Home / Official Editorials / Games Cause Cancer!

Games Cause Cancer!

[The following article expresses views that are not necessarily shared by Gamer Reaction. They are the author’s views and should be regarded as such. Enjoy!]

Games Cause Cancer!

Well, not yet anyway.  But with the “thousands of studies” out there linking games with rape, surely there could be one or two illustrating causality with cancer.  For those not entirely in the loop here, I’m quoting a response from self-described media psychologist Carole Lieberman when asked to cite evidence of causality between an increased trend of rape and the existence of violent video games.  “I’d have to look through them or recent ones as far as finding one that specifically speaks about rape,” she positioned in a an interview with Wired, “and I don’t have the time to do that right now.”

It’s a convenient response, especially considering the evidence pointing to the contrary.  According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, “rape has decreased by 60% since 1993.”  When the guys at Wired asked for a single study linking rape with video games in addition to asking for specific games that might encourage rape—and then asking again a week later—Lieberman produced a single article here which mentions neither rape nor sexual aggression.

It all relates back to an article at foxnews.com where Lieberman was quoted to say “the increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games.”

Like the wild claims since retracted from film critic Roger Ebert saying games can never be art, with her wildly off-base comments this woman illustrates a valuable takeaway: though she may or may not be a an expert in a field related peripherally, she sits firmly outside the semiotic domain of video games.  She is at best misinformed in regards to games, their content, and their effect on the human mind.

Of course outspoken lunacy will set the internets ablaze, and not long after the Fox News article was posted her book on Amazon received dozens of scathing reviews from the expected trolls.  Lieberman’s got we gamers pegged here though: “the reviews, laced with explicative, derogatory language and put-downs unrelated to the publication, seem to illustrate that video games do make people more aggressive, indeed.”

Carole Lieberman’s claims are nonsensical at best and lunacy at worst.  Sifting through her words, I did find one half-way reasonable statement: “over the years, I have read hundreds of studies linking videogames to violence.  Rape, as a violent act, is implied in them.  When videogames are violent and sexual, it causes the players to become desensitized to rape and think it is a ‘game.’”

First, even if you can buy into the desensitization piece, how many games out there can one readily get their hands on to play enough of to become desensitized to virtual rape?  Rape as depicted on television and film is infinitely more accessible than any suggested at in a game.  As egregious as it is that games like Postal and Rapelay even exist, how much opportunity is there in the grand scheme of things to enact virtual rape?  How many people have even heard of Rapelay??

In regards to the part about implication—“rape, as a violent act, is implied”—correlation does not prove causation.  Any respectable scientist or researcher will tell you that.  Her comments are absolutely nutso, and at the end of it she almost admits to it: “obviously, I know what I’m talking about or I wouldn’t be called upon to testify in front of Congress.”  If you knew what you were talking about, Dr. Lieberman, you would not “extrapolate farther than science actually allows,” as one Iowa State University professor and researcher of violence in media attests.

So even her most thoughtful response is not one to be expected of a doctoral level researcher and psychologist.  But let’s move on: I’m far more interested in the implications of her comment regarding the scathing Amazon reviews.  As far as I can tell, the comment was a joke; she does not really believe the backlash she received on Amazon is indicative of gamers’ heightened aggression.  Right? Here it is again:

the reviews, laced with explicative, derogatory language and put-downs unrelated to the publication, seem to illustrate that video games do make people more aggressive, indeed.

It’s a cute response to be sure (presuming it was made tongue-in-cheek), but this, like the dickwolves escapade (more in a minute), illustrates a crucial point so many in opposition to reason simply cannot understand.  Because people offhandedly say something mean from behind the anonymous shroud of the internet—or simply poke fun—doesn’t mean they ought to be taken seriously, much less encouraged with retaliation.

The dickwolves debacle in all its cringingly uncomfortable glory is archived here.  I encourage everyone to spend an hour reading it all over to learn a hard lesson or two about the nature of argument, trolls, and misjudgment.  But in briefest summary, I’ll recap with a little commentary.

The guys at Penny Arcade made an off-color joke about rape in their web comic.  As with any joke, there were those who objected.  Taking advantage of the larger-than-usual backlash (these guys have published comics on beastiality and pedophilia before to far less objection), Jerry and Mike responded with another web comic—and importantly, jab at the objectors.  Encouraging others to join the fray with the second comic, this was where the debacle really took off and spiraled completely out of control, on both sides, to an inexcusable degree.

Suffice it to say, it was all fun and games until the second comic—not the comic itself, but the retaliation to it.  In typical jesting fashion, the joke makers shrugged off a small backlash with another joke, this time pointed, belittling the offended party.  I’d like to think that most of us are old enough to understand this is how a joke maker responds when one of their jokes comes under fire.  It’s a joke, after all, funny to some, perhaps offensive to others, and nothing to dignify with a serious responseTo engage the joke maker at this point will only incite them to fire back again in what will become an increasingly ugly and desperate battle of oneupsmanship and poor judgment.  This is exactly what happened.

It was at this point in time that the offended party should have swallowed their pride and ended the debate, period.  Jerry and Mike run a web comic; its entire existence is reliant on poking fun at something before moving on to something else.  But instead, the offended party dumped gasoline on the fire and chose to fire back, ultimately bringing both parties to do and say regretful things.  This was the moment the joke was taken seriously and escalated to a debacle, the fault of which ought to be placed on those who turned the joke into an abomination.  Put plainly, jokes are jokes until someone takes them seriously.  Then they ruin it for everybody.

Taking Lieberman’s quote seriously—about the trolls on Amazon illustrating gamers are more aggressive “indeed”—is as reachingly nonsensical as objectors claiming Mike and Jerry are rape apologists.  Trolls are trolls because of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory and the accessibility of forums.  Jokes are funny except to those they may be offending.  Taking what trolls have to say seriously, or taking the content of a joke seriously—escalating it to a monstrosity it was never meant to be—is indicative of a person’s naivete and immaturity, not their nobility or consideration.

If Carole Lieberman was joking—well har har, joke’s on us gamers.  Move on.  If Carole Lieberman was serious—that trolling comments on her book’s Amazon page suggests gamers are by nature more aggressive than those that never play video games—then God help us; this woman’s insight is being sought at Congress.

Comments are closed.

Scroll To Top