Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

The Media on My Mind: Adventures in Pop Culture: Video Games, Violence, and a False Premise

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

The Media on My Mind: Adventures in Pop Culture: Video Games, Violence, and a False Premise

Article excerpt

Politicos and media experts of various stripes and credibility have predictably implicated violent video games in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

In fact, it's far from dear what, if indeed any, role violent games, TV, or movies have played in the wave of public massacres be-setting America--including the Sandy Hook slaughter. A complex cybernetic exists between game players and game makers, film viewers and film makers.

Debate about media-related aggression is hardly new. During the silent era, several commissions within and outside the film industry agreed that the new medium could have poisonous effects upon children, as well as on women and immigrants.

In the 1930s, with the advent of sound, worries further escalated that gangster films like "The Public Enemy" (1931) and "Little Caesar" (1931) might encourage youth and other vulnerable populations to turn even more savage (including those ever-suspect immigrants; after all, concerns were already high that immigrants would have a negative impact on the country's social fabric).

In 1954, concerns were voiced before the Kefauver commission about the corrupting influence on youthful minds of lurid horror comics like EC Comics's "Tales From the Crypt." Withering criticism by sachems like child psychiatrist Fredric Wertham led EC's CEO Bill Gaines to dose down the shop. He went on to use EC's artistic talents to create MAD magazine. Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent" went on to become a prized comic collectible.

Today as in the past, any connection between public violence and violent media continues to be a highly vexed question. Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., of Texas A&M International University Laredo, an expert on the impact of media violence, conducted an exquisitely sophisticated analysis of research projects purport-edly proving that violent video games provoked aggression in youthful players. Dr. Ferguson, and John Kilburn, Ph.D., discovered that every "definitive" study was in fact profoundly flawed (J. Pediatr. 2009;54:759-63).

In a prospective study of 603 mainly Hispanic youth, Dr. Ferguson found that the best predictors of aggression and violence were depressive symptoms and peer delinquency (J. Youth Adolescence 2010;40:377-91). He and Dr. Kilburn concluded that violent video games and TV do not cause youthful aggression, major or minor. I agree--with the caveat that I'd be willing to change my mind if reliably designed future investigations were to demonstrate otherwise.

I know of no defendant who has ever beaten a murder rap by blaming violent media of any sort. Furthermore, our cascade of Newtowns, Auroras, and Columbines simply do not exist in nations across the world, whose youth are as devoted to videogaming as are our kids (even more ardent fans can be found in places such as Japan and South Ko-rea). Addiction to videogaming, per se, across the world is quite a different and very serious, DSM-worthy problem (Pediatrics 2011;127:e319-29).

After Columbine-type incidents in the 1990s, England and Canada enacted stringent gun control laws. No further Sandy Hooks have occurred in those countries since those laws were enacted.

An immense amount of writing has been done--fictional or academic--probing the uneasy articulation between the thirst for liberty, individual rights, and salutary violence in shaping the national character. …

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