(ANTIMEDIA) It’s one of those questions that currently appears to have no clear answer: Do violent video games lead to violence in reality?
It seems any opinion on the matter can be backed up by evidence, be it scientific data, which exists in abundance, or personal experience, which is immediately relatable to any modern human being. No one is ever proven definitively right, yet no one can ever be shown to be absolutely wrong.
Regardless of your opinion, the facts remain neutral. And one fact, as Quartz reported Wednesday, is that since the beginning of 2017, two studies linking violent behavior to video games have been retracted.
One study looked at the “effect of video game play and controller type on firing aim and accuracy” and found that playing first-person shooters can make people better real-life marksmen. That study, titled “Boom, Headshot!” was published in 2012 in the Journal of Communication Research. After years of controversy, it was pulled in January of this year.
Another, published in Gifted Child Quarterly in 2016, looked at the “effects of violent media on verbal task performance in gifted and general cohort children” and found that kids’ verbal skills temporarily dropped after watching violence on a screen for twelve minutes. Citing questionable data, the journal pulled the paper at the beginning of April.
That data, as it turns out, was collected by someone living in Turkey — someone who hasn’t been heard from since the coup last July.
Interestingly, the retraction of the first study may have played a part in the pulling of the second. That’s because the controversy stirred up by “Boom, Headshot!” centered on one man, and the attention might have gotten people looking at his work more closely.
That man is psychology professor Brad Bushman. He authored “Boom, Headshot!” alone and co-authored the second retracted study with three others. Bushman has long endorsed the idea that violent video games lead to real-life violence and has published several papers on the subject.
But when Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, read “Boom, Headshot!” he saw inconsistencies. Markey and a colleague contacted Ohio State University, where Bushman did his research, about their concerns over the data. Bushman took offense, suggesting Markey was trying to smear him.
“I believe Dr. Markey has an ulterior motive for going after me and my former Ph.D. student Jodi Whitaker,” Bushman wrote in an email to OSU a month later. “He wants to discredit my research and ruin my reputation.”
Smear campaign or not, others have found problems with the man’s methods. The catalyst for the retraction of the paper that ran in Gifted Child Quarterly, for instance, was when a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania found flaws in Bushman’s science.
Joseph Hilgard found the sheer size and consistency of the effect — diminished verbal ability in kids after twelve minutes of consuming violent media — to be quite puzzling. In an interview with Retraction Watch, who monitors scientific studies, Hilgard explained:
“But when I plotted the data, it became visually clear that everyone in the treatment group decreased consistently by similar amounts. It was very unusual for every single data point to behave in such a similar way.”
Maybe Bushman is right, and all this is a smear campaign against him. Maybe he’s wrong, and a deeper look should be taken into his body of work. Either way, the complex question of whether or not there’s a link between violence and violent media will persist.
And as it does, the equally complex answer will continue to elude us.