started (remember, the APA guidelines just released). The APA itself often takes heat for bias. Some scientists and researchers take issue with their circumcision recommendations, including one for females and their recommendation to give statins to children.

The point here is not to shit on associations, per se. I’m not intending to make my own crappy correlations. But clearly the APA, and even somewhat the beloved AAP, are open to cultural bias and outside agendas.

And, as a tangent, I’d like to pause and mention that the APA has no sense of irony. Seriously, on one hand they’re justifying torture, while on the other they’re over-reacting to kids throwing toys in labs after playing Call of Duty?

So, what’s my point? It’s not, “Let them play the video games, all of them, all the time.”

I really like this sensible recommendation from Harvard. They offer these Key Points:

  • Much of the research on violent video game use relies on measures to assess aggression that don’t correlate with real-world violence. Some studies are observational and don’t prove cause and effect.

  • Federal crime statistics suggest that serious violent crimes among youths have decreased since 1996, even as video game sales have soared.

  • Parents can protect children from potential harm by limiting use of video games and taking other common-sense precautions.”

Exactly. And from my experience talking to parents, this is exactly what most of us do. Then we hear about another policy recommendation on Facebook and worry and feel bad and then go back to doing this sensible thing again.

So MY recommendation is to just skip the worry and go with the Harvard endorsed “common sense.” For example, if your child cannot pronounce his R’s, or perform his three Rs in school, maybe he shouldn’t be stabbing hookers or using flame throwers on zombies.  But whatever. Your call.


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