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Harvard Phd Vs. About.com over Gaming 320

Posted by Zonk
from the tough-fight dept.
MaryAlan writes "I don't know if anyone has noticed this, but About.com's Aaron Stanton is in the middle of a back and forth firefight with Dr. Thompson, a Harvard researcher who recently testified before the U.S. Congress about violent video games. She published a study that listed Pac-Man as being 62% violent. Stanton attacked in an article criticizing her research. Then, Joystiq.com contacted Dr. Thompson and got an interview and a response, published her rebuttal, in which she defends the Pac-Man rating and the study. So today, Stanton attempted to tear the study apart, detailing why it's flawed even though Thompson claims otherwise. On one hand we have an established Harvard Phd, who has testified before the U.S. congress, against a game journalist with a bachelors degree in Psychology. Hmmm..."
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Harvard Phd Vs. About.com over Gaming

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  • by dave562 (969951) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @05:58PM (#15973909) Journal
    [flamebait]This is great and something slashdotters can appreciate and relate to. The article has a online journalist with a bachelors degree going up against a Harvard PhD. It reminds me a lot of all of the home users and part time Dreamweaver users (I mean... web "programmers") commenting on the suitability of Linux and Apple products for enterprise wide use.[/flamebait]
    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:53PM (#15974578)
      The article has a online journalist with a bachelors degree going up against a Harvard PhD.

      Of course, just because someone is educated, doesn't mean they're necessarily smart... or don't have an agenda... I don't really see how Pac Man could EVER be considered in the same violence league as Grand Theft Auto, etc.

      Just my $0.02 - Wonka, wonka, wonka...

      • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:57PM (#15974597)
        I don't really see how Pac Man could EVER be considered in the same violence league as Grand Theft Auto, etc.

        Now, Ms. Pac Man is another story - that Bitch with her damn little bow.

      • by Drooling Iguana (61479) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:30PM (#15974756)
        The guys in GTA just kill people. Pac-Man devours their very souls!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nwbvt (768631)

        "Of course, just because someone is educated, doesn't mean they're necessarily smart... or don't have an agenda... I don't really see how Pac Man could EVER be considered in the same violence league as Grand Theft Auto, etc. "

        Umm, thats not the argument she is making. In fact, its not even close. She is arguing that video ratings need to be rethought, for instance that games should be actually played before they are designated 'violence free'. Writing off violence just because it is cartoon violence d

        • by Haeleth (414428) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:06AM (#15976547) Journal
          She is arguing that video ratings need to be rethought, for instance that games should be actually played before they are designated 'violence free'.

          Don't be ridiculous. If the Hot Coffee scandal has taught us anything, it's that merely playing a game would be an utterly inadequate means of rating it, since one can view the worst accessible content in a game and give it a "mature" rating and still be lambasted in the press for failing to guess that it can be hacked to display simulated sex.

          It's not feasible for game raters to play games in depth, and even if they did, they would inevitably miss content. That's why the current system has them rate games based on videos of the most violent/whatever moments. It's a good system, and no more flawed than the alternatives.

          Writing off violence just because it is cartoon violence doesn't really cut it, since young children can be affected by cartoons as well as real life.

          Why, could this possibly be why ESRB ratings have contained helpful little content descriptions like "animated violence" for about 10 years now?

          the ESRB needs to provide more information about the games it rates so that parents can have a better idea of the content in their kid's games.

          Perhaps the real problem is that nobody, apparently not even Harvard researchers, bothers to read the content information the ESRB already provides.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GreatBunzinni (642500)

      You are making a very stupid mistake here.

      Yes, the online journalist has a lesser academic background than the person who compiled the study. Nonetheless, the academic background is irrelevant when talking about the veracity of given statements. A statement is true or false independent of who makes it. The truth value of a statement doesn't change if the same statement is given by a Harvard PhD, a Bachelor's degree or a street sweeper. The messenger doesn't influence the truthfullness of a message. It's va

  • Can't we all get along here?
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:00PM (#15973923) Journal
    They must have done secret studies inside the PacMan household and how he treats Ms. PacMan.
    • by Travoltus (110240)
      Pac Man encourages carnivore-ism. I think PETA ought to protest Pac Man.

