I felt the need to have a little rant. Last night I watched Jo Frost’s Supernanny Extreme Parental Guidance (hoping to pick up some tips, clearly) and managed to get very, very annoyed at one of the features. This centred around whether violent computer games make kids lack empathy, and the experiment was so full of holes it was ridiculous.
To start they quoted some facts about the average child watching a screen for six hours a day, and immediately started talking about violent computer games. The inference is clear; they have just failed to mention that he average child watches television, and uses the computer in a whole range of other ways. Next, we have the controlled trial: 40 teenage boys split into two groups, one playing a violent game for 20 minutes, the other playing a football game. 40 subjects. 20 minutes. The boys’ heart rates were tested during the game play and the rate of those playing the violent game was found to be higher (although no mention of the word significant was made at any point).
At this point Jo Frost looks worried. So they’ve ‘proved’ that twenty boys on one occasion some had a higher average heart rate than another twenty. I can feel her constanation. Clearly we need no more evidence to see how computer games are rotting the minds of our youth. But there is more…
The next part of the experiment involved the researcher ‘randomly’ interviewing participants from each group (how many is not made clear – four? five? nineteen?), which the viewer sees through a hidden camera. During the interview, the researcher accidentally knocks over a jar of pens and in the majority of cases the boys who had played the football game helped pick them up while those that had played the violent game did not. What more proof do you need that violent computer games lead to lack of empathy? Except that the researcher had obviously decided that violent games were the work of Satan before the start of the experiment and had pre-judged the actions of the boys. When he dropped the pens during an interview with a football game player he stopped, looked at the pens and started to pick them up – the boy reluctantly helped; whereas with the violent game players he ignored the pens and so did the boys. They were simply mirroring him.
Now, I’m not going argue that violent games don’t make children lack empathy (to be honest, I don’t know enough about it), and I appreciate that there may be more to the experiments than could be typically shown in a short TV feature. However, I strongly feel that that faux-scientific experiments and Brass-Eye style media frenzy is not the way to take a rigourous and impartial look as something as serious as the potential effects of violent games.