My research involves ethnography and my PhD minor is Anthropology. As such, I’ve sent a lot of time in classes talking about the role of the researcher and how the researcher brings biases and assumptions to the study. Apparently, this type of self searching and introspection doesn’t seem as evident for many people doing social science “experiments” especially our friends who seem convinced that videogames are bad. Even if the evidence doesn’t support their hypothesis, it doesn’t seem to stop them from finding a reason why even not finding anything wrong is a problem. The most recent case in point comes from a Washington Post article Students See Video Games As Harmless, Study Finds (registration required, but the story has since been picked up by other papers). Now, certainly, I can’t be too hasty in condemning the research because after all, this is being filtered through the newspaper writer’s writing and, therefore, might not accurately represent the findings or beliefs of the researcher. Additionally, I have my own agenda. I think I have made that clear. All that being said, the article paints a picture that is not very rosy.
The article talks about a research study conducted by University of Maryland professor Melanie Killen in which:
Researchers showed them images from a pair of over-the-top video games, one an “extreme” golf outing with strippers as caddies, the other a blood-and-entrails affair. Then, they were asked if what they had seen could be harmful.
First of all, they weren’t really from videogames.
Killen and fellow researchers at the University of Maryland’s Human Development Department interviewed more than 100 college students, whose average age was 19, for 45 minutes each. They showed them images from a series of imaginary video games, each one modeled on a familiar genre in the gaming industry.
Unfortunately, this little detail isn’t mentioned until halfway through the article. Even so, “most subjects understood that the two over-the-top games depicted negative themes and harmful stereotypes.”
One would think, great, this study proves that games know that there are negative stereotypes in games. Wrong. The very next sentence makes this abundantly clear, “But they failed to see how that content could harm them.” The article ends with: “It’s not like they were in denial about stereotypes,” Killen said. “But they for some reason think it’s not going to affect them.” So there it is, the assumption that exposure to stereotypes, even if you know that they are negative stereotypes is harmful. Gamers can’t win. Period. And it isn’t like any other form of media has stereotypes or anything…
Of course, the article in and of itself is horrible and it is entirely possible that the biases that seem to come from Killen’s research are from Daniel de Vise the article’s author. In just one article, in addition to the findings of Killen and her team, de Vise manages to bring up Columbine, make a drive-by swipe at Grand Theft Auto, talk about how “photorealistic” the graphics have become, and quote Craig A. Anderson who has spent much of his academic career rehashing the same arguments that media and videogames in particular are evil and make you go crazy and kill people. Wow! All that is missing is a quote from Grossman and Thompson (either Jack or Robert)!