It’s disappointing, but really not surprising to see the APA come out with a pronouncement like this.
It is pretty clear that the approach was (as it often is) intended to “prove” a conclusion they had already decided was true.
Since at least the Columbine school shooting in 1999—when both researchers and the media speculated that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a killing spree because they were denied access to the violent computer games—we have been studying and arguing about whether violent video games create violent urges in players. In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) announced the creation of the Task Force on Violent Media. The seven-member task force was charged with conducting a “meta-analysis,” or review of existing literature, to determine whether video game violence can and does lead to real-world violence.
So, based on speculation (that, by the way has since been shown to be pretty thin) they decided to go out and prove that video game violence causes violent behavior. Hmmmm, not what I’d call good science.
The problem, though, is that many experts think the APA’s findings are junk science. In 2013, a large group of researchers—more than 230, including academics from Harvard, Yale and Columbia universities—took issue with the APA, the task force and its research methodology. In an open letter, the group called the APA’s policy statements on violent video games “misleading and alarmist” and said they “delineated several strong conclusions on the basis of inconsistent or weak evidence.”
For some of those researchers, Thursday’s announcement is confirmation that the APA has it in for video games. “The literature is beset with methodology flaws and I don’t think this report addresses those flaws,” says Dr. T.A. Ceranoglu, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital who signed the 2013 letter.
Existing research on violent video games has “vague and inconsistent” definitions of aggression and violence, he says. While the APA’s report acknowledges this problem (“The violent video game literature uses a variety of concepts, terms, and definitions in considering aggression and aggressive outcomes…”), it does not attempt to solve it.
If they really wanted to find out the truth, then this should be getting much more attention than it is:
“I think it’s causing us to miss a bigger picture,” he says. “These violent video games are played all around the world, but we have a much higher violence rate in the U.S. than other countries, like Japan, and we can’t explain why that difference is.”
Ferguson is unconvinced. “People have to remember that groups like the American Psychological Association—of which I’m a fellow, by the way—are guilds. They do not exist to provide people with objective facts. They exist to promote the profession. It’s to their advantage to identify problems that psychologists can run in and fix. It is not to their advantage to say ‘we don’t know’ or ‘the evidence is all over the place’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do to help you.'”
“This seems to be a pattern with the APA,” he adds. “We’re talking about an organization that was caught colluding in the real torture of real people in real life and now they’re turning around and wagging their hand about people playing video games?”
If you are also tired of these sort of biased proclamations, sign this scholars’ open letter to the APA calling on them to retire their policy statements on media violence: https://www.scribd.com/doc/223284732/Scholar-s-Open-Letter-to-the-APA-Task-Force-On-Violent-Media-Opposing-APA-Policy-Statements-on-Violent-Media
Don’t get me wrong – the interaction of violent videogames (and movies, television, books, etc.) concerns me deeply. I just think that this is a much more complex issue than they want us to believe. Personally, I worry far more about the popularity of reality shows where deception and bullying are passed off as entertainment than I do about violence in videogames. The problem really isn’t with the games (or the shows, much as I hate them) – the problem is with a society that finds this acceptable. Banning any of these things will not solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when we figure out what’s really at the root of the anger and hatred that popularizes these things and begin to deal with that.