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Army video game breeds violence with tax money
by Brad Bushman
Detroit News
May 9, 2004

The U.S. Army has produced a violent video game in which players can "join the Army" and kill enemy terrorists. Called "America's Army," it is the most popular video game on the Internet with more than 3 million registered players.

Although people who play "America's Army" learn about the history of the Army, they do not learn about the horrors of war. The graphics look realistic, but the violent consequences are glazed over.

When a player is shot, a puff of blood is shown and the player falls to the ground. No one is shown suffering or writhing in pain. At the end of the mission, the player comes back to life again for the next mission.

At the end of the day, the player gets a violent video game for free. Actually it is not free, because taxpayers coughed up the money used to develop and promote the game.

It's one thing if the Army wants to use video games to desensitize soldiers so they can more easily kill "the enemy." But it's another thing to desensitize civilians in the same way, especially impressionable young people.

My colleague Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, and I reviewed 85 violent video game studies in 2001. A total of 6,750 subjects were included in these studies. We found that violent video games increase aggressive behavior, increase aggressive thoughts, increase angry feelings, increase physiological arousal (for example, heart rate and blood pressure) and decrease helping behavior.

"America's Army" is particularly pernicious because it's a first person shooter game, meaning the player has a first person perspective. The game is rated for teenagers 13 and older, but anyone can download it from the Internet. Gamers can play with other people on the Internet.

More than 50 years of research converge on the indisputable conclusion that violent media increase aggression. In fact, the U.S. surgeon general came to this conclusion more than 30 years ago.

In March 1972, Jesse Steinfeld, former surgeon general, said: "It is clear to me that the causal relationship between televised violence and anti-social behavior is sufficient to warrant appropriate and immediate remedial action. ... There comes a time when the data are sufficient to justify action. That time has come."

Since then, the scientific evidence has grown stronger.

The effect of media violence on aggression is not trivial. The effect of media violence on aggression is stronger than the effect of asbestos on cancer, the effect of lead poisoning on IQ scores and the effect of wearing a condom on HIV.

The surgeon general warning applied to TV programs. But there are at least three reasons to believe violent video games are even more harmful than violent TV programs:

* Watching TV is a passive activity, whereas playing a violent video game is much more active. Research indicates that people learn better when they are actively involved.

* TV viewers may or may not identify with violent characters in TV programs and films. Video game players must identify with the violent character they control. In first person shooter games, the player is the violent character.

* Any rewards obtained from violent TV programs and films are indirect. For example, it may be rewarding to see the hero or heroine prevail. The rewards in violent video games are direct. Players usually get points for killing people. In some games (including Americas Army), players get praised for behaving aggressively ("Nice shot!").

The Army has no more right to use taxpayer money to distribute this harmful product to potential recruits than the tobacco industry would have to use taxpayer money to introduce young people to cigarette smoking. Both reduce the chances of leading long and healthy lives.

Brad Bushman is a professor of psychology and communication studies at the University of Michigan. Write letters to letters@detnews.com.

Posted: May 10, 2004


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