[Hat Tip: Clayton Cramer]
Current scientific research is showing that first-person shooter games do generate specific alterations of the brain’s activity:
“This is not just a game,” German scientist Klaus Mathiak concludes in a new study of the brains of video game players.
The University of Tubingen neuroscientist analysed the brains of men aged 18 to 26 who are avid players of “first-person shooter” games. These are the most popular game category for young men: The players assumes the role of a character in a violent world, seeing his surroundings through that character’s eyes, and blasting away at all the bad guys who try to kill him.
As each player entered a dangerous parts of the game, his brain “lit up” with activity in a brain area associated with aggression, called the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex.
This high level of activity shows the players has a feeling of reality and “being there,” says a summary of the research by the University of Southern California, which worked with the German team.
But as the fighting actually began, there was a drop in activity in another part of the brain — the amygdala.
This is an emotion centre, where a person feels empathy with others, among other things.
Mr. Mathiak’s conclusion: It’s possible that reinforcing the circuits the brain uses to respond to a crisis with aggression, even violence, may prime the brain to act the same way in real life. [emphasis mine] After all, to the brain the video game itself seems to be real.
As well, the brain becomes accustomed to switching off — or at least dulling — feelings of empathy for others.
Past studies of young men who love these games have found higher levels of aggression, but haven’t come up with a direct cause-and-effect explanation for it.
I wrote about this on Slashdot back in 1999:
I suppose it’s too much to ask Jon Katz and the /. readership to actually consider the idea that Doom, Quake, etc. might in reality desensitize people to violence and gore, and be dangerous to the psyche of folks who are already too close to the edge?
Boneheaded, fascistic responses by school administrators (probably lawyer-driven) do not exonorate anything. It’s not an either-or, zero-sum equation — it’s quite possible that school is hell, administrators are fascists and Doom and Quake help set those kids at Columbine off.
I fully expect to hear “But I play Quake, and so to my friends, and we’re OK.” That may be true. But that makes about as much sense as arguing that alcoholism must not exist because you yourself are a moderate drinker.
Oh, well. Better to moan about clueless parents and administrators, get a thrill from reliving one’s own high-school angst, and feel noble by validating the the angst of current high-schoolers, than to actually reflect on one’s own life to see if anything should change on acount of this tragedy.
Do I want to see Internet censorship and banning of shooter games? No. But exactly what to you Doom/Quake players think you’re accomplishing by burning in those particular neural pathways?
File under “science gets around to confirming common sense.”
God have mercy.