Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sorry APA. The ESRB Is Not Changing Their System. :)

We all know the rhetoric very well. Violent video games cause increased aggression in children. Violent video games are causing more school violence. Violent video games are bad, and stupid, and rabble, rabble, rabble! The argument is not only old, but silly when you look to countries like Turkey that want to ban Minecraft for being "too violent."

So is it any surprise that the American Psychological Association (APA) is also joining the calls against violent video games? A report by the APA released earlier this week, when a task force reviewed over 150 studies and papers published before 2009 to determine if violent video games are a cause for aggressive behavior in children, or one of many factors in the society they live in. If you couldn't already tell, this report is incredibly flawed. Most of the content produced before 2010 regarding violent video games is one-sided. Studies tended to lean more skewing the results in favor of aggression. Or they used a small pool of people to study from. Or they didn't remove any inherit bias. Or, or, or. There's a lot of issues with the way studies are conducted. Unfortunately, there's no easy to to leave out pre-conceived notions. And in the process of setting up a study that would eliminate those requires too much time and money that people can't invest in. My While it has improved over the past few years, the linty of content prior to 2010 can easily fudge the APA's report.

If you need a prime example of what I'm referring to, we can look to disbarred Florida Attorney Jack Thompson who is of the mind-set for the past research surrounding video games. His rhetoric regarding video games is very much influenced by content that has now since been disproved. In fact, 2 of the pieces from C.J. Ferguson in the APA report have been discredited since their 2007 publication. However! His 2010 study, not in the final APA report, overturns his past theories about video game violence increasing aggression. In fact, his 2010 research has found that not only is the connection that video games cause increased aggression is inconclusive, but that the amount of study into the field is limited, flawed, and that contradictions between studies are abound. Yeah. He had the balls to say he was wrong and wants to provide more accurate research on this topic. Which the APA didn't care about. They only wanted to look at pre-2009 content. Which is silly given the amount of new studies out over the past 5 years that confirm what a lot of us already know: video games don't increase aggression and don't make us raging psychopaths. In fact, we can learn from video games, and we shouldn't dismiss them.

Even better, Ferguson, along with 230 other university professors and media professionals who focus on researching games, sent a letter of concern to the APA when they announced the task force two years ago. The task force was comprised of a group that skewed older (the average age was 62) and therefore already were biased against video games based on cultural differences. The APA has also never adequately defined what "aggression" is. Ever. And that's including before the time of video games. The APA was also not transparent about which studies it used, listing just a fraction of the content they referred to.

I'm disappointed in the lack of professionalism from the APA. They should know better. Research and studies are changing constantly, and to be the most accurate in assessments and providing guidelines to medical professionals, they need to take in all of the studies: past and present. I noticed that the original report was updated to include post-2010 content only after people started calling their bull. And those studies only further confirm that the APA has a bias mindset.

Now, to not completely dismiss them, the APA's report does state that no one single factor can cause violent behavior in kids and adults. It's a multitude of cultural factors. But they claim that video games are one of those factors that can contribute to the whole.

In a bold move, the APA has reached out to the ESRB regarding their report and is asking them to change how they rate video games.

The ESRB said no.

What the APA said to the ESRB is unsure. It's believed to be along the lines that the request to change ratings was to help inform parents and further limit access to "violent" content. The ESRB responded with their own studies conducted by other companies not affiliated with the ESRB that showed 87% of parents were confident in the rating system for video games. 87% were aware of the meaning behind the ratings, and 73% check the ratings regularly when making a purchase. That was from a study eight years ago conducted by the FTC, and the percentages have only gone up. As early as last year, a study showed 95% of parents are aware of the content their children are playing, and 91% are with their child when purchasing a game. If that's not valid proof that the ESRB is working, then I don't know what is.

The ESRB is working just fine. Parents and kids understand it. And parents are making the choice to let their child play Call of Duty. It's not breeding a world of monsters. It's allowing kids to be more open, social, and inquisitive about the world they live in. Good on your ESRB for not caving in. The group is open to additional dialogue with the APA regarding the topic, but will not be making any changes to the ratings system. If I could insert a Facebook Like button here for the ESRB, I would, and I'd click it.

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