Violent games cause aggression in men, but not women

Those ladies will be fine. But that guy's doomed.

Here's the latest in scientists looking for a link between games and real-life behavior: Brad Bushman of Ohio State and Bryan Gibson of Central Michigan University conducted a study that investigates whether playing a violent game and thinking about the game for 24 hours afterward has a negative effect the following day. Turns out it does, but only for the dudes:

For men who didn't think about the game, the violent video game players tested no more aggressive than men who had played non-violent games. But the violent video game playing men who thought about the game in the interim were more aggressive than the other groups. The researchers also found that women who played the violent video games and thought about the games did not experience increased aggression 24 hours later.

The violent game example is Mortal Kombat, and the example of a competitive-but-non-violent game is Guitar Hero. The women and men who didn't ruminate about their gaming had no change in aggression. Guitar Hero is "safe" whether you think about it for hours, or not. But apparently, analyzing your fighting game strategy makes you into a jerk ... if you're male, that is. (Annnd pause for laughter from the lady-gamers -- we've all known that guy, right?)

It seems that women are more capable of holding games at arm's length, whereas men can't seem do so once there's bloodshed on the screen. Kotaku commenters played the hormones card, but there's more to it than that. For example, this study explains that "testosterone is as much the result of violence as its cause. Indeed, both winning a sporting match and beating an opponent at chess can boost testosterone levels." It's unclear whether having a lot of testosterone causes violence, or whether engaging with violence causes testoserone levels to increase. A little of column A, a little of column B?

The other big factor is cultural: our assigned gender roles. Women shy away from competition and men embrace it (according to this study). Not to mention that women acting competitive is considered unattractive in our society. Ladies are supposed to be demure and passive, after all. They oughtn't get emotionally involved in Mortal Kombat. Whereas, men are told to compete, compete, compete from day one.

No discussion of violent games would be complete without a "what about the children" finale. The State of California is very worried about children playing violent games. (Although we apparently needn't worry much about the female children.)

That Kotaku article summarizes the Supreme Court's current California vs. games debacle, and it even includes some gems from California's defense team:

Does playing violent video games lead to aggressive or violent behavior? Yes, and nearly as much as the other major indicator of youth violence: gang membership. Playing violent video games ranks almost as high as gang membership as the number one tell-tale sign among youth for a propensity to commit violence. See Violent Video Game Effects, infra, at 143 (utilizing for comparison purposes data from a 2003 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
Playing violent video games is a far bigger risk factor than other familiar indicators of youth violence. For example, playing violent video games is three times greater as a risk factor for aggressive/violent behavior than engaging in substance abuse, being from a broken home, having a low IQ or even having abusive parents. Id. Playing violent video games is nearly two times greater as a risk factor for aggressive/violent behavior than having a record of prior violence or being a large consumer of media violence.

Ugh, gamers are deplorable, aren't we? (Or, at least, some uncertain percentage of us seem to be.) And studies like the one in my first paragraph make it more difficult to argue that violent people gravitate towards violent games, rather than games being the cause of violent behavior.

Ultimately, I'd prefer to blame gender roles instead of games. I like one much better than the other, after all. There aren't nearly enough gangs made up of female gamers! No, wait ... was that my argument? Hm, yeah, let's go with that.

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