According to a new study by a researcher at Texas A&M International University, studies that see a connection between video games and violent behavior usually suffer from shoddy research techniques. Dr. Christopher Ferguson studied the results of a number of recent studies linking violent video games to aggressive behavior with an eye not just to individual results, but also to overall trends in the studies as a whole.
Wait, but I thought we knew that virtual violence made players nastier and more aggressive!
Ferguson found that the connection between violence and gaming had more to do with publication bias than it did with any actual correlation. In other words, journals were more likely to publish studies that supported the hypothesis that playing violent games made a subject more prone to violent behavior.I, for one, am not surprised, but this did remind me of an article I read a few days ago about the benefits of playing video games:
Playing video games appears to help surgeons with skills that truly count: how well they operate using a precise technique, a study said Monday.
There was a strong correlation between video game skills and a surgeon's capabilities performing laparoscopic surgery in the study published in the February issue of Archives of Surgery.
It supports previous research that video games can improve "fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, visual attention, depth perception and computer competency," the study said.
The sample size involved was actually pretty small, but I've got first-hand experience using video games to help students with visual processing or sensory-motor skill disorders. It turns out that experts actually recommend video games for those purposes, and I see no obvious reason why similar sorts of benefits wouldn't be seen more generally.
What's more, one of my girlfriend's pet theories is that computer science offers a medium in which one can be a comfortable, confident learner because mistakes are neither embarrassing nor dangerous; you can always just start over if you screw up, and nobody has to be the wiser. Students are therefore more likely to take risks and push the limits of what they know. They can also look forward to immediate feedback, which is definitely gratifying. My girlfriend typically emphasizes those potential benefits of programming, but I see very similar phenomena with even the fairly primitive computer games I give my students to, say, study for geography quizzes.
None of which is to say that kids ought to be playing Grand Theft Auto at school, but I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that 1) it would be nice to see computers better integrated into the school day and 2) that kids deserve leisure time and there are certainly worse, less-productive ways to spend it than on video games. They could be blogging, for instance.