For those not in the know, Jack Thompson is a former lawyer and demagogue who argued that video games directly caused violence. He was eventually disbarred for the unethical actions taken during his anti-gaming crusade.
Thompson was around at the same time politicians like Joe Lieberman and Hilary Clinton were arguing for restrictions on the sale of violent video games, and there was a real fear of censorship in the gaming community.
Nowadays, games are considered art, and Supreme Court decisions in the US and Canada have extended free speech/expression protection to video games. Despite this, the ghost of Jack Thompson still seems to haunt us.
Many of the arguments (and vitriol) that were lobbed at Thompson are now being used against Anita Sarkeezian. Some gamers apparently see her criticism of tropes in video games as another front in the war for increased censorship, despite never having called for censorship. I’ve seen her called “the new Jack Thompson” in a number of places, and one of the more common (non-harassing) arguments against her is “if video games don’t cause violence, how can they cause misogyny?” I got tired of not knowing the answer to that question, so I decided to see what the peer reviewed studies were saying.
Apparently there isn’t a strong link between violent video games and real-world violence, but that may just be because we don’t have good data on people who commit violent acts. There is very likely a link between violent games and aggression, self-control and cheating, especially in young people with a high degree of ‘moral disengagement’ (see: Interactive Effect of Moral Disengagement and Violent Video Games on Self-Control, Cheating, and Aggression). We can’t quite bridge the gap between those elements and actual violent acts, however.
Misogyny is a different story. We have loads of empirical data that show a link between sexualized characters and tolerance of sexual harassment, likelihood to sexually harass, perceptions of women’s competence (even non-sexualized women), denial of mind and moral concern regarding women, self-efficacy in women, and all kinds of nasty things.
Perhaps the most interesting and relevant study I found was “Virtual Virgins and Vamps: The Effects of Exposure to Female Characters’ Sexualized Appearance and Gaze in an Immersive Virtual Environment“. It’s a bit tricky to parse the abstract, but the gist of the study was that both sexualized and non-sexualized female characters that behave in a stereotypical manner contribute to rape myth acceptance, benevolent sexism, and hostile sexism, while the same characters acting in a non-stereotypical manner result in a reduction in all three. This seems to suggest that the really important and damaging factor is the overuse of SEXIST TROPES! I never expected to confirm Anita’s position like this when I began my analysis.
What do you guys think? I don’t have nearly as many studies on aggression and violence, and I would be interested in hearing other people’s opinions.