      (just kidding)
    • by creimer (824291)
      Then Ms. PacMan turns around to abuse the ghosts as well? That would explain a lot.
    • There are no Arms, no Legs, no dangly bits... MsPacMan seems too big to eat (unless she turns blue)... the Pac folk can't even talk, as far as I can tell.

      What the hell CAN they do besides eat little dots, blue "ghosts", and die? I guess that is enough for some people.

  • by Rakshasa Taisab (244699) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:01PM (#15973924) Homepage
    ... or so my study indicates.
  • The hell? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by n00854180t (866096) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:01PM (#15973925)
    Since when does having a Ph.D. excuse someone from making moronic statements? Also, testifying before a Congress that is little more than a religious/corporate tool isn't much of an accomplishment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by WillAffleckUW (858324)
      Since when does having a Ph.D. excuse someone from making moronic statements?

      It doesn't. I think the Pretzeldent has an MBA from Harvard, so you raise a good point.

      It's not the violence inherent in the system, it's the actual impact. Most studies in peer-reviewed journals I've seen seem to indicate that one should be far more concerned with Bruce Willis in terms of making us more violent than Pac-Man or any video games.
    • Re:The hell? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by L7_ (645377) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:09PM (#15973984)
      no shit.

      also, nowhere does anyone seem to say what that lady's PhD was in. If it is in Biomedical Engineering, that doesn't make her an expert on (video) game theory. Also, why does it matter if the PhD is from Harvard? The location again means nothing... other than they paid through thier ass for ivy league connections. Its like the fact that she has a PhD (from Harvard!) and testified is more important than logic here and what she is actually saying.
      • Re:The hell? (Score:5, Informative)

        by harp2812 (891875) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:42PM (#15974149)
        According to this: http://www.kidsrisk.harvard.edu/images/kmtCV.pdf [harvard.edu] she's got a ScD in Environmental Health, a MS in Chemical Engineering Practice, and a BS in Chemical Engineering
        • by ben there... (946946) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:54PM (#15974581) Journal
          Oh, I see. So she understands how video games' chemistry affects the environment.

          At first I thought she was totally unqualified to comment on violent video games.
        • So WHAT? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by spoco2 (322835) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:20PM (#15974723)
          It really doesn't matter at all how many degrees and certificates she has. They prove that she has studied, and is able to write reports.

          Trying to say how violent a game is by how many minutes of 'violence' there is a game without ANY weighting to the context or impact of said violence is ridiculous. To say that Centipede is 100% violent because the entire game is spent being chased by something that intends 'harm' is just stupid. It's a reflex/puzzle game... and it's a game of tag effectively. To rate it higher than GTA because there are stretches in GTA where there is no violence is just plain moronic.

          You can't apply an objective measure to something so plainly subjective as violence in the media.

          I don't care how many pieces of paper she has.
          • by Surt (22457)
            It's even worse than that. Generally Sci-D degrees are the bought and paid for kind, even at the 'prestigious' schools. So it doesn't even prove that she has studied or knows how to write reports.
    • Re:The hell? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:46PM (#15974176)
      I'm working on a PhD right now, and I'll gladly take the side against this Harvard person.

      A PhD is not an excuse to live outside the confines (physically or intellectually) of mainstream society.
    • by dan828 (753380) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:48PM (#15974186)
      To pick a nit, she doesn't have a Ph.D., she has a D.Sc., and it's in Public Health. But she does have a point-- what would happen if THE CHILDREN began to eat power-ups and attack ghosts in real life?
    • Re:The hell? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shimage (954282) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @09:21PM (#15974953)

      Having a PhD doesn't make you smart. It means that you're probably hardworking and not-dumb. But she doesn't have a Havard PhD. She is, however, a tenured professor at Havard (I am assuming that Havard uses the same nomenclature that most other schools use, in which "associate" refers to those tenured professors that have not yet achieved "full" status). I'm not sure if you read her response, but she seems like most top-tier professors I have talked to, which is to say, cogent even when I disagree with them -- the opposite of moronic.

