Steven Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You) takes on Hillary in a rather snarky op-ed in the form of a letter in today’s LA Times (Link: Hillary vs. the Xbox: Game over).
He’s probably correct on some points (sure, the politicians may not have entirely unselfish motives for intervening in the Grand Theft Auto fiasco — do they ever?). But he comes off as being opposed to any study of the effects of video games on children. We should apparently just read his book and accept that "the kids are all right" and not worry about it.
From the article:
Your current concern is over explicit sex in "Grand Theft Auto: San
Andreas." Yet there’s not much to investigate, is there? It should get
rated appropriately, and that’s that.
True — the software company screwed up, and they should be dealt with the same way as a movie studio or TV network when they skirt the ratings system. Clinton’s July 20th statement seems in agreement with this.
But there’s more to your proposed
study: You want to examine how video games shape children’s values and
Kids have always played games. A hundred
years ago they were playing stickball and kick the can; now they’re
playing "World of Warcraft," "Halo 2" and "Madden 2005." And parents
have to drag their kids away from the games to get them to do their
algebra homework, but parents have been dragging kids away from
whatever the kids were into since the dawn of civilization.
The fact that kids have always played games doesn’t make it any less worthy a topic for social scientists to study, does it? Determining how or if "video games shape children’s values and
cognitive development" seems like a good research topic. We should know more about it, especially when you consider that games are in fact getting more violent, and that desensitization and conditioning are real psychological phenomena. Why not care about what games do to kids? Maybe the study will even prove you right?
any sensible investigation into video games must ask the "compared to
what" question. If the alternative to playing "Halo 2" is reading "The
Portrait of a Lady," then of course "The Portrait of a Lady" is better
for you. But it’s not as though kids have been reading Henry James for
100 years and then suddenly dropped him for Pokemon.
Here Johnson seems to be drifting off into his book… Is this relevant? Surely there’s a proper theoretical context in which to place video game studies, and competent researchers will consider that. (Politicians may not, of course.)
Clinton, your investigation should explore the theory that violent
games function as a safety valve, letting children explore their
natural aggression without acting it out in the real world.
I agree completely — the study should investigate the "safety valve" idea as well as others. Why wouldn’t it? The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development is not a political organization, as far as I know. The researchers who would be doing the study are probably close colleagues of the Duke researchers Johnson refers to.
Isn’t more serious research to answer these questions a good thing for both camps?
More on this topic in an earlier post: Violence and Video Games.
See also the discussion at Steven Johnson’s blog: stevenberlinjohnson.com: Open Letter To Hillary.