A couple days ago, I wrote about a Fox News article on Bulletstorm, the awesomely controversial new shooter from Epic Games coming out very soon. In my post, I ranted about a woman named Carol Lieberman, who directly claimed that video games cause rape. Since then, she did an interview with Kotaku to defend herself. Carol Lieberman vs. Video Games: Round Two.

The Interview: Quotes from the Misguided Doctor

Let’s see what Lieberman had to say in this interview, shall we? The easiest way I can think of to do this is to accumulate all of the bullshit that she says and then respond to it piece by piece. H’okay, so…

“The more video games a person plays that have violent sexual content, the more likely one is to become desensitized to violent sexual acts and commit them.”

No video games exist that have violent sexual content. That’s called porn. If that’s your argument, rail against the porn industry, not the gaming industry. Next.

“Video games have increasingly, and more brazenly, connected sex and violence in images, actions and words. This has the psychological impact of doubling the excitement, stimulation and incitement to copycat acts. The increase in rapes can be attributed, in large part, to the playing out of such scenes in video games.”

Again, no video games have connected violence and sex. Bulletstorm has verbal rewards, such as the words “Gang Bang” popping up on the screen when you kill multiple enemies at once. These are laden with innuendo, no doubt, but again, there is no sex & violence or violent sex or even any sex at all in this game. To suggest that Bulletstorm includes some form of violent, interactive, graphic sex is asinine.

Copycatting is another (extremely rare) phenomenon entirely. Even if one were predisposed to and motivated to copycat Bulletstorm, they’d still have to master anti-gravity, portable tractor beams, and time dilation first. If all of that somehow becomes possible, then I might be concerned about the one in a million copycat nut job who might try to pull it off.

“The thing is that all these thousands of studies relate violent media,including video games, to an increase in violence in general.”

I’m saving this one for later. Read more.

“I would have to dig into the things I have in hard copy or search the Internet, but rape [pause] there have been sexual crimes and the video games have become more sexual …”

You sound like a bullshit salesman with a mouthful of samples. Very few games have actually included sex and I can’t actually think of any that portrayed rape on-screen or at all. Heavy Rain came close with the scene involving Madison and the home invasion, but that paints the prospect of rape as appropriately terrifying, since the protagonist is the one whom the enemies are trying to rape, not something rewarding or encouraged.

“When people combine sexual and violent images, particularly in video games where you’re not just passively watching, you’re pushing buttons, you’re getting physically involved in this act, it has a particularly stimulating impact. It stimulates the sex center of the psyche and the violence center of the psyche and make the whole effect more stimulating.”

Oh, the “sex center of the psyche,” eh? Where can you find that and measure it? It’s funny, because I just brought up a point in my research methods class this week about the difference between neuroscientists and drive theorists and how the notion of “drives” and “psyche” is so utterly rife with garbage.

“And, according to Freud, our impulses… we’re born with natural drives toward aggression and sex. The aggression drive is normally socialized, when we grow up, to become ambition. The sexual drive, as we grow up, is connected to love, if we grow up in a healthy way.”

More “drive” garbage. I can’t stomach this crap and I’ll leave the in-depth academic psychology response to someone with more patience than me. Freud was a sexually repressed guy living in the Victorian era who did a metric fuckton of drugs. It blows my mind that anyone still cites him for anything besides his psychoanalytic approach to therapy.

“But what I am sad, or disappointed in — because I never even thought about this is because people have gone to Amazon, I have a new book out called Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets, and wrote terrible reviews.”

This is pure gold. I never thought about this, but the more I think about it now the more I think it’s such a good idea. What better way to suppress the musings of someone who’s so obviously entrenched in idiocy than to negatively review her work? In the words of Zach Weiner, “This generation fights in a new way, but we fight just as hard.”

The Cold, Hard Facts

Let’s get back to the statement about increasing violence, shall we? I posted this graph last time, which is a chart about rape per capita in the United States over the last several decades:

That sure looks like an upward line to me, doesn’t it? Wait, it doesn’t? Oh, right; I must’ve been standing on my head with all of the blood rushing to my– What’s that? It still looks like a downward trend if you turn it upside down?

How many of you did I just spare from looking at your monitors all funny?

So it does. Touche.

Well clearly, if Lieberman’s statement holds true, then some form of violent crime must be increasing, right? Let’s take a look at robbery, one of the crimes that people typically fear the most.

Amazing. Robbery, which is about twice as prevalent as rape according to these statistics, has also taken a dramatic plunge in the last fifteen years! It’s…it’s almost like violence is on the decline. But wouldn’t that be exactly the opposite of what Dr. Carol Lieberman, owner of many degrees, author of three books, and cited expert in numerous newspapers, television shows, and court cases said?

It turns out Carol Lieberman is actually still a dumbass.

I don’t need to spell this data out. You simply cannot argue that violence is increasing or has been at any time for the past two decades. Almost every year has followed a downward trend for rape, robbery, and just about every other crime you can look up with the Bureau of Justice Statistics. If not specific crimes year to year, then the overall trend has universally and irrefutably been one of less violence and less crime. It would take a moron to suggest otherwise, or, in our case, Carol Lieberman. I don’t mean to imply that the two are mutually exclusive.

So if violence is decreasing, but Lieberman still thinks that games are making people more violent, she could still be right! Maybe adult violence is falling even more rapidly than these trends suggest and adolescents playing violent video games are committing a much greater share of those violent crimes. Maybe adults are even becoming almost non-violent and kids are becoming hyper violent! Studies have universally confirmed that kids play more video games than adults, so it makes perfect sense!

