Insane Video Game in the Membrane
Bruce Bartholow (pictured right) and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that people who play violent video games show diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence. Interestingly, participants seemed to only become desensitized to images of true violence, but not other emotionally-charged images such as pictures of dying children.
The brain mechanism is being called the P300 response. It's a measureable signal seen in an EEG (electroencephalogram). "The P300 reflects an evaluation of the emotional content of an image," says Bartholow, "being larger if people are surprised or disturbed by an image."
The team recruited 39 experienced gamers of varying violent gaming experience. They then showed participants real-life images. Most of these images were considered "control" or neutral images such as a tree. But every once in awhile, researchers inserted violent and negative (but non-violent) scenes, while recording their EEGs.
Scientists found the P300 response within the individuals with the most experience with violent games was smaller and delayed. “People who play a lot of violent video games didn’t see them as much different from neutral,” says Bartholow. They had become desensitised, it seems. That's pretty chilling - the EEG readings when showing a frog on a log and some woman getting her head whacked off were pretty identical??? Wowzers. However, their responses were normal for the negative but non-violent scenes.
“As far as I’m aware, this is the first study to show that exposure to violent games has effects on the brain that predict aggressive behavior,” says Bartholow.
There have been many studies showing that people who play violent video games are more aggressive, more likely to commit violent crimes, and less likely to help others. Does Bartholow's study show this as well? Not really. However, it's a step towards showing a correlation between violent video games and real-life violent tendencies. However, could it be that all the other studies only prove that violent people gravitate towards violent games, not that games can change behavior?
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Modern technology has made video gaming so lifelike, however. More studies will be working to either prove or disprove that these very real games make people more violent. Back in the old days, our video games seem very tame and quite safe for kids. However, upon a closer inspection, perhaps even old school classics could bring out the violent tendencies of any gamer.
Pong: This game is downright ancient. Think about it, though. You've got two little sticks, and only one can win. This little ball is zooming around the screen, and you have to get your "paddle" to deflect the ball. You let the ball go past you, you've lost a point. I remember my palms getting sweaty...heart beat racing when playing pong. This might not be direct violence, per se, but it's a precursor to the future generations of excitement and competition in the video gaming world. This is violent video gaming in its infancy, I tell you!
Donky Kong: Here, you are Mario (an everyday plumber) and you are trying to save Pauline from the evil clutches of Donky Kong, a giant zoo escapee. You run up these different levels while jumping over barrels Donky Kong is hurling towards you. That's pretty violent, wouldn't you say? The barrels smash Mario, or if you do manage to make it to the top, Donky Kong just snatches Pauline and has his way with her, so you've got sexual assault. Geez, what was Nintendo thinking?
Pac-Man: This game seemed innocent enough back in the day - it even spawned a song "Pac-Man Fever" and a Saturday morning cartoon. Here, you are pacman, a big yellow mouth. Your job is to swallow as many pills as you can. Obviously, this game was trying to teach us that taking drugs is good. While you're trying to down as many prescription pills as possible, you've got these four ghosts trying to catch you. The four ghosts are Blinky, Pinky, Inkey, and of course, Clyde. They catch you, they will eat you up. You happen to swallow a super pill, you can eat them up. I'm seeing a cannibalistic message here.
Oh the hummanity!