When the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for a case centered around keeping violent video games from minors, one Ohio State professor took action.
Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology, has spent the last 25 years studying the effects of media violence on aggression. He concluded that violent games contribute to increased aggression and thus are harmful to kids.
Based on his years of expertise in media violence, Bushman and several colleagues filed an amicus brief in the case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchant’s Association.
Amicus briefs are unsolicited opinions by “friends” of the court and are commonly filed by interested parties who feel strongly about a case.
This case focuses on a California law prohibiting the sale of games which are rated “Mature” or “Adults Only” to children younger than 18.
The entertainment industry argues the law infringes its right to free speech and that there is not definitive evidence that violent games are harmful to children.
Bushman and the 114 other academics and social scientists that signed the brief said the evidence is overwhelming that violent games contribute to aggressive behavior in children and the law protects kids from harmful influences.
“Adults 18 years and older can do whatever they want,” Bushman said. “But we don’t let kids drink beer or smoke cigarettes, and I think it is also inappropriate to let kids play games that are not age appropriate for them.”
The brief Bushman contributed to and signed, known unofficially as the Gruel brief, was one of many submitted to the high court. One other brief caught Bushman’s attention, however. Known as the Millett brief, this document was signed by 82 academics and social scientists, and argued that violent games are not harmful.
That left Bushman baffled.
“Who are these 82 people who signed the Millett brief?” Bushman said. “They claim to be experts. Are they really experts?”
Bushman and two colleagues who signed the Gruel brief, psychologist Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and Deana Pollard Sacks of the Texas Southern University School of Law, analyzed the credentials of the experts in both briefs.
The study counted the number of academic works published by all the signers on violence and media violence, and then measured the credibility and impact of the journals in which they were published.
“If you’re an expert, hopefully you’ve done research on the topic,” Bushman said.
After analyzing the data, they found of the 115 signers of the Gruel brief, 60 percent had conducted published research on violence and aggression and 37 percent had published at least one article on the specific topic of media violence.
In contrast, 17 percent of the Millett signers published research on violence and aggression and 13 percent on the specific topic of media violence.
The research also found that of those who were published, Gruel experts were published in top tier journals more than 48 times more often than Millett experts.
This, Bushman and his colleagues argue, proves the Gruel brief to be more credible.
They filed the data with the court and will publish the study in the May edition of the Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy.
In a phone call, Patricia Anne Millett, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney for whom the Millett brief is named, declined to comment.
John Sherry, an associate professor of communications at Michigan State University, signed the Millett brief. Sherry said in an email that Bushman and his colleagues embrace a different set of assumptions, and as such “it makes little sense to reply to his ‘study.'”
Sherry compared it to a reporter from The New York Times, discussing a story with a reporter from the Russian news agency Pravda.
“With such a different set of assumptions,” Sherry wrote, “there can be no fruitful discussion.”
Bushman, who plays video games with his kids, said games are not all bad, as long as they are age appropriate.
Jim Pickett, a fifth-year in art and technology, is the former leader of the Video Game Creation Club at OSU. The group has developed several “shooter games,” which could be interpreted as violent. Pickett said he thinks it is a parental responsibility to control what games kids play.
“I think it is up to parents to control what content their children take in,” Pickett said.
Bushman said it is difficult to monitor kids’ media intake when they are at a friend’s house, and the law may help keep violent games out of the hands of minors.
The court is expected to rule on the case this summer, and Bushman hopes the brief will help the justices conclude the law can have a positive impact on society.
Violent games are one of many risk factors that contribute to violence and aggression, Bushman said. But most other factors, like poverty and low intellect are difficult to change.
“It is a lot easier to change how much people are exposed to violence in the media,” Bushman said. “This is one thing we can do something about.”