Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong

Article excerpt

Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong Patrick M. Markey and Christopher Ferguson Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2017, Notes and index. 248 pp. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 9781942952985

The concept of moral panic is a fascinating and scintillating one for scholars, because it speaks to the unfortunate, albeit inextricable, interaction between society and social science. Scholarship generally intends to help us better understand the world around us, but we usually prefer scholarship aimed at risk identification and aversion. Such preferences grow even stronger in the face of salient social and cultural flashpoints-for example, the sudden shift in funding towards auto-immunodeficiency (AIDS) research after the disease was contracted by American teenager Ryan White, one of the first nonhomosexuals to die from the disease in the 1980s, or the September 11 terrorist attacks, which led to a focus on identifying and stopping terrorist threats. Indeed, in Moral Combat, media psychologists Patrick Markey and Christopher Ferguson discuss the Columbine school shooting in April 1999 as a flashpoint for a marked refocusing of media research on the psychological and social ills of video games. Data provided in chapter 2 (or level 2, using the book's parlance) demonstrates a nearly five-fold increase in the number of scholarly publications on violent video games in 2001 in a self-labeled "post-Columbine era" that shows no signs of slowing.

In a remarkably smooth and fun read that blends anecdote and empirical data, Markey and Ferguson address the history of violent video games as a media product and as a focal point for academic, political, and social scorn. The manuscript is accessible to a wide variety of audiences, although this accessibility at times results in critical nuances being omitted from their discussions. Most notably, the authors summarize several research reports without discussing in any detail some of the theories and models of psychology and communication studies that informed and inspired (and perhaps even invalidated) these same reports.

The authors' grasp of the history of gaming and the moral panics around violent gaming is stellar, which is why I required my own researchers to read several chapters from this manuscript. In particular, Markey and Ferguson do a masterful job of interpreting and extending their moral panic cyclone (inspired by British sociologist David Gauntlett) on pages 39-47.

The larger field of play studies and game studies will likely find the manuscript's 310 citations impressive in quantity but myopic in relation to the wider body of literature. For example, they leave to the wayside the contribitions of critical and cultural studies scholars to the discussion of violent games. Another example is their discussion about the significance of Death Race (level 1) to the video game violence debate, which might have benefited from earlier writings on the same subject by Carly Kocurek. In a 2012 article published in Game Studies, she argues that the controversy surrounding Death Race was the flashpoint for violent gaming concerns. Core writings on play by scholars such as Johan Huizinga's classic Homo Ludens are also missing, which might have buttressed the author's claims about gaming's role in individual, cultural, and social development. However, because the book more narrowly focuses on media psychology than on play and game studies, a narrow ontological and empirical focus can likely be forgiven or at least, considered with critical nuance. …

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