Confusing Fantasy with Reality

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?

Absolutely Not.

What Study?
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.

Final Word
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.


15 Responses to Confusing Fantasy with Reality

  1. ConstantNeophyte says:

    Your faith in the Professor may be misplaced:

  2. Floyd says:

    Thanks for finding more info from Prof Killan ConstantNeophyte, but my faith in her only extends to quality of her research, and that she didn’t outright fake the results, not the conclusion she draws from it. I will try to be clearer in the future.

    To be honest though, she uses this study to support a “parents need to be involved” opinion. I’ll give her that and won’t complain too much. At least she didn’t say her study proved that wrathful 14 year olds can’t distinguish between Halo and classmates.

    I’m still awaiting a response from her. I’m hoping she will admit that Mass Effect has as much of an impact on adolescents as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

  3. ConstantNeophyte says:

    My problem with her is the way she interprets the results: the results of this study seem to suggest that that more serious gamers disregard what they see in games. Of course, rather than this being proof that they aren’t affected by the games, it’s taken as a tacit admission of acceptance of the negative aspects of the game.

  4. Floyd says:

    I whole heartedly agree on this point.

    If the study had gone the other way, it would have been reported video game stereotypes alter the minds of adolescents. Faux science like this are Lose-Lose situations for the entire world, industry and art form of gaming.

  5. Wai Yen Tang says:

    We don’t know if Cooper Lawrence is explicitely referring to Dr. Killen’s study. It might be another study that is relevant, so we can’t jump to conclusions.

  6. Floyd says:

    Sorry Wai Yen Tang, but we do know this. This is the only study that has come out of the University of Maryland that has any similarity with the comments Cooper made.

  7. Wai Yen Tang says:

    Had Dr.Killen confirmed that Cooper was referring to her study?

  8. Floyd says:

    Killen doesn’t have to give permission for Cooper Lawrence, or anyone else, to reference her work (and misrepresent it, it seems.)

    I am still awaiting a response from the professor, but until then I will assume she hasn’t even heard of Mass Effect or Cooper Lawrence. Again, it is clear that Lawrence was referencing Killen’s study, there are no other studies of video games from the University of Maryland.

  9. […] Yay for crisper and more realistic details in new video games. But there is a HUGE difference between not becoming upset when you see a CG character’s head getting blown off…and not being understand it’s fake. Way to distort science, lady.* A nice, concise summary of the study can be read here. […]

  10. […] sure, darling, that University of Maryland study quoted in Fox’s “Sexbox” squib isn’t exactly what it was advertised to be. This study didn’t involve thousands of young children. It didn’t even involve “real life […]

  11. Wanderer says:

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

    We take a premise: Video games are bad.
    We compare the agreement with that premise by gamers and non-gamers.
    We discover that people who play video games don’t think they’re bad.
    We therefore claim that proves video games are bad. Because, y’know, they’ve corrupted the minds of those gamers so they don’t agree with the researcher.

    Last I looked, “you don’t agree with me” is NOT valid proof that someone is wrong about something.

    I think we could prove equally well that NOT playing video games is bad, because people who don’t play games think they’re bad, and we, as healthy gamers, know they’re not. This faux researcher thinks otherwise, so she must be wrong.

  12. Floyd Zamarripa says:

    You are most definitely getting it straight, Wanderer. What you are describing is called “confirmation bias” and it is one of the biggest reasons why studies like this set off my BS Alarm.

  13. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  14. Kiana Vascones says:

    Very Interesting Read! Looking forward to more Bookmarked the site. Was just curious if anybody here could point me to some related material. Thanks in advance.

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