      From her response on Joystiq:

      I believe that parents need to pay attention to their kids and to what their media experiences because all media are educational, whether intended or not. I will also note for you that the ESRB has assigned content descriptors for violence to games in the Pac Man series, which you can see for yourself by searching www.esrb.org. I am a huge advocate for self-regulation and for better parenting (I believe self-regulation means responsibility is required by all).

      and also

      Violence is part of life. I am comfortable deciding what is appropriate for me and my family, but I would not determine acceptability for anyone else. Our research seeks to help make parents aware of the violence and other content that may be of concern to them in video games and to make sure that they actually pay attention to their kids and their kids' experiences with games.

      Now I don't know about you, but I completely agree with her. Her main bitch seems to be that the ESRB gives out ratings without playing the games. She wants there to be an adequate tool for deciding what her children are allowed to consume, not to keep you from playing violent games (or even keep you from letting your children play M-rated games). Her goal is for ESRB ratings to be

      1. More comprehensive
      2. More consistent

      and this is not something I can really find fault with.

      As for the study itself, I don't really think it contains useful information (yes, I've read it). The violence she calculates is undifferentiated, which means that cartoon violence against space invaders or centipedes is the same as any other kind of violence. At that point I could have told her -- without even playing the video games -- that there's tons of violence in E-rated games. With some notable exceptions, my video game experience is almost completely dominated by acts of senseless cartoon violence. I fail to see how it was in any way worse than your average episode of "Tom and Jerry". I haven't read the subsequent papers, though; perhaps this is fixed in those, since she explicitly mentions in the Joystiq interview that the type of violence is important (more important that the quantity of violence, in fact). Lastly, I hate papers that just compile statistics (also, she included too many sigfigs in her percentages), so this is a paper I wouldn't put much credence in on general principles.

      In short, I don't think she says anything moronic; I just think she doesn't say anything useful either (for similar, but much more explicit reasons [at least in my opinion] than Stanton).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eunos94 (254614)
        Holy crap! That's the single most coherent, articulate posting I've ever seen on Slashdot in my way-too-many years of reading/posting. I don't have any damn mod points either. So a hearty "Keep rockin'" to you my fine friend.
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:01PM (#15973928) Homepage
    As Staton says, Thompson's methods found that Pac Man was 62% violent, Dig Dug was 67% violent, and Centipede was 97% violent (!). These results (which, not so coincidentally, were expunged from the final report) indicate that the whole method is flawed. This only begs the question - why were these numbers removed? Perhaps because it would have signaled to anyone reading the study that it was hopelessly flwed?
    • by Tackhead (54550)
      > Thompson's methods found that Pac Man was 62% violent, Dig Dug was 67% violent, and Centipede was 97% violent (!).

      Clearly what's needed is more violence in Pac-Man [fark.com].

    • by creimer (824291) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:20PM (#15974046) Homepage
      ... and Centipede was 97% violent (!).

      I confess... Centipede is where I learned to hate bugs and enjoy chasing real bugs with a can of RAID. Not only do I commit pesticide, I also maintain WMD under my kitchen sink. :P
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      As Staton says, Thompson's methods found that Pac Man was 62% violent, Dig Dug was 67% violent, and Centipede was 97% violent (!). These results (which, not so coincidentally, were expunged from the final report) indicate that the whole method is flawed.

      How precisely do they indicate the study was flawed? (I.E. in technical terms - not "but duude, Centipede is way so not violent".) Any game that involves shooting a simalcrum of an actual creature must perforce be similiar in violence levels to Pac-Man (w

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It's intentionally misleading. People think "violence in video games" and think of killing hookers in GTA3, not Pacman being "chased with intent to kill" by ghosts. The percentage treats them as the same sort of thing. When that yields ridiculous results (centipede, pacman), they throw them out because they make the study look crazy. The flaw is in equivocation over the meaning of the term violence.
      • Any game that involves shooting a simalcrum of an actual creature must perforce be similiar in violence levels to Pac-Man (where the monsters eat the protagonist) and Dig Dug (where the protagonist inflates the monsters until they explode).

