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Seth Moyer COMM 190 Dr.

Ben Cramer Term Paper News Media and Public Perception of Video Games, Gamers, and Gaming In today's society, video games are quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of media. As was the case when other forms of new media that originally became popular among the younger generations first (film, television, etc.), the video game as a medium has garnered much controversy over its rise to prominence. Possible detrimental effects of video game use have been debated since video games first became popular, and video games' popularity are still increasing. The psychological effects of video games on the people who play them have yet to be determined (according to a study led by the US Surgeon General in 2001), and it is an issue that is frequently treated as obviously black and white by pundits and advocates on both sides of the issue. The truth is that video game use and its effects is a complex issue, and not one that can be fully explored in the quick headlines and sound bites that is typical of media coverage. News media has always been able to shape public opinion because of its widespread consumption and its ability to depict events and other stories in different ways, depending on how the creator of each particular story presents it. However, the news media must also cater to the general public in order to maintain its market share. This creates an interesting situation, because news agencies have the ability to effect public opinion to some degree, while at the same time feeling the need to

Moyer 2 stay close to preexisting public opinion. Because of this, news agencies are likely to reinforce the views (or the apparent views) of their intended audiences. Since video game violence currently tends to be a prominent scapegoat for real-world violence even though the link between the two is mainly anecdotal (and arguably unsubstantiated, at least for the most part), the media will usually reaffirm this belief even though it has not actually been shown to be true. Often this can be seen when a violent offenders record of being a video gamer is splashed across the headlines. Usually later a much more complex picture emerges of a deeply troubled individual who is mentally unstable in many ways. Today's news media is likely to adhere to several commonly-held beliefs about video games that are not based in reality. Conversely, video game companies also have their own agenda and at times will defend even questionable material and marketing tactics as a part of their agenda. The media makes choices as to what will be covered and how it will be covered every day. Game companies put out their own message about the benefits of gaming, or at least insist games are not harmful in any way. Academics seek to put into perspective all these issues. This paper will explore the portrayal of video games in the media through the lens of agenda setting theory, sensationalism (with its roots in yellow journalism) and some comments about cognitive psychology as it relates to the media. Agenda setting theory describes the ability for the producers of mass media to choose what issues are in the public eye and how those issues are

Moyer 3 presented. This usually manifests itself through the way a newsmaker frames an issue or through a type of spin that the newscasters put on the story. The prominence of a story on the page of a newspaper or the amount of screen time it is given on television is also able to communicate its importance to the consumer without the consumer even thinking about it. Even though the communication of these saliences is an incidental and inevitable byproduct of journalistic practice and tradition, these saliences are one of the attributes of the messages transmitted to the audience. Not only do the news media largely determine our awareness of the world at large, supplying the major elements for our pictures of the world, they also influence the prominence of those elements in the picture! (Bryant and Zillmann, 4) Agenda setting is also more likely to have an effect on people who have not already established an opinion about the issue at hand. This tends to apply to less popular or well-known issues, sometimes referred to as unobtrusive issues. This is said to be because the need for orientation is the psychological equivalent of the physical axiom that nature abhors a vacuum. individuals who are in an unfamiliar setting will strive to orient themselves. (8) Through the selection of content, a news outlet can communicate which issues they feel are important, but through the way an issue is framed they can also communicate their opinion on an issue. Framing a story is essential for a story to effectively be conveyed, but a story can be framed in a biased manner. Framing is often described as selecting or highlighting certain aspects of a topic's reality while downplaying others in order to affect how people will respond to the topic. (Harris, 39) For example, one way that the news media

Moyer 4 have framed their stories to involve sentiment about video games is that when a public act of violence is committed, particularly a school shooting, the person who committed the act is often assumed to be an avid player of violent video games. Since video game violence is usually not an issue that would be considered obtrusive (at least for most people) such stories may affect a person's perception of violent video games even if it is determined later that games were not to blame (which has occurred several times). The effect of framing then, as described by Entman is to ...define problems-determine what a causal agent is doing with what costs and benefits, usually measured in terms of common cultural values; diagnose causes identify the forces creating the problem; make moral judgments evaluate causal agents and their effects; and suggest remedies offer and justify treatments for the problems and predict their likely effects. (52) One example of this type of framing was during the coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Even while the tragedy was ongoing, headlines were appearing on most major news stations like Video games to blame? and one station even allowed a vehement anti-game advocate some air time. About the publicized link between violence and video games, behavioral sciences and criminal justice researcher at Texas A&M Christopher Ferguson wrote: ...a 1996 study found that 98.7 percent of children of either gender played some video games, with violent games, like Streetfighter II, particularly popular among young men (93 percent of whom had played that one game alone). Since most young men today play violent video games, it is usually not hard to "link" a violent crime with video-game playing if you are so inclined. This is the classic

