Video games cause violent behavior. Is that an example of a baseless speculation or is it a reasonable but vaguely founded idea? It seems somewhat plausible but its plausibility seems kind of vague so I can kind of sympathize with the ultra-logical "Reason Magazine" types dismissing it out of hand. On the other hand that kind of dismissal which says that if you can't think of a definite reason for an opinion then it's wrong seems kind of glib, because their does seem to be something to it. After all as general psychological rule we tend to think that encouraging a behavior leads to a behavior and some people might see imaginary violence as a form of encouragement.... but it really does seem like a kind of reasoning that lies somewhere between gut instinct and reason doesn't it? I guess my question is really more epistemological than directly pertaining to the question of whether or not images cause violence. Is this simply a case of balancing human social instinct over pure reasoning or is there a more philosophically disconcerting implication here about the very nature of reason? Are there case in the hard sciences where similar "instinctive" ways of thinking get blurred in with more easily justified ways of thinking?

The question whether video games cause violent behavior is an empirical one. That is, it's one that has to be decided by looking carefully at the evidence, not by reflection on what seems plausible and what doesn't, and anyone who would "dismiss" such a claim "out of hand" is not being very reasonable at all. Nor is someone who bases such an opinion on a vague feeling that "imaginary violence [is] a form of encouragement" being very reasonable.

Fortunately, the social scientists who study these sorts of things have other tools. That is not to say, of course, that the tools are sufficient to answer the question, and of course it continues to be controversial whether video games, or other sorts of "media violence", lead to increased violence in practice. It's difficult to account, in practice, for all the variables. That said, I think most researchers would agree that exposure to media violence does tend to make one less sensitive to the real suffering such violence causes and so does tend to make one more likely to be violent.

In some ways, the debate is reminiscent of the one on global warming. Surprise, surprise, the big oil companies think there's no global warming! Surprise, surprise, the manufacturers of violent video games think they have no ill effects! And both sides can wheel out studies (funded by them, in many cases) to back up their opinions. It's sad.

I recommend this article for some sanity.

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