As the US government launches a probe into violent videogames, Harvard psychologist Dr Cheryl Olson welcomes the investigation but expresses concern over how the research is framed.
Having sat in on Vice President Biden’s meeting with videogame industry bigwigs, in which he warned the industry that it suffered a public perception problem, Dr Olsen told us that any research done cannot be started with an ideological position.
“Researchers need to be open to the possibility of both harm and benefit,” she told Here Is The City.
Furthermore, the investigations need to be able to distinguish between types of violence if it is going to make meaningful conclusions.
“Existing studies (including mine) treat all games with violent content the same, whether players are killing orcs or realistic humans, and without addressing the moral context of violence in a particular game,” the co-author of Grand Theft Childhood explained.
“Applying this line of reasoning to books, the Bible and a Twilight vampire novel would have identical effects on readers.”
Citing work funded already by the MacArthur Foundation as interesting, she said that research has “barely scratched the surface” of videogames, with more investigations needed that are designed to provide guidance to policymakers, doctors and parents, not just for publication in academic journals.
According to the expert, so far there’s no evidence that points to games as being distinctly harmful when compared to other forms of media, such as film.
Taking aim at the claim that games are more likely to have a harmful effect because the player is “acting out” the murder, she replied: “One could just as easily argue that a video game player (unlike someone watching a horror film, for example) must actively participate in the game to keep it going, and therefore is always aware of the fantasy.”
She also suggested that more research could be done on the benefits of games, suggesting that they may foster useful traits such as persistence in the face of failure, patience, problem-solving and more.
“I’d love to see more research on this,” she concluded.