Nope. It turns out that adolescents are not only failing to commit a greater proportion of violent crimes, but they’re actually committing a smaller proportion of them compared to adult offenders. That hypothesis lived a short life, I must confess.

The Counter Hypothesis

To put this all in perspective, let’s look at the overall prevalence of games in general. One of the only reliable ways to examine this is by looking at total gaming industry as a whole and examining revenue by year, given that it would take a large amount of research to determine units sold, total gaming hours across systems, and so on to assemble any other sort of meaningful data. When in doubt, look at the aggregate first, right? I pulled this chart from Wikipedia:

In several of those years, the video game industry earned more revenue than the movie industry. In recent years, I recall that it’s done that repeatedly. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had a similar gross to Avatar and actually netted more money. The production cost for the next game in the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops was about $220M compared to the cost of Tron: Legacy, approximately $200M.

Games are earning more money and becoming an even bigger deal than movies, yet the trend is actually inversely correlated to violent crime. In fact, this chart really starts to bloom around 1996, the exact time when all categories of violent crime universally started to plummet to record-setting lows. If I was in the business of making casual, off-handed claims about causality, I would say that, based on this and the crime data, video games cause a reduction in violence. Since I’m not, all I can say is that video game revenue is strongly and inversely correlated with a decrease in violent crime. That seems to be the exact opposite of what Carol Lieberman is saying.

Give me the time and money to conduct a full-fledged epidemiological study of gaming and violent crime and I will gladly conduct a study that either supports or disproves this statement. I’m so confident of my hypothesis that I’ll even directly try to prove it wrong, a la Karl Popper. I am a research PhD student in criminal justice and criminology, so don’t be surprised if you see this actually happen.

Billions and billions…of studies.

At some point in the interview, Lieberman suggested that “thousands” of studies have been done to demonstrate the causal link between video games and violence. First of all, anyone who suggests that “thousands” of studies are being done on any topic has their head up their ass so far that seeing the world of academia is impossible for them. The order of magnitude for how many studies are conducted on one topic is more like dozens, maybe hundreds if we’re talking about one extremely popular topic in one large field over the course of several years. It doesn’t take an academic to spell this out; anyone who’s ever written a research paper can tell you how easy or difficult it is to dig up studies on a given topic.

Anyway, I dug up a 2001 study specifically on violent video games and aggression from good ol’ Google Scholar, since I really didn’t want to log into IRIS and make this into a full-fledged research paper just yet. The study conducted a survey and did a brief lab experiment, both of which I take some issue with. Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

The survey classified games into six categories: education, fighting with hands, sports, fighting with weapons, fantasy, and skill.

Right. So Portal is…? How about Limbo? Plants vs. Zombies? I could keep going…

“Super Mario Brothers and Mortal Kombat both involve considerable violence…”

I…don’t even need to get into this one. What?

“However, the correlational nature of [the survey] means that causal statements are risky at best. It could be that the obtained video game violence links to aggressive and nonaggressive delinquency are wholly due to the fact that highly aggressive individuals are especially attracted to violent video games.”

This is the meat and potatoes academic statement of the moment, emphasis mine. Aggressive people play aggressive games. Why do you think Carol Lieberman has been getting aggressive hate mail from aggressive people? She attacked an aggressive game that those aggressive people enjoy. Aggressive.

“Wolfenstein 3D was rated as more exciting than Myst.”

You seriously needed funding to determine that? In Wolfenstein 3D you shoot at people and monsters with revolvers, machine guns, and flamethrowers. In Myst you aimlessly wander from place to place clicking on random stuff wondering, “Why am I not doing something else right now?”

Basically, they conducted a survey for one study and an experiment for another that involved playing either Wolfenstein 3D or Myst and then playing a competitive reaction time game where participants were able to give loud sounds as penalties for their losing opponents. People who played Wolfenstein gave louder/longer penalties than people who played Myst, so obviously video games cause rape.

Oh wow, I started talking like Carol Lieberman for a moment there. Phew.

In actuality, video games have a short-term priming effect, meaning they make you think about what it is that you were doing in the game (solving puzzles, killing enemies, or whatever), but so does every other form of media from books to television to movies. Priming has been demonstrated to consistently have a weak effect on actual behavior; making me watch conservative documentaries or making me play video games rife with conservative concepts might make me think about conservative ideals for a while, but it won’t make me vote Republican.

What Does it Mean?

At some point in time, video games got a bad rap. Maybe it was the original Wolfenstein or Doom allowing players to simulate the act of shooting humanoid opponents for the first time. Maybe it was the fact that video games threatened the existing entertainment giants like Hollywood cinema. Maybe video games were just the next in a long line of scapegoats for undesirable human behavior that included Dungeons & Dragons, television, rock and roll, radio broadcast fantasy, exposed calves, and witchcraft; it was just their turn to be blamed for all of the world’s evils. As a result, people like Jack Thompson (barred from legal practice), Joe Lieberman (about to retire), and Carol Lieberman (about to become the next Most Ridiculed “Expert”) have jumped on that bandwagon and tried to lead an uprising against what is now the most popular entertainment medium in the world. These movements have failed time and time again and unless something cataclysmic and horrible happens, they will continue to do so.

The fact of the matter is that gaming really isn’t all that bad. Like all over-sensationalized blamestorming phenomena before now, this, too, shall pass.

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For another excellent response to this topic, check out this article by IGN.