        The operative word here, I'm guessing, is "shooting".

        What Dr. Thompson needs to remember is that guns don't kill centipedes - garden gnomes, or whatever the hell that thing actually is [ysrnry.co.uk], kill centipedes.
      • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:05PM (#15974646)
        How precisely do they indicate the study was flawed?


        It obliterates the conclusion drawn from the study.

        The central finding of the study was that E-rated games without violence-related descriptors contained "unlabelled" "intentional violence", and that the rating was therefore untrustworthy, finding that 64% of a sample of 55 games contained between 30% and 90% "violent game play". When you recognize, however, that the same methodology rates Pac-Man as 62% "violent", Dig Dug 67% violent, and Centipede 97% violent, it makes it a lot harder to take seriously that the 30%-90% ratings found for 64% of the games in the study in any way shows that the absence of an ESRB violence descriptor in an E-rated game is substantially misleading, as the kind of arguable "violence" in Pac-Man, Dig Dug, or Centipede is not what most people are looking to ratings to protect children from.

        Thompson's "research" on media ratings (consistently coming to the conclusion that every type of rating system in existence underrates every kind of media and is getting worse all the time) has all the hallmarks of a political crusade masquerading as science, and highly selective presentation of data an expunging data that would call into question the conclusion rather than presenting the facts found fairly is a central hallmark of such pseudo-science.

        But that's not all (by far) of Thompson's research, and its certainly not unheard for an otherwise top-flight researcher to have a hobbyhorse issue where they go off the deep end (its particularly noticeable to the public with researchers in the social sciences since those issues tend to be politically salient; the same thing in physical scientists gets seen more as eccentricity since when they got goofy about an issue, its usually not political salient, and often is completely incomprehensible to laymen.)
    • by nsayer (86181) * <nsayer@kfCOWu.com minus herbivore> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:37PM (#15974475) Homepage
      Centipede was 97% violent (!)

      Ultra ironic, then, that it was written by a girl [wikipedia.org].

    • by binarybum (468664) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:31PM (#15974759) Homepage
      Pacman isn't violent, it's just drug obsessed. You're essentially boiled down to a simple mouth with the single goal of avoiding what can only be your own hallucinations (ghosts?!) while constantly munching down little pills fervently just to stay alive. You're so fucked up that most of these drugs just keep you going, nothing more. However, you're on a quest for the real good stuff, the uppers that let you conquer your darkest demons. Still, even these hi-powered feel good drugs really only serve to drop you even harder when you come down and suddenly you're closer to your fears and problems than ever before. Yeah, pacman is a really loser-junkie if you ask me. Sure he might turn to violent crime eventually to feed his habit, he might even slap Mrs. Pacman around a little bit, but I think that's reading into the game a bit much don't you Mrs. Thompson?
  • by MarkusQ (450076) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:02PM (#15973932) Journal
    On one hand we have an established Harvard Phd, who has testified before the U.S. congress, against a game journalist with a bachelors degree in Psychology.

    So? If a PhD came out and said that all fish were descendant from cows and some fry cook said it was the other way around, who would you believe? You should base your conclusions on the soundness of the arguments, not who made them.

    For that matter, who the arguments where made to shouldn't give them added credibility. Do you really believe that someone having testified to something before Congress makes it automatically true--or even more credible? 'cause there have been a lot of woppers told on the floors of Congress.

