Like a lot of young university researchers, I once placed almost total confidence in numbers as the basis of knowledge.
If a research study were done properly, the variables were all brought under control, the observations all reduced to numbers and those digits were crunched properly, then the results formed a stronger basis for knowledge than anything else on the planet.
Those results were stronger than anecdotal evidence, stronger than what your mom or dad told you, stronger than common sense. In fact, a researcher once convinced me common sense didn’t even exist. I believed it until a good friend — herself a scientist — pointed out one day that everytime I came in from across a muddy yard, my shoes would leave tracks on the carpet. So take off your shoes.
That, she rightly noted, is common sense.
Since then, I’ve had new respect for that concept. I still place value in well-executed quantitative studies, but I also place a lot of value in common sense.
For example, media researchers will often tell you there is no body of research that proves violence on the Internet, television, video games, or in the movies leads to real-life violence. If young Edgar witnesses a spate of bodies dropping in prime time, it doesn’t follow that he is going to become the next Jeffrey Dahmer. But it is also true that the two young Colorado shooters who left 12 bodies in their bloody shooting rampage at Columbine High School were extremely heavy players of Internet games.
New York Daily News health advice columnist Dr. Dave Moore recently told a reader that the gaming habits of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were contributors to their bloody Columbine act, and explained why their favorite game of “Doom” was so dangerous. Doom was the hottest 3D action game of the time, launched in 1993 and named video game of the year in 1994 by PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World.
Video Game Addiction
Still, Dr. Moore told the advice-seeker, “You, and unfortunately parents, are clueless about what creates the video game addiction. What separates Doom from other video games and toys is one big point. They are deliberately programmed to make the player a ‘first person shooter’. You are not controlling a character, YOU ARE the character. Parents can see that transformation start in their video gaming kids – what addiction specialists call negative developmental changes.”
A quantitative researcher would say there were other variables involved with Klebold and Harris that would not be found in an across-the-board sample of teenagers. That’s true, but there are still a healthy number of kids out there with the unhealthy tendencies and vulnerability of these two, waiting to be triggered by mediated violence. Communication researchers have identified what they call an Aggression Stimulus Theory or Aggressive-cue Theory that shows the media violence can prepare someone — condition him or her — to act violently.
A Literal Defense
On the other side are defenders of the video game, Doom, now in its third iteration. This observation comes from a site called Old.doom.com: Choosing to take a more literal approach to the connection between the features of Doom and Columbine, the unnamed writer says:
“I personally believe that Doom had nothing to do with the Columbine High School attack. I seriously doubt that Kelly Fleming was running at the shooters hurling fireballs from her hand when she was shot or that Corey DePooter was chrarging them with a shotgun. In Doom, Hell Knights don’t comfort each other under the table crying. Humans have been killing each other since the beginning our of existence, before Doom was ever around. Harris and Klebold were going to shoot up their school no matter what.”
Good News, Bad News
Some parents might breathe a sign of relief to discover that heavy television viewing has decreased somewhat among teens, and that some video stores are having trouble keeping the doors open because of lower sales. The bad news, of course, is that young people are flocking to the Internet instead to get their kicks — literally when it comes to violent online video games. So the influence that may have helped propel Dylan and Eric is still there; it has just changed platforms.
Check These Out
If you want to attach some weight to statistics, try these from the Web site, Enough is Enough:
* American teens are more wired now than ever before. According to our latest survey, 93 percent of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old use the internet. In 2004, 87 percent were internet users, and in 2000, 73 percent of teens went online.
* 20 percent of teens have engaged in cyberbullying behaviors, including posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous e-mails or cyberpranking someone.
* 48 percent of K-1st reported viewing online content that made them feel uncomfortable, of which 72 percent reported the experience to a grownup, meaning that one in four children did not.
* 63 percent of teens said they know how to hide what they do online from their parents.
* 65 percent of high school students admit to unsafe, inappropriate, or illegal activities online
And the prevalence of Internet gaming?
* The most common recreational activities young people engage in on the computer are playing games and communicating through instant messaging.
Here’s what the site, Teen Violence Statistics says about internet violence, its methods and influence:
“While most people think of teen violence occurring at school or in the teens’ neighborhoods, some teen violence occurs or starts on the Internet. The Internet can both encourage and prevent teen violence, depending on who pays attention or speaks up.”
And the ways that can occur? The same Web site notes:
Teen Internet violence and cyberthreats can occur in many ways. A teen may use the internet to:
- Directly threaten to hurt someone
- Indirectly threaten someone, like saying, “You’d better watch out at school tomorrow”
- Manipulate someone by threatening to hurt their loved ones
- Write about hurting him or herself, wanting to end it all, or feeling that life isn’t worth living
- Read or publish hateful information about a certain person or group of people
- Talk about wanting to hurt or kill other people
- View or post threatening pictures, songs, videos, or other forms of media
- Play games that encourage violence. Studies have found connections between playing violent computer games and acting violently toward other people.
- Visit web sites about violence or self harm
- Engage in cyberbullying
The Best Math
As I think about it, probably the best means of gaining knowledge about issues like this is to combine statistics and common sense. When it comes to the dysfunctional aspects of Web addiction, that’s when the numbers really add up.