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Psychologists Attack Violent Video Games

But New Study Shows No Evidence Users Become More Aggressive

A Month of Violence continued...

Williams says his findings don't necessarily mean the APA is wrong to condemn violent video and computer games. But he does say that far too little is known about these games.

In addition, the new study findings don't tell us much about the possible long-term effects of violent video games on children since most participants were adults.

"The APA concern is based on this evidence showing increased aggression after a short play. But there has been no research on long-term play, or play outside labs, which is not representative of normal play," he says. "It doesn't mean there aren't harmful effects, but I am not convinced by the studies so far. And since I did the first [longer-term] study and found no effects, this gives me pause."

Social Effects of Gaming

Williams warns that not all games are created equal. In fact, not all games of the same type offer the same kind of experience. And it makes a difference, he says, whether a game is played in solitude or with others, in an arcade or at home, and whether the game requires players to meet and cooperate with other players.

With AC2, he found that players find the time to play by watching less TV and fewer movies, although they watch the news just as often. Players tend to "cocoon" -- that is, to withdraw from casual interactions with others.

"That is sort of disturbing. However, they found a fair amount of community online with new people," Williams says. "So if a person needs exposure to a wider range of people, and already has good social support, this is good. But if this is someone with a lot of so-so friends and no strong friends, it is going to make this problem worse."

Williams also found that the more people play online games, the more they think the real world is like their virtual world.

"The classic case is someone who watches a lot of TV news and sees a lot of violence and crime. They tend to predict more crime for their neighborhood, even if they live in a low-crime area," he says. "And that is an effect I saw in the game. People who played were much more likely than the comparison group to think the world was a more dangerous place in terms of being hit with weapons."

That, too, could be good or bad.

"It is only good if they previously saw the world as safer than it really is," Williams says. "And it's bad if they previously saw the world as more dangerous than it is, and became paranoid. And a lot of these games encourage good social behavior. So imagine if they played and then thought people in the real world were much more likely to help each other than they really are. Does that make them gullible schmucks or better people?"


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