Monthly Archives: March 2015

Just the billionth opinion you’ve read about violent video games and violent behaviour…

An almost infinite number of academic articles and essays have been published on the topic of media causality, however, Christopher J. Ferguson’s, Ph.D., The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic? (2008: 25-37) is one that is particularly effective in its investigation and evaluation of this highly debated and divisive issue. In this article, Ferguson critically examines and evaluates the increased interest and debate within the media, politics and social sciences on the potential causal role of violent video game exposure on youth behaviour since the seemingly concurrent growth of the video game industry and incidence of “serious acts of school violence” and school shootings in the United States during the 1990s (2008: 25). Some of the reasons for the article’s effectiveness include Ferguson’s expertise in the area, inclusion of a wide variety of supporting and critical sources, the depth of his investigation and use of a structured, objective writing form suited to his audience.

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A graph detailing the number of mass shootings in the US each decade from the 1900s to 2000s (Klein, 2012: 2)

As the associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University and editor for the American Psychological Association’s journal on the relationship between video game exposure and mental health, Ferguson brings a highly qualified perspective on the field of media psychology to this ever-raging debate (Stetson University, 2015: 1-2). However, despite his position, Ferguson manages to maintain refreshingly objective throughout the article. Ferguson achieves this by employing sixty one diverse, credible sources, including the widely acclaimed Secret Service report (2002) and FBI report (1999), and examining the evidence on both sides of the debate, all of which facilitate his formulation of a more informed conclusion. This differs to most articles written on this topic, which normally only use conveniently supportive sources and fail to include any counter-evidence or critical studies.

Furthermore, Ferguson actually directly addresses the issue of politicians and social scientists cherry-picking data when debating video game causality by citing the case of ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine (2005), in which the presiding Judge stated that a number of the most ‘acclaimed’ pro-media causality articles had failed “to cite any peer-reviewed studies that had shown a definitive causal link between violent video game play and aggression… (and had) ignored research that reached conflicting conclusions” (2005: 14-15).

Ferguson’s objectivity and formal writing style comes as a result of the intended audience for this article. Published in the Journal of Investigate Psychology and Offender Profiling, Ferguson’s audience is almost entirely made up of academics and experts within the field of media and criminal psychology, as well as policy-makers interested in creating, amending or abolishing legislation concerning the regulation of violent media.

After examining a wide variety of sources and studies related to the media causality theory, Ferguson comes to the conclusion that “no significant relationship between violent video game exposure and school shooting incidents has been demonstrated in the existing scientific literature, and that data from real world violence call such a link into question” (2008: 25). However, Ferguson still asserts that the purpose of this article is not to sway public view towards either side of this debate, but rather to simply stimulate further debate on media causality and violent video games by acting as a “platform for further discourse and research, as well as a potential source of information for public policy” (2008: 34).

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Eric Harris, aged 18, and Dylan Klebold, aged 17, caught on the Columbine High School security cameras in the cafeteria. The two senior students killed 13 people and injured 24 before committing suicide (Gibbs & Roche, 1999: 1)

For some more info and opinions about the possible link between violent video games and violent behaviour check out any of these Youtube videos!
1. Video games won’t cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2Jq7vPxYGg
2. Video games can cause short-term violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm_l4jEb6us
3. Video games will cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMWEg-DdUDg

Reference List:

ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine 2005, case no. 05 C 4265.

Federal Bureau of Investigation 1999, The school shooter: A threat assessment perspective.

Ferguson, C.J. 2008, ‘The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?’, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 5th edition, Behavioural, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice Department of Texas A&M International University, Laredo, pp 25-37.

Gibbs, N & Roche, T 1999, The Columbine Tapes, Time Magazine, New York City, pp 1.

Klein, E 2012, Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., pp 2.

Stetson University 2015, Christopher Ferguson, Stetson University, DeLand, pp 1-2.

United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education 2002, The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States.

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The Great Media Witch-Hunt

‘Media research’ is defined by Wimmer and Dominick as “an attempt to discover something” (2014) within the field of the media. Due to the vast and multifaceted nature of the media, however, this could involve investigating any issue within any one of the multitudes of channels and platforms through which we consume media in the 21st century. An examination or enquiry into a media-related topic should involve a systematic, accurate and objective research process, beginning with an initial observation, followed by the gathering of qualitative and/or quantitative data, the formulation of a theory and hypothesis, the further gathering and analysis of data and a final deduction that leaves the investigator with a greater understanding of the chosen topic or issue (McCutcheon, 2015: 21-22).

The aspect of the media that I am most interested in researching is the mass media’s tendency to, in cases of youth-related crises, identify a scapegoat as the target of a media-led witch-hunt and campaign of moral panic based on the academically divisive ‘causation theory’. This is especially evident in the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999 and the murders of Suzanne Capper in December 1992 and James Bulger in February 1993.

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The first case study involves shock-rock band Marilyn Manson, whose violent and sexual music and image became the target of a widespread media-led witch-hunt following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 (Jones, 2002: 126-127), when the perpetrators, high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were reported by the media to have been wearing the band’s t-shirts before committing the shooting (Moore, 2002). As a band that played heavy music with anti-Christian lyrics and a shock-goth image, it came as no surprise that Marilyn Manson were subsequently blamed for 36 further school shootings as the media pursued its witch-hunt against the band (Moore, 2002).

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The second case study involves the horror film Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking (1991) and the murders of Suzanne Capper and James Bulger. The first murder was that of 16 year old Suzanne Capper, wherein the perpetrator, McNeilly, “assumed the character of Chucky” by mimicking certain violent scenes from the film and continuously repeating the phrase “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” whilst torturing Capper (Foster, 1993: 2). In this case, it is quite evident that there is a direct cause-effect relationship between the viewing of Child’s Play 3 and the method in which McNeilly tortured and murdered Suzanne Capper. Three months later, however, the film resurfaced in the case of two-year-old James Bulger, who was murdered by ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Apart from the media’s assertion that Bulger’s murder was inspired by Thompson and Venables’ viewing of the third Chucky film, which was later disproved, this case does not contain any evidence to suggest that the boys had seen or been influenced by the film (Faux & Frost, 1993: 1). In fact, the only evidence to suggest why the film was ever linked to Bulger’s murder is the case of Suzanne Capper, which sparked a widespread campaign of moral panic surrounding the impact of violent media, and particularly the Child’s Play franchise as a result of its child-like antagonist and horrific murder scenes, on the psychology of youth and the need for new legislation concerning video films (Morrison, 2003: 1).

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What these cases demonstrate is that the mass media is highly prone to creating scapegoats and spreading campaigns of moral panic in the wake of youth-related crises. Combined with quantitative and qualitative research, I believe that an investigation into this topic could uncover the perspectives of the public, the media corporations and the scapegoats on this issue, as well as the real-life effectiveness of these kind of media campaigns on legislation and public perception, in the hope of exposing the reason why causation theory is such a prominent aspect of current media reporting.

Reference List:
Bender, J 1991, Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking, Universal Pictures, USA.
Faux, R & Frost, B 1993, Boys guilty of Bulger murder, Times, London, pp 1.
Foster, J 1993, Horror fiction became reality, The Independent, London, pp 1-2.
Jones, S 2002, Pop music and the press, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, pp 126-127.
McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 2: What is media research?, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 7-22.
Moore, M 2002, Bowling for Columbine, United Artists, USA.
Morrison, B 2003, Life after James, The Guardian, London, pp 1.
Wimmer, R & Dominick, J 2014, Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th ed., Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.