    --MarkusQ

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Otter (3800)
      She's not even a PhD [harvard.edu] to begin with. I can tell you whose assertions I never believe...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The Doctorate of Science is on par with the PhD. In the United States it's only awarded by a few institutions. Harvard and MIT are two of them. Her Doctorate of Science is from Harvard, so it's probably good. The title "Doctor" applies to that degree.
      • by ornil (33732)
        I don't get your point. So she's a ScD, and not a PhD. It's basically the same thing.
    • You should base your conclusions on the soundness of the arguments, not who made them.

      Granted. But how many people here who are jumping up and down like monkeys have really read the study to find out exactly what the arguments are?

      She automatically gets a lot more credibility not because of her degree, but because she's actually studied the question versus the knee jerk reactions around here.

      (I don't actually have an opinion on her study one way or the other, just making the observation that she has

    • by houghi (78078)
      You are right. Next they tell you there are only 9 planets instead of 10.
  • Say whaaa? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b1ad3runn3r (896115) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:04PM (#15973949)
    The study he *did* in fact rip apart tries to quantize the number of seconds of violence out of the total time, for different total timeperiods, in different genres, including cutscenes, not including the different *varieties* of death, including the loading screens, not including the difference between abstract and literal, not including the difference between malicious user-opted killing and required plot violence.

    I haven't checked recently, but has it become passe to ignore that you need to do isolate as many dependent variables as possible in a scientific experiment for the results to be valid?

    The kind doctor's response? Well theres a lot of studies so our study (whether it's crap or not) is going to be only one data point. FFS, if a data point is made-up it doesn't deserve to even be in the statistical sample!!!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A study that was published in 2000 that I respect actually focused on the percentage of times violence that is used to solve problems in games that recieved the Everyone rating; this was important because they were trying to determine the suitability for children under 11 years of age (IIRC). The study concluded that several popular games (The Legend of Zelda:OoT being one of them) were too violent for an everyone rating and actually should have recieved Teen Ratings; even though I disagree with the finding
      • by NMerriam (15122)
        The only study I can say I have ever agreed with that linked videogames to violence, which also linked television to violence, the study was from Japan and it was determined that it had nothing to do with the content but was related to the quantity of exposure; children who played videogames or watched television in excessive of 4 hours a day were (something like) five times as likely to resort to violence in a social setting.

        Do you recall if they compensated for different social skills or time spent with o
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      The study he *did* in fact rip apart tries to quantize the number of seconds of violence out of the total time

      That's such crap - by that measure, Silent Hill is something like 20% violent.

    • is going to be only one data point

      One data point isn't going to make a difference - it's infinitely small. IF this person does two more studies, though, they'll have a data TRIANGLE, and then we'll really be in trouble.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:05PM (#15973958) Homepage Journal
    Ms. Pac-Man.

    Seriously, during my seven years in uniform, I probably spent way too much money on Ms. Pac-Man. Pac-Man is for civvies, real Army types prefer Ms. Pac-Man.
    • by Babbster (107076)
      I think the better breakdown is that Pac-Man is for people who value nostalgia over gameplay, while Ms. Pac-Man is for for the true connoisseurs of Pac fun. Super Pac-Man, of course, is for those who believe that size is more important than style.
  • by Marcion (876801) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:06PM (#15973964) Homepage Journal
    Some repressed Japanese game desinger I think, it was the 1970s, after all PacMan himself looks a bit like a femine part and the ghosts look like eja... Oh crud, there goes my karma.

    Pub > Computer > Slashdot > Troll
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:07PM (#15973970)
    From her comment:
    As we have noted in our papers, people can reasonably disagree with us, but we did not believe that it was consistent to not count this as violence even though it is quite abstract.
    No. It is the abstraction that removes the "violence" from the loss.

    Violence is only violent if there is some aspect of realism.

    By her "logic", chess is an incredibly violent game.
    • Chess is not violent enough... now Battle Chess [pcworld.com], that's violent :)
    • by Surt (22457)
      Actually, by her definition, chess would only be something like 20% violent (what percentage of chess moves typically result in a capture?)
      • by tenton (181778)
        Actually, by her definition, chess would only be something like 20% violent (what percentage of chess moves typically result in a capture?)


