Christopher J. Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and has conducted dozens of studies on the behavioral impacts of video games across multiple realms including violence, addiction, sexism and body image. He has coauthored the book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong. He lives in Orlando with his wife and son
Sex, Lies and Videogames: Why Videogames Still Struggle to Overcome Moral Panic
For the past few decades video games have been the focus of widespread concerns regarding violence, addiction and sexist content. In the United States, video games are blamed for high gun violence rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) has claimed that excessive gaming is tantamount to a disease. Activists worldwide express concerns that the sexist content of some games may lead to sexism and misogyny in real life. But is there good research evidence to support these claims? Lessons learned from the “video game violence” research era are instrumental. The term “violent video game” never held conceptual, scientific value, yet was used as an emotional loadstone. This resulted in overstatements of evidence by politicians, scholars and professional guilds such as the American Psychological Association. In some cases, hyperbole continued despite mounting evidence that action-oriented games are associated with, if anything, declining trends in violence and evidence for even effects on mild aggression remained inconsistent. Nonetheless repetitions of this trend continued with discussions of “sexist” games and their impact on sexism in real life as well as the controversy over the WHO’s “gaming disorder.” In both cases activists for particular positions which appear to disparage games pushed forward aggressively despite the presence of evidence that might have advised a more cautious approach. It is time for a reassessment of games research and how a societal culture of moral panic impacted games research over the past few decades. However, these cultural issues can be repaired first by understanding the historical patterns of moral panic that scholars contributed to and second by embracing a culture of open science.