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Features Consumer Behaviour Trends
University Challenge To Clinton Claims

Video games’ impact on youth


April 29, 2008
By Canadian Vending Staff

Topics

Whether it’s Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips, Bridget Bardot’s pouting
lips or Lady Chatterley’s lacy slips, politicians have long highlighted
new forms of entertainment as proof of society’s declining morals. This
month’s ATEI feature looks at the reasons behind Senator Hillary
Clinton’s recent attack on video games, why it’s nothing new and how
academic research has disproved her claims.

Whether it’s Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips, Bridget Bardot’s pouting lips or Lady Chatterley’s lacy slips, politicians have long highlighted new forms of entertainment as proof of society’s declining morals. This month’s ATEI feature looks at the reasons behind Senator Hillary Clinton’s recent attack on video games, why it’s nothing new and how academic research has disproved her claims.

Imagine you’re Hillary Clinton. You’re one of around ten candidates hoping for the Democrat’s nomination and you have a fair chance of running for the 2008 U.S. Presidency. What issue would you like voters to associate you with?

A vibrant economy?

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Strong foreign policy?

Investment in education?

Freedom of speech?

No? Well, how about video games?

In 2005, Clinton opened her drive to the White House with a vitriolic attack on video games. Clinton told the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies children’s leisure habits: “Video games are a silent epidemic of media desensitization that teaches kids it’s okay to ‘dis’ people because they are a woman, they’re a different colour or they’re from a different place.”

Indeed, Clinton feels so strongly about video games that she and two Republican senators are lobbying the current White House administration to launch a research project into “the impact of electronic media on children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.”

In truth, there’s little originality in Clinton’s bombastic approach. In the 1950’s, American psychologist Fredric Wertham accused comic books for everything from the promotion of homosexuality (Batman & Robin) to the glamorization of Nazi Germany (Superman). In 1960’s Britain, an obscenity trial followed the publication of the DH Lawrence novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the 1970’s, Bob Larson’s ‘The Devil’s Diversion’ suggested that Satan himself created subliminal messages on rock ‘n’ roll records that told listeners to kill themselves.

So how come today, comic books are part of growing up, DH Lawrence is studied in schools and rock ‘n’ roll is not only part of modern culture, courtesy of initiatives such as Live8, it’s also responsible for the mobilization of millions in the fight against poverty and starvation in Africa?

Perhaps British Professor Stan Cohen has the answer. In his 1979 book ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics,’ Cohen studied the journey of new forms of entertainment from distrust to acceptance. Cohen suggested that politicians and the media co-operate, if not conspire, to create a perception of new entertainment as deviant. Politicians create the position and the media reports their thoughts. This helps politicians avoid bigger issues and newspapers to create moral panic.

They do this by attacking new industries yet to establish themselves culturally or commercially.

The relationship between politicians and media is not lost on Merit Industries’ international vice-president, Frank Ballouz: “Politicians need to get elected and journalists need to sell newspapers. While he wasn’t trying to create a moral panic, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House he actually used the phrase ‘tomorrow’s fighter pilots are today’s video game players’ and that soundbite was printed with all the enthusiasm of Clinton’s observations. It’s nothing new.” He added: “Anyhow, if you start trying to censor video games what are you going to do next? Erase every word you don’t like in every book? In my view, Clinton is guilty of political opportunism, she’s just taking advantage of a media-friendly position.”

Unfortunately for Clinton, that bandwagon might have passed her by. Video games are on the cusp of becoming an accepted part of mainstream society, while research recently conducted at the University of Michigan is challenging Clinton’s fundamental assertion that the genre creates anti-social behaviour.

Michigan University’s Dmitri Williams and Marko Skoric, in their paper ‘Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game,’ concluded that violent video games make players no more aggressive than their non-playing counterparts. Williams and Skoric took two groups of subjects, and over a one-month period they exposed one group to a game that employed scenes of fantasy violence while the other acted as a control. Neither group were active players. Over the course of the month, all participants were asked a set of questions about the frequency of aggressive social interactions designed to test the idea that gaming makes people more hostile. Game players, it turned out, were no more aggressive than the control group.

Williams and Skoric’s conclusions stand contrary to Clinton’s assertion, that video games are responsible for deviant behaviour. If this is the case, surely all she is doing is promoting the same mind set that kept parents awake, and voters listening, during panics over Presley and company. As Cohen suggests and Ballouz concurs, the First Lady-in-waiting’s attack on video games seems little more than an effective way of averting the electorate’s eyes from news pages and their minds from more pressing political issues.  o