April 27, 2014
New Video Game Industry Study Might Distort Truth
There have been a number of scientific studies conducted over the past couple years on video games. Sometimes the results seem to contradict other studies. For example, researchers from the University of Rochester and the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University found that video game aggression could be brought on by the failure to win, not the content of the game; while another study conducted at Ohio State University found that violent video games could kill self-control and increase unethical behavior.
While these studies have all presented interesting and unique findings, the studies do have one thing in common – these were conducted at the university level and thus can be trusted to be at least somewhat scientific.
This week, the findings of a new study suggested that more than 50 percent of American homes own a game console and that the majority of parents say video games are a positive part of kids’ lives. There is no surprise that the ownership levels of video game consoles are so high. The study also highlighted that the 56 percent of parents say that video games are good for kids.
Two points to make on that: first, 56 percent is a true majority, but the way the study is presented would have the casual reader believing it to be much higher. The press release doesn’t say “just over half,” and the video game news outlets that have picked up on this story are running with the “majority” moniker. It sounds better, I agree, but it is somewhat misleading.
The other point – actually the point to make – is that this study didn’t come from a university. It was conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which is trade association that represents the US video game industry.
Now, let’s consider the main pull quote in the press release:
“Parents across America recognize the widespread benefits of video games, including education, mental stimulation, and the bonding opportunities they create for families,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, via a statement. “Video games are a favorite pastime enjoyed by men and women of all ages, and millions worldwide who share their game play experiences with friends and family.”
Is this really accurate? Do “parents across America” really recognize the benefits that video games bring? Again, only slightly more than half of American parents in the study conducted by the ESA said games were a positive part of kids’ lives! Imagine how that quote might have been written had the number come in just seven points lower?
Now as a reporter, I don’t mean to pick on the video game industry. I’ve covered this industry for much of my adult life and I actually don’t have a problem with video games. What I have a problem with are trumped up studies from trade groups that are dubious and somewhat questionable.
For example, the release added:
“The report also found that parents monitor their children’s game play. In fact, 95 percent of parents report paying attention to the content of the games their children play, and 91 percent are present when games are purchased or rented. Additionally, 88 percent of parents whose children play games believe the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) video game ratings are either very or somewhat helpful in choosing games for their children.”
As someone who has written a bit about the ratings – and for the record I don’t believe the ratings work at all – I find that above statement to border on misinformation. As recently as last month, USA Today noted that psychology professor Brad Bushman questioned whether the ratings work.
Back in 2007, Harris Interactive also conducted one of the most extensive surveys about ratings of movies and TVs and found that most parents couldn’t make heads or tails when it came to ratings.
Now since 2007 the ratings haven’t changed, so are parents suddenly more in-tune, or could the ESA just be skewing the numbers?
The final part of this is that this study is coming out now, just as the warmer weather is arriving after one of the most brutal winters in memory. There is nothing wrong with video games, and I do enjoy games, but I also find the timing of this study to be poorly timed.
This nation still has an issue with childhood obesity and maybe we should encourage our youth to get outside and play, instead of playing hours more of games in front of the TV. I think a real majority of parents would like to see their kids get some exercise and live healthier lives.
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