Consequences of video games - and the cognitive aspects of data interpretation

The Video Game Revolution: "Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked" by Henry Jenkins | PBS
The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers — 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.

This PBS essay neatly summarizes almost all the arguments I would ever make - or in some cases have made - in defense of video gaming. However, the issue of video games is so fraught with narratives (relying on different folk theories, scenarios and image schemas) that is is very hard to have a coherent picture. Of particular interest is the application of the variety of causal schemas and their integration into some of the rich-image stories (which are frequently instantiations of established narrative and imagistic schemas). For instance, when Leo Laporte reported on this particular finding in one of his podcasts, he hastened to add that he and his sons stopped playing video games because they always felt keyed-up and violent afterwards. I have heard anecdotal reports from others - in response to my claim that most people don't go smash cars in the road after playing Grand Theft Auto. My own experience with video games is much more limited but even if I had any to contribute - it again would probably serve as part of the 'I used to ... and it never did me any harm' narrative. The point is, that in interpreting some of this statistical data, we need to find compelling stories or schemas through which we can make sense of something that transcends our experience - i.e. the behavior of large scale groups.

The other myths, in this essay are:

2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
3. Children are the primary market for video games.
4. Almost no girls play computer games.
5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
7. Video game play is socially isolating.
8. Video game play is desensitizing.

Each of these myths (and all my knowledge leads me to agree that by and large they are myths) is again supported by stories and folk theories. For instance, 4. relies on stereotypical schematic expectations of how girls should behave. 5. (and 8.) superimposes a soldier image on the image of the child. 7. relies on a stereotypical image of a videogamer sitting in a darkened room for hours. Both 6., 7. and 8. have been used in connection with escapist literature or soap operas - and have been comprehensively rejected by social psychology (can't remember the reference right now). Probably the best treatment from an educational-psychological perspective comes can be found in Gee, James Paul. 2003. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. However, despite my conviction that the stories told by anti-anti-game proponents such as Gee are more apt and fit in better with the complexity of the data. They are not inherently superior to the anti-game stories. They rely, as they must, on the same psycho-cognitive and socio-cognitive as well as affective principles. That's why I find looking into them as fascinating as the actual subject matter.