The professor behind a study which newspapers reported showed that video game playing only has negative outcomes on lifestyle, says that it doesn't mean that video games are to blame.
In an email exchange with Kotaku reader Valke, who also runs NuclearGeek.com, professor Laura Walker says the study makes the point several times that "we don't know if video games cause these problems or if people with these problems choose to immerse themselves into video games." Too bad that never managed to show up in any of her quotes, including the ones found in the press release.
We emailed Walker for comment the day the study, which several international newspapers interpreted to show that gamers were more likely to be surly, drunk self-haters, but didn't hear back.
Fortunately Valke did, receiving a pretty detailed break down of the full study, which isn't available online.
Walker says that when the study says "only negative outcomes" come out of playing video games it has to be taken in context of the variables used in the study.
"Please recognize that the variables we chose allowed for possible positive outcomes. In other words, when we organized the study we WANTED to allow for the possibility of positive outcomes (high self-esteem, positive relationships, etc) so we chose variables that might turn out positive (for example, maybe if you play with friends or family you actually have higher relationships). So, we didn't go into this looking for the negative, Derek - the participants (i.e., those who USE video games) reported the negative findings. We honestly didn't have a bias and were actually hoping for some positive correlates (some of the authors on the piece enjoy playing video games, as is mentioned in the press release)."
She also points out that this is more a study about extremes than about regular use or gaming.
"Also, please remember the nature of the statistics shows that as one variable goes up the other went down. For example, the more one played video games the lower their quality of relationships. That suggests that, as with almost anything in life, that the more extreme you get in its use the more problematic it becomes. That doesn't therefore show that moderate use is bad. Not by any means. Also please remember, these are averages. Just because you happen to be an "exception" doesn't mean that the results cannot be "true" for a good number of young people. Right?"
Most importantly Walker says that the survey is meant to show associative issues, not causal ones. In other words, as Walker says herself, video games are just a piece of a much larger puzzle.
"Finally, the nature of our study is to examine factors in young adulthood that lead some young people to "flourish" and some to "flounder". We believe that this period of life is important because these young people have a lot more freedom in making choices (such as how they use their time) than they have ever had and the choices they end up making can follow them into adulthood (i.e., Did they get an education? Can they get and keep a job? Addictions? Can they maintain healthy relationships? etc.). So, all of our publications have shown various things that are either associated (not causal) positively or negatively with development during this age period. Video game was just a piece of a much bigger puzzle."
Most importantly, what's shown here is how incredibly skewed a study can become when it is released into the wild, especially when it is released in such a tiny, snapshot way. I think some of the blame on getting this wrong lies with the mainstream newspapers that focused in on the most titillating part of the study. But I also think that the group doing the study should have done a better job of putting their findings in the proper context when getting the study out there and responding to questions.
If the university press release about the study draws the same conclusions as the mainstream papers, it sounds like someone maybe dropped the ball. Check out that image at the top of this story. That's the official photo illustration included with the press release.
Hit up Valke's site for his thoughts on the whole issue. (Valke gave Kotaku permission to post Walker's response to his emailed questions. Thanks Valke!)