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Violent video games don’t make people want to kill people. Stupid other people do.

February 12, 2011

My Google Reader feed brought me this today. It’s a post from gaming news site Destructoid about psychologist Carole Lieberman‘s defense of a comment she made on about video game violence. In the Fox News article she’s quoted as saying:

“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games.”

Now, I really don’t want to get into the foolishness of the above comment here, as it’s been discussed already. Nor do I intend to write at length about the utter garbage that constituted her response to the criticism she received over said comment (which can be read here). Though, as you can see, a significant portion of that response seems to have been devoted to little more than self-promotion:

I have  been a researcher in media violence for over twenty years and, as such, have testified before Congress several times, been the head of the National Coalition on TV Violence, and have stopped the ‘Schwarzenegger rocket’ (a NASA rocket that had planned to have an ad for “Last Action Hero” on its exterior). I was also invited to contribute an essay to Larry King’s book Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, about video game violence (Click here to download it).”

[or, click here to just read it without jumping through stupid hoops]

What I do want to comment briefly on is the disturbing conclusion that was forced upon me when I actually did click the link and take the time to read the short essay that she submitted to be included in Larry King’s book.

Let me be up front and clear about this – what she’s written there are nine of the most poorly reasoned paragraphs I’ve ever come across; and I read things on the internet every day. And, certainly, this wouldn’t be so troubling were it just a link to a blog where some random idiot babbles about whatever strikes his fancy; however, it’s not – it’s an essay written by a person with the following credentials:

Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H. is a Media Psychiatrist, based in Beverly Hills, and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at U.C.L.A.’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.
This is a woman that not only attended, but completed Medical School; yet throughout her diatribe she demonstrates time and again that she can’t discern the most basic differences between the logical fundamentals of correlation and causation. Take this quote:
One of the first instances that awakened parents and teachers to the nefarious influence of violent media was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, which led tiny tots to make martial arts moves on their playmates.

Really? Hasn’t she ever met a toddler? Little boys hit things, and neither Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, nor the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, nor, frankly, the Lone Ranger or Superman have anything to do with it. Trust me, in the end we boys aren’t smart enough as 3-year-olds to do much else; and what’s more I’m quite certain that little boys in Ancient Mesopotamia hit each other just as much (if not a lot more) as little boys do today. Gilgamesh, it turns out, would have been a total bad-ass for a role model; and at least the equal of Donatello and Raphael combined. And, by the way, he was also an incredibly violent and sexual guy. At least the Ninja Turtles don’t go around chopping off the heads of demons and claiming the right of primae noctis.

However, even blaming Master Splinter for fostering a culture of martial arts madness (a travesty in its own right), isn’t as spurious a claim as linking the Columbine shootings to “the movie ‘The Basketball Diaries’, and the videogame Doom.” It seems never to occur to her that perhaps Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were drawn to violent video games and movies because they were interested in real guns and actual shooting sprees, not the other way around. Just because they played a game now and again and watched a movie a few times doesn’t mean that the offending media was the cause of their violent tendencies. It’s just as likely (or more so) that their affinity for both real violence and fake violence stemmed from something else entirely.

I’m reminded of something a sociology professor I had once said about the link between cocaine addiction and marijuana use. It was something along the lines of:

They say that something like 90% of cocaine addicts tried marijuana at some point first. So what? I’ll bet 100% of them tried milk at some point first, but I don’t see anyone blaming milk for their coke addiction.

Again, causation and correlation don’t mean the same thing. Here’s a fact for you: Dylan Klebold was born on September 11th, 1981 – exactly 20 years before terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. What could that mean, you ask? Nothing, asshole, it’s just a coincidence. Although, in the end, there’s about as much direct evidence linking 9/11 with Dylan Klebold’s birthday as there is linking Columbine with video games.

And oddly enough, for all the “studies” that she cites which demonstrate that violent video games lead to real increases in violence, there seems to be little reflection of this in the real world. Gamers, in my experience (and I would submit that mine is far more relevant than hers considering every person I know my age and younger had a game system in their house growing up) are pretty calm; and, I think even they’ll be the first to admit, kinda nerdy. I just don’t know anyone who plays video games regularly that I’d be afraid to walk down a dark alley with. And furthermore, if Dr. Lieberman thinks American video games are violent, she should take a look at Japanese games; yet they have a significantly lower rate of violent crime than we do here. I’d be curious to hear an explanation of that.

But all of this, in the end, is not really what troubles me the most. Let’s face it, sometimes people draw bad conclusions based on poor evidence and/or a low level of intelligence. I get that. But it concerns me greatly that many of these people have managed to obtain advanced degrees without someone along the line saying, “Hold on, I’m not so sure you’re smart enough to be doing this. Maybe you ought to reconsider and take up pottery.” This alone speaks volumes about what it takes to become an “expert” in something these days. Degrees are as much, if not more, a product of putting in the work on the assembly line of higher education than a measure of true cognitive function.

It’s frustrating that a person could be so obviously incorrect in her assumptions and still be looked upon as an expert in her field. So much an expert, in fact, that:

She serves as a Psychiatric Expert Witness for many high profile trials and covers trials as an Analyst for numerous media outlets. A multiple Emmy award winner, she hosts “Dr. Carole’s Couch” and is a regular guest on top TV and radio shows, as well as being regularly quoted in print.

I’ll bet you didn’t know she was so impressive… unless you read her essay and saw that information displayed as prominently at the bottom of the page as her degrees were. Hosting a TV show is apparently as important in the field of Media Psychology as going to Medical School. Sadly, understanding the topics you write about apparently isn’t.

Oh well, what can we do right? Fuck it, I guess.

I’m going to go beat up a hooker in Grand Theft Auto IV…

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