The excellent Game Politics blog recently did a little investigating of claims by Louisiana attorney general Jack Johnson and other anti-game violence politicians. Apparently Johnson has been touting an American Psychological Association study that he said had found that violent video game play causes real world violent acts.
I happen to know the current chair of the APA committee responsible for their report on violence in video games, Dr. Elizabeth Carll. She gave me a bit more background on the issue.
The APA did come out with a fairly strongly worded statement citing various research indicating possible correlation of violent video game play and violent actions. Elizabeth herself testified before the Senate on this matter, calling for a decrease in violent content in video games targetting children and a better rating system.
One interesting tangent, at least to me, is the question of whether or not "griefing" (i.e. anti-social behavior) in virtual worlds correlates with violent game play.
That is: does engaging in simulated violent acts within computer games "leak" into people’s actions within non-violent virtual spaces, such as Second Life and There?
In these virtual worlds, "griefers" are a sometimes frequent annoyance. These usually anonymous users engage in anti-social behaviors like using simulated weapons or harassing other users with inappropriate language or otherwise trying to disrupt other people’s virtual activities.
I surmise that some of these anti-social activities come some users view that "this is just a game" and that their actions don’t have consequences. Look, for example, at this exchange between a Second Life resident and someone trying to extort money from them. When confronted the griefer responds, "its fake fucking money" and "you are taking this too seriously."
One can imagine how the user got that impression. Playing Second Life is done from a first person 3D view, quite similar to the view of the world when playing first person shooters like the "Grand Theft Auto" series or "Quake." Many of these games support online play with others, in the course of which it is acceptable to shoot someone in the back or smite him with a hammer. That’s just part of the fun.
These are screenshots of Second Life on the left and Halo on the right.
So rezzing into Second Life and seeing all these other "characters" walking around, flying, driving vehicles, whatever, it should be no surprise that a gamer would want to pull out his BFG and have at it. That’s what it takes to win, right?
The reality is that there might be serious consequences to griefing. Linden Labs, the owners of the virtual world Second Life, recently banned 60 users for being involved in virtual attacks on the world itself. Actual criminal charges might be filed against those responsible, similar to a hacker "denial of service" attack against a website.
I don’t know if much research has been conducted on the phenomenon and whether or not a correlation can be found between "griefing" and violent game play. But this is certainly one of those areas where the lines between simulated action and real world consequences start to blur.