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Don't Blame Call Of Duty For Teenage Suicide
by Mark Griffiths on 06/01/14 04:32:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


A British coroner has sparked anxiety among parents by linking Call of Duty, one of the most popular video games in the world, to teenage suicide.

John Pollard says Call of Duty has “figured in recent activity before death” in three or four of his inquests and that parents should not let their children play the 18-rated game.

Teenage suicide is a tragedy for any family and those affected will naturally want reasons why their loved ones have taken their own lives. There are hundreds of scientific studies on suicide and many risk factors have been identified, including psychological, environmental and genetic or biological factors. Conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse can also heighten the risk.

There have been very few studies examining the relationship between suicide and videogame playing and those that have don’t necessarily implicate the games as triggers.

2011 US study of 30,000 teenagers reported that those who spent more than five or more hours a day playing video games were slightly more likely to have thought about suicide. A similar finding was also reported in a large national German study of more than 15,000 teenagers in 2010.

But these studies highlight a correlation — not causation. No study published on this matter has demonstrated causality. They have only been able to show, at best, that there may be an associative link among those that play excessively every day.

One of the major problems with research in this area is that studies typically fail to take into account all the other types of suicide and violence that people are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. That includes suicide and violence on the news, in films and television and the suicide and violence people witness in their own lives and local community.

What’s more, academic journals tend to only publish studies that show statistically significant findings. That means they are more likely to publish a study that suggests a link between playing video games and subsequent suicide or aggression rather than those that do not.

While there’s a growing body of research (particularly in the US) claiming a link between violent video games and behaviour, most of it doesn’t follow players over long periods of time.

Much of the research has also been experimental and carried out in non-ecologically valid settings, such as in the laboratory. In fact, all of the measures used to assess “aggression” are proxy measures that are not related to actual violent actions because it is unethical to try and induce actual anti-social and violent acts within a research experiment.

As a result, I don’t think any scientific research shows a proven link between videogame playing and subsequent suicidal or violent behaviour (and certainly none showing the link between gaming and suicide).

The press is currently referring to four teenage suicides in particular in the wake of Pollard’s comments. All four teens are alleged to have played Call of Duty but there is nothing in the reports suggesting causation.

However, if the papers are to be believed, all four teenagers were excessive game players. My own research has shown that excessive (and particularly addicted) videogame players often play excessively as a way of escaping other negative aspects of their lives. If excessive gaming is symptomatic of other underlying emotional, family or social problems, I wouldn’t be surprised to find increased levels of suicide among this group because they are already experiencing negative problems to begin with.

The teenagers may have had an inherent trait towards playing violent videogames that meant they sought out games such as Call of Duty. Videogames may have had an influence in informing how they might have done something or given them ideas but they are highly unlikely to be the root cause of suicide. If I playedCall of Duty all day, every day, I really don’t think it would heighten the risk of me becoming suicidal.

I must have watched and read about thousands of suicidal events (both fictional and real) and I have played violent videogames — but it hasn’t changed my behaviour in any way (at least I don’t think it has). Saying that, I’m a father to three screenagers and I don’t let them play violent videogames. Just because I don’t personally think the evidence shows there’s a link, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any effect. It’s that science has failed to demonstrate a conclusive cause.

This is not about putting the blame on the game. At best, playing videogames like Call of Duty might be a minor contributory factor to suicide. But it shouldn’t be a scapegoat.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Anyone seeking support and information about suicide prevention is urged to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Mark Griffiths is Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University. He has received research funding from a wide range of organizations including the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy and the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. He has also carried out consultancy for numerous gaming companies in the area of social responsibility and responsible gaming.

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Justin Crane
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Just like in other areas of life video games have been the target of misappropriated confusion and anger. The popular attitude is one of, "it can't possibly be something else that they are going through, so let's blame video games." I know it's a bit cliche but you do have to take into account that historically video games have been around for 30 years whereas suicide has been around well before teens Romeo and Juliet decided on their "violent entertainment" induced escapade.

Peter Eisenmann
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Parents should not let their children play 18-rated games, regardless of any suicide-raising potential.

Israel Lazo
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I think this is the most important argument in the whole discussion. I would blame all the parents of kids playing "mature" games. Is their fault for not being involved in the activities their kids participate and the content they are consuming.

Dane MacMahon
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Parental ambivalence is a huge problem in general.

Jason Wells
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The problem with games is that SOME of them are just so compelling to SOME people.

Initially, these people find themselves using games to try to increase their self esteem or escape their lives because the games make them feel good, lift them up artificially, make them feel like a hero/ worthwhile. But that feeling is completely false.

And Multiplayer games are just about the worst choice you could make when choosing something to fulfill this need!! They are more likely to break you further than make you feel like a king - One minute you're high on victory, then the next moment you get totally pwned by someone half your age, and your at rock bottom again.

Too much emotional rollacoaster like that can probably trigger a pre-existing predisposition to mental illness. So you start off having fun but you end up changing your mental state over time. You'll end up obsessed completely with trying to win but find yourself broken over and over. That high you got when you got top of the leaderboard is never the same - never quite as high again. There is a thin line along this type of obsession that can either make you a master or destroy yourself.

We need to look at WHY people are playing games so intensely and at the expense of all else. It is more likely signaling to a deeper-lying problem, NOT the only cause. I also don't think it's holly the depiction of violence that is causing any of these issues or the age of those consuming the imagery but actually the self-imposed isolation and addiction/obsession to trying to be good at something.

Nickesh Chauhan
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I think most of us on GS know that video games (violent or not) don't affect a person's personality to the extent of making them want to kill themselves or others (though that is not to say that a well designed game can't teach us something about ourselves or society). The general public doesn't read GS, and it is the general public who are susceptible to misinformation by the mainstream news.

While I agree with Peter Eisenmann's comment above to some extent, I think that the rating system doesn't have to be followed strictly (I would be fine, for example, giving an 18 game to a 16 year old, provided they have demonstrated a reasonable degree of maturity, but I would object to giving one to a 10 year old). Israel's comment also resonates with me somewhat; games are not babysitters for busy parents. If you can't make time for your kids, you shouldn't have made them to begin with. The rating system is not faultless either: I don't understand why some games fail to get a rating even though 18R or equivalent exist. Surely by that point the audience is capable of recognising a game is fictional and fantastical? What are they trying to achieve by preventing the sale of a game at all?

Let's not forget, also, that before video games were being blamed, it was comic books and violent cartoons, and prior to that it was punk/metal music. There is little evidence, as the article states, that any of these media cause abnormally violent thoughts in people.

Eric Finlay
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This comes across quite hypocritical, to be honest. It seems like you're saying "Science hasn't proven a link, so games shouldn't be so vilified. Oh by the way, I think the concerns are real enough to prevent my kids from playing this class of games." Please correct me if I have misinterpreted or misrepresented what you said.

Dane MacMahon
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Pretty much the first thing you learn in sociology is that media influences everything we do in a myriad of ways no one will realize (or admit). However the answer isn't to remove all media obviously, it's to educate our kids on what those messages mean, what their intent is, and how to resist it when necessary. You can't stop Cosmo from putting unrealistic beauty images on its cover but you can certainly raise your daughter to understand they're unrealistic, etc. etc.