The PBS NewsHour Discusses Violent Video Games And Manages Not To Jump To Wild Conclusions

The PBS NewsHour doesn't chop news into soundbites and doesn't mistake banter or squabbling for good television journalism. They actually do TV reporting the way you might hope it would be done.


When the NewsHour invited me to head down to their Washington, D.C.-area studios a few Fridays ago to talk to them about violent video games, I expected I'd wind up being part of a news segment that respected the intelligence of gamers.

I was right.

Last night, the NewsHour aired the piece. It's a 10-minute segment about violent video games. You can watch it above, along with a related excerpt from Frontline.

The NewsHour was examining the idea that violent games could be one of the agents that lead to events like the Sandy Hook school shooting. I think most gamers would dismiss that idea immediately. Millions of us play games and yet there are not millions of shootings by people who play games. But we also know, as our own Jason Schreier exhaustively reported, that there is a good amount of scientific evidence that violent games may raise levels of aggression in kids—though what counts as "aggression" in these studies is a far, far cry from a willingness to murder. You'll see some of what Jason reported recapitulated in the PBS piece by the researchers themselves.

People who are against violent video games will find some sympathetic voices in this NewsHour segment. People who play them or who are unafraid of them will find people to agree with as well.

You'll also see and hear from me in the piece. I had spent my short visit at the NewsHour playing Black Ops II and Grand Theft Auto IV with senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown (credit to him for being willing to learn how to play a dual-analog shooter). Brown and I discussed what we were playing as we played. Some of it made air; most didn't make the cut, as is the case of most of any TV interview one does. The point I wanted to make comes through: watching violent video games isn't the same as playing them; to understand games, you really ought to play them to get a feel for what they're like.


After I shot the segment at the NewsHour I was actually a bit worried. I worried that talking-while-playing doesn't produce the most coherent conversation. I was also worried that I'd failed to clearly enough express how it feels to play a violent video game: that chasing down cops in GTA, for example, feels less like playing through a morbid violence fantasy and more like poking at a system... pushing the opponents as far as you dare and then seeing how long you can survive when they push back. It's the push and pull of video game systems that I think ensnares so many of us. I didn't mind once I saw the piece, because I thought the ordinary gamers profiled in the piece do a fine job of explaining why they play.

There's really only one voice missing from this otherwise well-rounded segment. I call them out in the piece. Gamers show up in this one. A game reporter does. Game researchers do. Game critics do. So who's not there? The people who make video games. According to PBS, even their lobbying group declined to appear on the segment. It's too bad (but not surprising). It surely would make games seem a little less scary.


Can Violent Video Games Play a Role in Violent Behavior? [PBS NewsHour]



Even PBS fails at giving us truly exceptional journalism. Journalism isn't 'just the facts'. Facts with no context are unhelpful, and even misleading.

For example, I could tell you that there is a much higher neutron density in the walls of a nuclear plant's containment building than there is in the air 1km away. I could then go on to explain that neutrons are the particles which when present in sufficient quantities are responsible for the chain reaction that leads to nuclear explosions in uranium and plutonium bombs. What that entire statement lacks is the context to know: that ALL solid matter has much, much higher neutron densities than air; that it's only free, slow neutrons that are part of the nuclear chain reaction process; and that the neutrons in regular matter are not free, and aren't dangerous.

In the particular case of this video, presenting the 'two sides' of this debate in equal time and with equal credibility is misleading. Doing so implies that those that those who argue that there is some sort of demonstrable connection between truly violent behavior and playing violent video games have just as solid of an argument as those that point out that the general consensus of most studies is inconclusive at best, or shows very little link. That implication is, quite simply, wrong.

The job of the journalist in this case is to present the two sides, THEN PROVIDE THE PROPER CONTEXT for making an informed decision as to which side is more correct. This would require researching review articles, and presenting the conclusions of those review articles (or doing your own internal review if no such review exists). What that would have shown is that it is those that argue that there is really no conclusive evidence for a correlation between truly violent BEHAVIOR and playing violent video games, and that there is, at most only a very, very weak link.