In a feature on Canadian site Maisonneuve, Chris Lavigne noted that the big problem with the studies people are conducting on video games and their psychological impact are fundamentally flawed.
He goes on to say this is due largely to the fact that the eggheads doing the research just don’t “get” video games, citing a recent Dutch study that used Crash Bandicoot and Tekken as their contrasts for “violent” and “non-violent”, a study that any informed gamer would call senseless, and not just for reasons of vested interest.
While individual experiments suffer many design flaws like these, the most common problems come from how researchers define which games are violent or aggressive. People familiar with gaming know there is more than one kind of violence. Researchers, though, are shockingly imprecise. They don’t distinguish between violence done to innocents or done to “bad guys,” humans or animals, living beings or machines, monsters or supernatural creatures, vehicles or property, soldiers or terrorists, or the many other contexts that affect how players perceive violence. We’d never lump movies together that way. We all know there’s a difference between the violence in Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda.
Incidentally, many of these arguments could be applied to the concept of game review scores and the seeming obsession gamers have with comparing highly dissimilar games on the basis of arbitrary number scores.
That said, this sort of problem occurs with every generation of media. Similar studies were conducted back when film and various musical genres were new. It’s a symptom of a society struggling to understand the new, and without a doubt we may in the future be conducting studies of whatever effects developments like Project Natal and the success of the Wii may have on gaming to come.