Like the mythical Bat-Signal of yesteryear, Christopher Grant’s “Keighley Takes on Fox News’ SEXbox Sexpose” was a call to arms. In the embedded video, you’ll see Cooper Lawrence, a talk-radio psycholgist that loves to take aim at video games.
I’m not writing this article to repeat what Grant has already said; I’m writing it to criticize Lawrence’s clear misunderstanding of scientific studies and research. In the embedded video you will see her make the claim that a “recent” University of Maryland study showed that “boys that play video games can not tell the difference between video games and the real world if they don’t have real life experience.”
As a male skeptic that enjoys video games I found this a bit of a stretch. Would a University really try to make this outrageous claim?
The study she is referring to is one that was organized and handled by the Professor of Human Development at the University of Maryland, Melanie Killen. I’m still waiting for a response from Professor Killen on the subject, but I will assume good faith in that her study was performed to the best of her ability.
This study didn’t involve thousands of young children. It didn’t even involve “real life experience” or even if they knew the difference between real life and fantasy. The Washington Post, in their story Students See Video Games As Harmless, Study Finds is more accurate, but not much more. The post still sensationalizes the issue by claiming that 14-year olds, who are filled with wrath, consider themselves “immune to mayhem.”
Here’s how the study took place:
Professor Melanie Killen and two student researchers asked 100 University of Maryland students to participate in a study involving video games. Over the course of 45 minutes, these students were shown images from fake video games that bore a striking similarity to real games.
- Image 1: Scantily clad women and brutish men playing violent games of golf. (Outlaw Golf?)
- Image 2: A first person shooter where the enemies are terrorists. (America’s Army?)
- Image 3: A sport surfing simulator. (Kelly Slator’s Pro Surfing?)
Afterwards, they were asked to answer a short list of questions, including their experience with gaming, whether the games depicted negative themes and harmful stereotypes, and whether the content could harm them or result in a negative consequence.
Not suprisingly, participants that had played games prior to the experiment claimed “it’s just like fantasy.”
The key to remember here is that the study was neither a large or a diverse sample. 100 college students is just that, only 100 college students. The same college students that probably did this study so they could fulfill an Intro to Psychology requirement or to earn extra credit. The same who sell their textbooks at the end of the semester for drinking money.
For Fox News, Cooper Lawrence or Daniel de Vise of the Washington Post to claim that this study finds that a child’s view of reality is altered by playing video games is absolutely ludicrous. All the study said, was that people who play video games are more likely to believe the stereotypes in them aren’t harmful. Young boys aren’t confusing fantasy with reality, sensationalist journalists and radio talk show hosts are.