In August, the New York Times published an opinion piece that presents evidence that violence in fiction leads to real-world crime. Today, the newspaper posted a response piece that also invites gamers and others to weigh in on the topic as part of its Sunday Dialog.
New York Times‘ editors are asking readers to send in brief thoughts on the matter to firstname.lastname@example.org. It plans to publish some of the responses as part of the Sunday Dialogue feature in the Sunday Review.
In a letter to the editor, National Coalition Against Censorship executive director Joan Bertin argued that the studies are inconclusive. She also points out that while parents might have good reasons to limit or prohibit the media their children consume, but that does not “justify dispensing half-truths about the effects of popular entertainment.”
“Efforts to ban or restrict creative imaginative, and diverting material — from novels and film to comic books, popular music, and video games — have always relied on oversimplified claims that they ’caused’ problems ranging from juvenile delinquency to sexual promiscuity,” writes Bertin. “These arguments have proved groundless and seem foolish in hindsight. Think, however, what a drab place the world would be if they had prevailed.”
Bertin is responding to an opinion piece by forensic psychiatrists Vasilis K. Pozios, Praveen R. Kambam, and H. Eric Bender, who together are the founders of media-consulting group Broadcast Thought.
In their piece, the doctors argued that some research suggests violent media could lead to real-world violence:
Exposure to violent imagery does not preordain violence, but it is a risk factor. We would never say: “I’ve smoked cigarettes for a long time, and I don’t have lung cancer. Therefore there’s no link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer.” So why use such flawed reasoning when it comes to media violence?
There is now consensus that exposure to media violence is linked to actual violent behavior — a link found by many scholars to be on par with the correlation of exposure to secondhand smoke and the risk of lung cancer. In a meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990, the psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik found that the short-term effect of exposure to media violence on actual physical violence against a person was moderate to large in strength.
In response to that claim, Bertin points out that crime rates have fallen even as consumption of violent media increases. That seems to break the secondhand-smoke metaphor because cancer risks increases as smoking rates rise.