The Federal Government today released a report finding current research into the effects of violent video games on aggression levels of those who play them was “contested and inconclusive”.
The report (available in full online) is part of the ongoing investigation by the Attorney-General’s Department into whether Australia needed an R18+ classification scheme for video games. A broad community consultation process has also been held; but the final decision on whether a new classification will be created rests in the hands of the state and federal attorneys-general.
The lack of an R18+ classification system has resulted in various popular video games — such as Left 4 Dead 2 — being censored for the Australia market or refused classification so that they are unable to be sold locally. Some game publishers have been forced to modify their games prior to release in Australia, meaning some local releases have been delayed.
The report examined current research into the effects of violent video games on aggression, investigating claims by some in the community that playing such games was more likely to lead to violent behaviour in real life.
The report concluded that much of the current research had shown that playing violent video games was “a small to moderate” risk factor, at least “in the short term”. However, it also found that there were sufficient criticisms of the current research to reduce its relevance to governments when setting policy. For starters, the research had not been granular enough.
“Researchers have not devoted sufficient attention to the question of severity of violent content (eg, cartoonish violence vs realistic violence) and whether it has differing effects,” the report found. “Some studies appear to show games featuring cartoonish violence are just as harmful as games featuring realistic violence.”
In addition, the report found it was not currently known whether violence deemed “socially acceptable” — such as in sports games — had a different effect to “antisocial” violence.
Some of the other findings of the report were a consensus that violent video games were more likely to have an impact on people with psychotic personality traits and that there was little evidence that violent video games had a greater impact than other violent media.
In addition, the report found that researchers who did argue violent video games caused aggression had not disproved alternative theories being put forward by their critics or engaged with them on the subject; and that the idea that other variables such as family and peer influence and socioeconomic status could also be factors behind aggressive tendencies had not been well explored.
The next step in the process reviewing the need for an R18+ classification will be a discussion on the subject by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in Canberra next week on 10 December.
Image credit: Screenshot from Epic’s Gears of War game