American mainstream news media is well-known for sensationalizing violence. This seems all too often to result in public panics, scrambling politicians, and intense regulation. Every decade or so sees the reemergence of several controversial public conversations like the gun-control dispute, drug enforcement debate, and possibly the most frequently seen, the media violence controversy.
There have been many well-known crusaders for the cause of stopping violence in media over the past several decades, including disbarred attorney Jack Thompson, and former presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. One of the better-known advocates is Dr. Karen Dill-Shackleford, who has not only given two separate testimonies to Congress on the topic of violence in media, but whose work also led to the APA’s Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media in 2005.
Dr. Dill-Shackleford is also well known for her book How Fantasy Becomes Reality which takes an analytical look at how violence in mass media effects us. While I agree with many of the points made in her book, I do believe that she is guilty of sensationalizing the topic of violent video games and adding to the moral panic surrounding the medium through the use of inaccurate studies, misleading section titles, and outdated research. She states very clearly in her book that “violence breeds violence,” a phrase that she is so fond of that she made it a section title (Dill, 2009, pg 77), but further studies suggest that this is a highly misleading statement.
In 2007 a meta-analysis was conducted on the studies being done on video game violence and it stated:
“…the extant literature on video game violence effects…has not
provided compelling support to indicate either a correlational or causal relationship between violent game play and actual aggressive behavior.” (Ferguson, 2007)
There are also much more recent examples, such as several studies done by Patrick Markey and others which show that there is very little connection between virtual violence and real-world violence (Markey, 2015). In fact, there has even been major research done that shows a possible connection between the release of very popular violent games and a decrease in violent crimes (Cunningham, 2016), (Markey, 2015).
The APA ruling in 2005, that was written referencing Dr. Dill-Shackleford’s and others’ work, sparked a wave of controversy among the scientific community. In 2013 a group of over 200 scholars and scientists wrote a letter to the APA protesting their claims about the connection between violent media and real-world violence (Ferguson 2018).
In conclusion, while Dr. Dill-Shackleford makes excellent points in her book regarding the connections between violence in media and aggressive thoughts, further research does not suggest much, if any, of a connection between violent media and actual violent actions. These claims only strengthen the moral panic in America and divert attention and resources away from the actual causes of serious violence.