It's a funny thing, I've killed more people over the years than I care to remember. Some of them I shot down in the streets because they were invading my turf, and others I ran over with a car—it's hard to avoid plowing through pedestrians when driving on the sidewalk. Of course, all of this happened in a virtual landscape, and not once did I feel compelled to repeat my heinous actions in the real world. That's weird, because study have study have shown that in-game violence leads to real-world crimes. So, what gives? As absolutely shocking as this may sound, the studies were wrong.
We'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. Now brace yourself before reading further. Ready for this? Not one, but TWO studies linking violent video games to real-life violent tendencies have been retracted. Granted, that still leaves about a trillion more, but it's a start, right?
The first of those studies is titled "Boom, Headshot!" It was published in the Journal of Communication Research five years ago and it looked at the "effect of video game play and controller type on firing aim and accuracy." Not without controversy, the study concluded that first person shooters were essentially training gamers to become skilled gunmen in real life. Because you know, mashing a mouse or gamepad button while aiming with an analog stick is exactly like the real thing. Or not.
A few years later, Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University discovered some flaws in the study's data. He and a colleague presented their findings to the study's lead author, professor Brad Bushman at Ohio State University, who immediately dismissed the concerns as a smear campaign. He claimed that Dr. Markey had an "ulterior motive."
"He wants to discredit my research and ruin my reputation," Bushman said.
The Journal of Communication Research ultimately retracted the study this past January.
"A Committee of Initial Inquiry at Ohio State University recommended retracting this article after being alerted to irregularities in some variables of the data set by Drs. Markey and Elson in January 2015," the retraction notice read. "Unfortunately, the values of the questioned variables could not be confirmed because the original research records were unavailable."
While that might have been tough luck for Bushman, it wasn't the only controversial study of his to be scrutinized and eventually retracted. In another paper published in Gifted Child Quarterly in 2016, Bushman and three other researchers studied the "effects of violent media on verbal task performance in gifted and general cohort children." They noted a substantial (and temporary) drop in verbal skills in children after subjecting them to 12 minutes of a violent cartoon.
Joseph Hilgard, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, had doubts about the study. When looking into the matter, he noted that Bushman and his colleagues were forthcoming but couldn't provide details on the study's data collection process. The person who collected the data lived in Turkey and has been out of contact with the group. As a result, it too was retracted.
"As the integrity of the data could not be confirmed, the journal has determined, and the co-authors have agreed, to retract the study," the retraction notice said.
It's a tough break for Bushman, but a good day for gamers.