        Depends on who you're playing. I know I'm not that good and I tend to give away pieces...to compensate, I charge head in and make sure I get something for the pieces I was going to lose anyways.
  • What if... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:08PM (#15973980)
    Say I created a game in which you spent 15 minutes having sex with a prostitute, then 15 minutes beating her to death and cutting her up into pieces. Would this game be 50% violent, 50% having sex with hookers?
  • then I fear for the sanitized future of gaming should the Thompsons of the world prevail. I'm sorry, since when did cartoon piecharts chasing cartoon "ghosts" incite anyone to violence? Other than the tirade all of slashdot is about to go on over this totally sophomoric crap?

    In other news having a Phd does not guarantee you're not a moron in other areas, like matching theoretical scales for violent content with REALITY.
  • full -o- shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drDugan (219551) * on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:19PM (#15974043) Homepage
    As someone with the letters P,h,D in my professional background - I speak with some authority on the subject: Yes, quite a few of the "Ph.D. club-card holders" are completely full of shit.

    Caveat Emptor. Grow up Americans. Think for yourselves, people.

    and since when does testifying in front of congress give someone credibility? The people in Congress are not the brightest critters out there. To me, congressional testimony is as good as saying you were a witness in a trial. Whoop de doo.

    • by TCQuad (537187)
      Did you just use your PhD to validate your argument that people who rely on their PhD to validate arguments aren't being truthful?

      Because you're blowing my mind right now.
    • by wizbit (122290)
      The people in Congress are not the brightest critters out there.

      I disagree. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an internet to send through this system of tubes over here...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:29PM (#15974093)
    Nobel prize winners can even be crackpots. Linus Pauling has been pushing the benefits of Vitamin C. Of course nutrition isn't the field he won the prize for.

    William Shockley won the prize in Physics for inventing the transistor. He used the prize as a foundation for the soapbox from which he spouted racist bile.

    A proper argument is based on facts. PhD vs. grade eight education. Doesn't matter. If some illiterate has the facts in his corner and the PhD only has theory well; reality always trumps theory.

    Actually, taking experts too seriously can sometimes have horrible consequences. There was a British 'expert' who got a bunch of people convicted of murder because their kids died of sudden crib death. "... the testimony of Sir Roy Meadow, a prominent pediatrician who was the first to suggest in 1977 that some mothers induce illness in their children to draw attention to themselves." http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=hea lth&res=9B0DE0DE163AF93BA35751C0A9629C8B63 [nytimes.com]
  • Flawed study (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skorch (906936) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:38PM (#15974132)
    The whole study is fundamentally flawed in that it doesn't seem to distinguish or identify between different types of "violence". It seems to use such a broad definition of violence as to include what I would call conflict or competition, but not necessarily violence. It fails to take into account the grade or realism of violence, and lumps it altogether as a single universal constant, rather than a subjective scaleable value.

    By their standards it would seem like one minute of thumb restling out of 2 minutes of gameplay would be rated as 50% violent whereas 1 minute of shooting a guy in the face with blood splatter effects and visceral gurgling sound effects out of 10 minutes of total gameplay would only be rated as 10% violent. It's a flawed system of measurement which completely fails to take into account all the factors involved in what a normal, average, discerning, human being would normally use to define "violence".

    Even when it measures relative deaths per minute, it doesn't seem to care exactly what is dieing. Apparently a goomba or a turtle from mario, or a plant monster, or even a ghost, is measured exactly the same as a poor defensless civilian grandmother from GTA. It also doesn't seem to care about the method used in killing; whether it be bopping on the head, causing it to instantly dissappear, or to light a person on fire and watch him burn to death screaming. Burning someone to death usually takes a little while, so you might actually get a lower violence rating if you kill people exclusively with flamethrowers.

