Tuesday, June 3, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Last week, I drew attention to Glenn Beck’s rant on video games and his ludicrously inconclusive claims about Call of Duty and suicidality along with the comical assumption that the pipe games, button prompts, and overall premise of Watch Dogs teaches children how to hack docked iPads. It was a mind numbing rant to say the least, however I couldn’t help but be troubled by his readings of coroner John Pollard’s determination (based on “not enough evidence” mind you) of Call of Duty’s influence on investigated teenage suicides.

Suicidality can be caused by many things. A diagnosis of major depressive, and various instances of other types of depression, often stymie’s one’s ability to cope in even the most moderately stressful situations. It can also increase isolation and pessimistic outlook, and sometimes cripple rationale to the point that in the event of a serious confrontation or a series of accumulated small ones: whether that may be a death, loss of employment, discovered illness, or anything that challenges their sense of control,  that they may not see any other way to solve their problem other than ending their life. Not all suicides have been clinically labeled as a result of some form of depression, however often there are environmental, trauma based, and behavioral clues that would lead up to such an event.

Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University, wrote a piece on The Conversation – which was then reposted on Gamasutra – in response to the coroner’s claims of Call of Duty’s involvement. He begins:

Teenage suicide is a tragedy for any family and those affected will naturally want reasons why their loved ones have taken their own lives. There are hundreds of scientific studies on suicide and many risk factors have been identified, including psychological, environmental and genetic or biological factors. Conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse can also heighten the risk.

He then looks to studies that have claimed to have found a link between video games and suicidality:

“A 2011 US study of 30,000 teenagers reported that those who spent more than five or more hours a day playing video games were slightly more likely to have thought about suicide. A similar finding was also reported in a large national German study of more than 15,000 teenagers in 2010.”

Griffiths continues in pointing out that such findings were mere links, and reiterating that famous statement those of us who have taken statistics in school have heard, “Correlation does not mean causation.”

So what could have happened to these poor boys? We are all more than well aware of the hostile environments such as Xbox Live, communities fraught with racism, sexism, homophobia, and any other form of hate speech. Such environments can be demoralizing to one with low self-esteem, especially for those who may have even given suicide some serious thought. However if that may be the case, then that is an internet problem, not a video game one. Many of the claims of video game’s influence on young minds aren’t exclusive to video games and video games alone; sports and any other platform of skill based activity fosters issues with self-esteem and aggression as well. In fact, the University of Oxford in the UK’s study on video game’s influence on aggression highlights with perfectly.

Griffiths calls these research and reportings as mere attempts of “scapegoating”. But while agenda driven logic may be able to fabricate a plausible narrative as to how video games causes violent behavior, its influences on suicide and educating hacking is just about the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

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