Moyer 5 error of using a high-base-rate (very common) behavior to explain a low-base-rate (rare) behavior. Using video-game-playing habits to predict school shootings is about as useful as noting that most or all school shooters were in the habit of wearing sneakers and concluding that sneakers must be responsible for such violence. (Ferguson, paragraph 4) In reality, the perpetrator of this heinous crime, Seung-Hui Cho, was not found to be in possession of any video game related items. What was found was a large amount of disturbing literature, and when Cho's background was looked into, it revealed that he was unfortunately a person who had had mental health problems, was depressed, and did not have the support structure necessary for him to recover. However, when the news of the tragedy was breaking, the media looked for a simple explanation that minimized the guilt of the person responsible and placed it on an entire industry. This tendency of the media to overplay stories that are frightening or otherwise interesting is known as sensationalism. Sensationalism is when a news organization focus[es] attention on lurid, highly emotional stories, often featuring a bizarre cast of characters and a gripping plot but devoid of significance to most people's lives. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) The tactic of sensationalism may be used for a number of reasons, the paramount being the increased profit that comes with increased attention. Sensationalized stories may also be politically biased as well. Sensationalized stories often place a greater value on emotion than objectivity, and sensationalized stories are likely to contain information that is exaggerated, overplayed, or completely made up altogether. Sensationalized stories draw more attention than an

Moyer 6 objectively written article on the same subject, but sound journalism has seemed to take a secondary priority in today's journalism in favor of something more entertaining to the general public. An example of a sensationalized story in today's media would be Sweeten-Shults: Video game addicts are killing themselves, literally, which appeared on the Times Record News ' website on August 1 st , 2011. The article is about a young man from England who unfortunately died of a pulmonary embolism after spending an extended period of time playing video games without moving or taking a break. The article is littered with emotionally charged language and overestimates the risk of this type of medical injury occurring. Information contained in the article about games is mostly unsubstantiated and anecdotal, and heavily opinionated. However, it is likely to influence people who do not know about games or have not looked into them because it contains a large amount of strong statements that are presented as fact and would be received as such by a reader. One such statement that is extremely sensationalized claims that now gamers may actually be dying because they don't have enough sense or their parents just aren't paying enough attention to turn the video games off for a while, change gears and go outside and play an actual game, like chess or checkers, basketball or baseball. (Sweeten-Shults, paragraph 8)

Moyer 7 One reason that the effects of media on people's perception of a given issue can be so great is because of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory asserts that:: A person who has dissonant or discrepant cognitions is said to be in a state of psychological dissonance, which is experienced as unpleasant psychological tension. This tension state has drivelike properties that are much like those of hunger and thirst. If dissonance is experienced as an unpleasant drive state,the individual is motivated to reduce it. (Rudolph) Some ways that a person may go about reducing dissonance are changing their beliefs or actions or both, depending on which means more to them. This can cause a person's first impression or opinion on a given issue to stay with them, even if evidence to the contrary is provided. This is also known as a belief persistence phenomenon, which is a type of confirmation bias. This characteristic of human beings to tend to hold to their beliefs means that a particularly compelling argument, be it on an emotional or intellectual level, can cause a person to feel a certain way about an issue for a very long time, even in the presence of evidence to the contrary. The implications of this, combined with the widespread use of sensationalism in the field of journalism and the prevalence of the news media, mean that large numbers of people can be influenced at one time by even one article or news story. Confirmation bias can also affect members of the news media. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh

Moyer 8 evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis. As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence. (Science Daily) This means that when a journalist is writing their piece, they are more likely to select or use sources that agree with their beliefs on a given subject. Since video games are frequently believed to be detrimental among members of the public, including those who are journalists, they will tend to report items that confirm this belief. There are many factors that contribute to the media's often non-factual reporting about video games. Agenda setting, a theory that holds that what is covered and how issues are covered is determined by the agenda of the media. The agenda can be influenced by cultural forces, political considerations, and even the media itself, with smaller outlets following the lead of the large news corporations. Sensationalism also contributes to biased reporting. With its roots in yellow journalism, often hyperbolic reporting and headlines, for the sake of market share, take over and accuracy is the victim. Cognitive psychology principles may also explain part of the biased media coverage. Negative views of video games and gamers, once created, are not easily dislodged. This phenomenon, referred to as belief bias, is a well-known concept in psychology research. In conclusion, the effects of video games on users and society are reported in a variety of ways, depending on the source. Media information ranges from academic studies to outrageous headlines depending on the goals and/or biases of the source.

Moyer 9 Works Cited "Confirmation Bias." Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Science Daily. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. Entman, Robert M. "Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm." Journal of Communication (1993): 51-58. Vancouver Island University. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. "Issue Area: Sensationalism." Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. J. Ferguson, Christopher. "Video Games: The Latest Scapegoat for Violence." Texas A&M International University - Laredo, Texas . Texas A&M International University. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. McCombs, Maxwell. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. Ed. Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillmann. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum, 1994. Print. Rudolph, Frederick M. "COGNITIVE DISSONANCE." Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY. Ithaca College. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. Sternheimer, Karen. Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media Is Not the Answer. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010. Print. Sweeten-Shults, Lana. "Sweeten-Shults: Video Game Addicts Are Killing

Moyer 10 Themselves, Literally Times Record News." Times Record News: Local Wichita Falls, Texas News Delivered Throughout the Day. Times Record News, 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < >. United States. U.S. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General. Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). Office of the Surgeon General. Web. 12 Aug. 2011. < .html >.