    The relative levels of education involved in this debate in this case is just another misleading factor. Just because the person who conducted the study has a Harvard Phd doesn't mean she has a clue. Her study may very reliably and accurately measure the level of something in videogames, it certainly isn't what most people would call violence. And whatever it measures, it certainly doesn't seem to be anything useful.
  • What about Hitman? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MortimerV (896247) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:39PM (#15974133) Homepage
    How would a game like Hitman be rated? In optimal gameplay, you're "violent" for maybe 5 seconds out of a 15-30 minute mission. Does that make it under 1% violent, more child friendly than Pokemon? If preparations to do violence counted, then Dig Dug should be near 100% violent, rather than the 67% they gave it. The whole purpose of the game is to blow the enemies up, as Hitman's purpose is to kill your target. So what's the deal? Am I missing some other criteria in their judging system? From where I'm sitting, they're just looking foolish.
  • She's not a PhD. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by random coward (527722) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @06:41PM (#15974144)
    Her doctorate is an "Sc.D., Harvard School of Public Health"
    Don't inflate it, this isn't a hard science PhD. Its not even a Psych PhD!
    Her field is "risk analysis"
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:06PM (#15974305) Journal
    Either her data hold up to peer review, or they don't. Of course, this is a sociology study, which isn't noted for being the most scientifically rigorous field in academia.

    -jcr
  • A PhD in *WHAT*? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darkonc (47285) <stephen_samuel&bcgreen,com> on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:07PM (#15974313) Homepage Journal
    Just because she has a PhD doesn't necessarily mean that it's relevant to what she's talking about.

    Just because she's testifying before Congress doesn't mean that she's giving good testimony.

    Two examples:

    1. A PhD in Music talking about orbital mechanics
    2. The 12 year old kid who tearfully testified about Iraq soldires draring babies from incubators who turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador (and probably not in Kuwait at the time of the attack).
    ___

    Personally, I'd be inclined to describe PacMan as akin to a computerized game of 'tag'. Now, if you come up with a definition of 'violent' which classifies tag as violent, then you're gonna probably tag pacman with that same definition.

    If, on the other hand, you use Bush's definition of iraqi torture as the border for violence, then Pacman doesn't register on the scale.

  • by RiffRafff (234408) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @07:31PM (#15974448) Homepage
    Ph.D. or no, it's a 20-some-odd-year-old game depicting a phosphorescent fictional/made-up "protagonist," "eating" a bunch of inanimate phosphorescent dots. No blood, no screams, no mayhem.

    How could this POSSIBLY justify a "62% violent" rating?!? That's like saying you're committing murder by eating your Rice Krispies(TM) each morning.

    This "Doctor" (and I use that term extremely loosely) needs to get a life. (Or maybe some paying patients...)

  • "On one hand we have an established Harvard Phd, who has testified before the U.S. congress, against a game journalist with a bachelors degree in Psychology."

    That doesn't prove anything. I have a Ph.D., and I don't know shit!

    http://genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/html/id.phtml ?id=11874 [nodak.edu]
  • So how long is it before our wonderful news media puts two and two together and releases a piece of "news" that the shooter in the Vermont school shooting today, played Pac Man and it made him want to kill?
  • This is a classic case of confusion between an operational definition [wikipedia.org] and a coceptual definition [wikipedia.org]. Her operational definition of violent video games says that PacMan is violent. The question is: Is her conceptual definition of violence appropriate? If so, does her operational definition follow from that conceptual definition? If not, why not? Is her concept of a violent video games different from yours? If so, how?
  • who knows the difference between 'violent' and 'aggressive' actions and behaviour?
  • by tgibbs (83782) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:03PM (#15974630)
    As another Harvard PhD (Harvard Medical School in my case), I'm with Stanton.

    I think that there are some fairly serious problems with this entire field of videogame violence studies, which has been characterized by some of the sloppiest, most overinterpreted "science" that I have ever seen. Dr. Thompson is far from the worst offender. The main problem with her work is that it utilizes an arbitrary, unvalidated definition of "violence." If she wishes to relate here work to the studies that purport to detect harmful effects of videogame violence, then she certainly needs to establish in some rigorous way that what she calls "violence" is in some sense comparable to what these studies are examining. (those studies are mostly pretty bad, too, but that is another issue).

