Controversial medium of our time

Dispute medium of our time


Interview with psychologist and BPjM consultant Tobias Rothmund about the connection between violent computer games, aggressive behavior and the sense and nonsense of bans

Many an upcoming action highlight is already reserving a place on the BPjM’s index list. Most recently, the summer hit of 2010, Crackdown 2, has been reserved for the BPjM. A similar case will soon be made with the Gears of War series, whose two parts have now sold more than ten million copies internationally. As with part one, the USK refused to give the blockbuster "Gears of War 2" At the end of 2008 the labeling "from 18 years" – which again led to the indexing (announcement Federal Gazette No. 175 from 18.11.2008). The same threatens the third part, announced for April 2011, in which soldier Marcus Fenix finally puts an end to the Locust aliens. The reason for this are scenes of violence in which opponents are executed or cut up with a chain-saw bayonet – an action element that entertains gamers and shocks non-gamers.

Epic Games from North Carolina, which has been successful for over ten years with the Unreal Engine, a developer program for computer games, does not make games for the faint-hearted. Its first-person shooter Bulletstorm, announced for February 2011 and developed in Poland by People Can Fly, will also have problems passing § 18 Abs. 1 to push past – the German Youth Protection Act, which "immoral, brutalizing, inciting to violence, crime or racial hatred media" takes aim. The main task of the player will be to, "creative to death". 100 different artificial shots, for which you get different experience points to buy better equipment. Headshots or passive hits by exploding barrels are yesterday’s Gedons. For the most imaginative combinations of whip and firearm the player is rewarded with extra points. The comic-like graphics of monster enemies and environment will hardly prevent an indexing of "Bulletstorm" even if the score chase feels more like pinball.

Psychologist Dr. Tobias Rothmund, a research associate in the Department of Diagnostics, Differential and Personality Psychology at the University of Koblenz-Landau, explains what he and his colleagues have found out in various test studies about the psychological effects of violent games of this kind.

You and many of your colleagues try to shed light on the psyche of a player in experiments. Studies that often come to contradictory results. Don’t gamers themselves know best which games they can put themselves through??

Tobias Rothmund: No. The processes through which content containing violence has an effect are deliberately hardly accessible. You can also think of it this way: If it were the case that we are not influenced at the moment when we do not want to be influenced, then advertising would be completely useless. In fact, however, memory effects are triggered, even in the case of one-time advertising presentations. It’s similar with games: The effects are more on an automatic level and are less reflected. If in this way also the furrowed "brutalization" of the player takes its course?

Tobias Rothmund: At "Brutalization" we speak of a moral or a. emotional desensitization. When you see a person being harmed, it triggers something in you. It doesn’t happen consciously, but automatically: an empathic reaction. These reactions are also drawn out in games, especially when the graphic presentation reaches movie level and is so well done that it affects your entire perceptual apparatus "tricks". The automatic processes can then, so to speak, no longer "distinguish", whether the scenes are playing on your screen or in front of your eyes."

The medium of dispute of our time

Bulletstorm And then what happens in the player?? If he is not emotionally devastated after only a few minutes?

Tobias Rothmund: He must counteract and disconnect from the automatic reaction at that moment. He prevents or. it suppresses at an early stage. Z.B. it is his task to push himself through a level. In the process he meets obviously innocent people and kills them, which can lead to regrets. This sounds exaggerated, because no one feels empathy with a virtual character, but in approach these reactions are automatic. But at the moment of their occurrence they are put into perspective, because they are not applicable to the gameplay. That is: The player gets into a kind of conflict with the emotion and on the other side the gameplay and also the knowledge that it is not a real situation. So this automatic reaction to be able to show sympathy is hidden in him?

Tobias Rothmund: Exactly, that’s the idea of emotional desensitization: that you train yourself out of these automatic reactions. How do you test something like that in experiments?

Tobias Rothmund: By creating unexpected emergency situations after such a game session, or rather, by creating a virtual character. Simulates. Then you can see how quickly a person reacts, etc. And in this respect, how is the game different from the action movie, in which hundreds of innocent dead often pass by the viewer’s eye??

Tobias Rothmund: Emotions in film are not easily pushed away. It is often part of the movie that you experience them. In games, it’s partly that these emotions are not wanted at all. I say "in part", because the hitherto very shallow game concepts are now starting to differentiate and become more psychologically realistic. The bottom line is, however, that interactive media, like movies, can create such situations, so you can’t ame that just because it’s happening on a screen, it doesn’t have a consequence. As I said: Our whole perception apparatus with its brain structures is evolutionary so old that it can’t even distinguish between virtual and real experiences.

the medium of dispute of our time

Bulletstorm But if instead of "virtually" simply "playful" say? The perceptive apparatus has been familiar with the playful attitude since time immemorial.

Tobias Rothmund: It is not yet so easy to clarify where exactly the parallels and where the differences are between that game and this one. Many video games are nevertheless in play Seriously. For the player it is also not a playful learning at all times. This comparison is often made: "In the past, children played ‘cops and robbers’, today they play ‘Counter Strike’." Without being able to provide scientific evidence yet, I doubt that you can equate the two. Perhaps simply because the violence in war games is far less depicted in reality than in computer games, which live on the effect and always look more realistic?

Tobias Rothmund: Some questions are simply still open. We are now at the stage of research that there are relatively stable proven effects on the psyche. There is, by the way, no giant leap in the effect z.B. compared to the violence on television. Nevertheless, questions remain as to how the duration of the game affects certain personality traits or other general conditions. … and whether computer games will make people run amok.

Tobias Rothmund: In my opinion the narrowing to the amok discussion casts a completely wrong picture on the whole topic. This is not the point, because rampages are such a special form of violent crime that they should be regarded as complex individual cases that cannot be explained so easily. But the policy argues with it, in order to push through further prohibitions of violent games.

Tobias Rothmund: Exactly: Politics. The reasons why video games are so thematized are also a piece of socio-political nature. In the process, it becomes clear that video games divide the younger generation, among whom they are popular, from the older generation, which has no connection to them at all. But again to the core: If we are talking about aggression in general, not about rampages, then we are talking about a risk factor model. That is: There are various situations in which people show increased aggressive behavior, and media violence represents a risk factor here. So there are a lot of personal factors: social, familial or psychological disturbances. And the more of these factors come together, the greater the risk that someone will behave aggressively in the long term or be inclined to commit violent crimes. Each of these factors is interchangeable, media violence as well as social exclusion. Whereas the danger of media violence is comparatively easy to contain.

Tobias Rothmund: At least the risk factor is easier to manipulate. Some factors, on the other hand, require a lot of money to be spent, e.g.B. to improve family conditions. So feasibility also plays a role when it comes to the question: Which adjustment screw should be turned now?? What do you think about the idea of abolishing the USK or even games over the age of 18??

Tobias Rothmund: The USK does a good job and is a good basis for the German rating system. I am very skeptical with this ban debate. For two reasons: There are many things that can be demonstrably harmful in our society, and the general approach is to equate being of age with being trusted to make decisions for oneself. And besides, bans tend to have the opposite effect and make things more attractive. Nevertheless I understand, if one wants to represent a clear position in the connection. (Mark Lederer)

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