Videogames and Psychology


So it’s been well documented by now that one Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist, was quoted on Fox News for saying that “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 of copycat acts. The increase in rapes can be attributed, in large part, to the playing out of such scenes in video games.” This quote, of course, created quite the outrage in the video game community. It felt quite a bit like she was directly attacking the video game community itself, and that’s pretty not cool. (Photo: Flickr user vancouverfilmschool)

The later, in a Kotaku article allowed her  to explain the comment a bit further, adding “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.” There are also allegedly “thousands” of studies to support her claims.

Let’s be frank: There aren’t. The studies do not exist, and in fact most studies point in the opposite direction. According to The Escapist, Ryerson University in Toronto published a study to show that video games do not desensitize people to violence (though the study remained inconclusive when it came to children). So at least for adults, it would appear that video games really aren’t harmful, and the demographic “M” rated games are being targeted towards don’t desensitize us. That’s good. But can we say anything positive about video gaming experiences?

According to Gamers Daily News, East Carolina University published a study that showed how casual gaming (not violent) helped reduce depression and anxiety. In November, Time Magazine published an article stating that Tetris apparently helped prevent PTSD flashbacks. That’s actually pretty awesome. If you’re feeling stressed, a few rounds of Tetris or Bejeweled will apparently help set you on your feet.

That being said, are we as video gamers really doing anything to offset the stigma? Our forums and voice chat in game often sound like a mildly tamer version of /b/. In response to Dr. Lieberman’s quote, at least a few gamers e-mailed her with inflammatory e-mails which to those already indoctrinated in this style of humor might understand as trolling, but to those judging us might actually sound real. The previously linked Kotaku article prints a few of those e-mails.

What it boils down to is that while there are obvious benefits to playing video games, the psychology of it isn’t fully explored yet. Apparently those of us who play racing games are more likely to get a license faster, but also get more tickets and act generally like fools on the road while getting into less accidents. As gamers we should be aware of the effects games have on us with real knowledge and studies as opposed to sensationalism in the news.

We should also be working towards fixing the stereotype of the violent gamer. Sure, we can curse and say whatever on voice chat just because it’s a general reactions (and according to Mythbusters a way to lessen pain), but we should also react with civility when presented with accusations of violence. E-mailing a psychiatrist and saying that you want to rap 10 year old girls is probably a bad thing. What could have been a learning experience and an attempt to share knowledge was instead turned into a way for Dr. Lieberman to feel justified.

Also remember the main point of video games: They’re fun. So let’s remember to enjoy them for all that they’re worth!

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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