    Stanton's point that Thompson's classification system yields high violence scores for games that most people, and most parents, would not consider to be particularly violent is a perfectly valid criticism, and her defense, which was essentially "we aren't using it for those games" simply dodges the issue. Given that her criteria are clearly misleading for some games, how does she decide which games it can validly be applied to. I think that it is highly irresponsible for her to report her %violence measures to Congress without properly explaining the criteria she used for classification (saying that it's in her papers is hardly adequate here, considering that her audience is most certainly not going to be reading those papers). Frankly, it seems highly questionable to me whether Dr. Thompson's studies have any value at all. I thought that her defense of classifying Pac-Man as violent was particularly revealing:

    I'm sure that as a young child you probably were not frightened of ghosts trying to kill you, but the concept is one that does frighten many young children.


    What I find notable here is that she seems to have made no effort to actually determine whether many--or indeed, any--young children actually interpret Winky, Blinky, et al. in Pac-Man as "ghosts trying to kill you" or are actually frightened by the game. This kind of uncritical thinking seems representative of her approach.

    I should note, however, that her actual recommendations to Congress seem fairly reasonable. She suggests, for example, that ESRB members should actually play the games, hardly a radical suggestion. And somewhat ironically, she suggests that they should do what she failed to do herself in her testimony--"make its rating process and the terms that it uses in its ratings more
    transparent."
  • by kn0tw0rk (773805) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @08:09PM (#15974665) Journal
    I think it comes down to how the Dr T defines violence. It had little to do with how graphicly it was depicted but how it related to the experience of playing the game, like the winning and loosing conditions and the interaction between the game objects. As for how valid that view is, is open to opinion. Ditto with how much violence seen or acted out is good for a person.

    So for pacman, eating dots being the primary goal isnt violent, eating a power pill and then eating ghosts a supporting goal is violent, and getting caught by a ghost to loose a life is also violent. The fact that the violence was not portrayed in a realistic or gruesome manner was not considered.

    Thus by her definition, Space Invaders, chess, Quake would all easily out rank pacman for violence because the primary goal is eliminate/kill an enemy, and the loss condition being death of the players avatar. Where as solitaire, most racing games, or DDR would be almost devoid of violence.

    The best bit about her reply was saying that the parents of kids are ultimately responsible for what they let their kids play.

    Regardless of what Dr T said to some senate committee, it will be perverted/given spin by the politicians for their own means.
  • So PhDs like crack (Score:2, Interesting)

    by selex (551564)

    So we're taking a subjective idea (violence) and trying to quantify it using objective data (a percentage). Pac-man eats little bits of white dots, (could be food, could be babies), and defends himself from ghosts (probably don't exist). What I remember learning from Pac-man was that in order to survive you needed to eat. Then there were these ghosts trying to kill me (could be white people). Then by either fate or determination you can turn the fight back on the "ghosts" and take them out, because they

  • I'm sure that Dr. Thompson's doctorate is the real difference in whether or not she's right or not. And she's not. In fact, she's an idiot IMO.

    I work in building full of people with PhDs. Most of them lack any common sense and frequently make me wonder how they teach computer science since most of them need assistance installing a printer. But hey, I'm just an undergraduate, what do I know?
    • by man_ls (248470)
      Computer science, as in the math-heavy discipline involving algorithm design and development, doesn't mean you're good at IT support related things.

      Computer science as in writing code doesn't exist. The correct name for that field is computer application development, computer programming, or something of that nature. (Software engineering is not the same thing, either.)

      Thusly, the fact that your CS professor, who is mostly a math guy, can't install a printer should neither count against him nor be surprisin
  • Obviously you've never seen this Canadian comics "Talking to Americans" segment. In one he speaks to faculty and staff at Harvard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_mercer#Talking_t o_Americans [wikipedia.org] While not covered in the article, needless to say they were pretty clueless about shit you should have known was made up with just common sense.

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