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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Link Between Straits Times And Violence?

Sometimes, a news article produced by the mainstream media reveals more about the media itself than the incident it is trying to report.

Here is one such article (subscription required) :

A link between gaming and violence?

Experts say there is no direct link but in extreme cases, multiple risk factors are involved

By Jamie Ee Wen Wei
Mavis Toh
Huang Huifen

Three gamers were in the news last week for the wrong reasons. Two are dead and a third is in jail after they hurt themselves or others.

Is there a link between gaming and their aggressive or violent behaviour?

Studies by Iowa State University's Distinguished Professor Craig Anderson, one of the world's foremost scholars on media violence, show that playing violent video games causes people to think and act more aggressively, but he does not not believe playing video games will turn "normal 12-year-olds into school shooters".

Social psychologist Angeline Khoo, said that the link between violent computer games and aggressive behaviour is co-relational rather than direct.

Dr Khoo, who is the National Institute of Education's associate professor of the psychological studies academic group, explained: "When people read sensational news like this, they tend to think, it must be the evil game. But there are many people who play violent games and are perfectly normal."

What most people fail to understand is that physical violence, like stabbing, is only an extreme form of aggression. It rarely happens, she said.

More common manifestations of aggression are verbal, like raising voices or spurting vulgarities, she said. "The aggressive tendencies tends to be short-term. They can dissipate. For example, if you listen to soothing music after playing a violent game, you will calm down."

Experts agree that in extremely violent cases, there will usually be a convergence of multiple risk factors. There include gang involvement, anti-social parents and peers, substance abuse, poverty and media violence. Males are more at risk.

On the ground, psychiatrists and social workers are reporting more gaming-related problems among youths. At Touch Cyber Wellness and Sports, counsellors have seen more than 140 cyber-related cases in the past three years.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said he sees at least one patient daily who has gaming or Internet related issues.

"Some of them have avatars, and when their avatar dies or gets killed, they can become very angry, and in extreme cases, they may throw things or scream at their parents, or threaten to commit suicide."

Gamers are, however, upset that violent games have been fingered for the recent incidents.

Referring to the stabbing incident at Nanyang Technological University last week, Mr Nicholas Khoo, 31, co-founder of the Cybersports and Online Gaming Association, said: "Such incidents happen to a minority of gamers... In this incident, there could have been other reasons that led him to do it, so why was gaming blamed?"

Those interviewed also said they have not experienced any violent behaviour, although they said their relationships may have suffered.

Ms Sabrina Ong, 25, a blogger and avid gamer, said: "I don't become violent, but I tend to be more engrossed when I'm killing a character in shooting games like Left 4 Dead. I will shoo people away when they come and talk to me."

Technician Eddy Zhang, 28, said: "I became a bit reclusive. My girlfriend also broke up with me as she felt that I was spending more time playing games than with her."

Dr Khoo said studies have shown that parental involvement is vital in managing the violent effects of gaming.

"For instance, if someone utters a profanity in the game, the parent can tell the kid, we are not going to imitate this person's behaviour. There will at least be some guidance."

AsiaSoft, publisher of games like Maple Story, has created pop-up messages to remind gamers to take breaks. By the fourth hour, the gamers are asked to quit the game. Its spokesman said: "It's all about moderation."

David Hartanto Widjaja, 21

Online activities: A fan of the computer game World of Warcraft, the Indonesian student from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) spent as much as six hours a day in front of his PC.

What he did: He stabbed his lecturer, Associate Professor Chan Kap Luk, 45, in the lecturer's office last Monday.

What happened to him: Shortly after the attack, Mr Widjaja fell four floors to his death at the NTU campus.

Captain (Dr) Allan Ooi, 27

Online activities: The Singapore Armed Forces doctor was an avid Warcraft player who became one of the top 10 Warcraft players in Singapore, and was among the top 100 in the world.

What he did: He had been absent without official leave since last October, reportedly cutting off all contact with people close to him.

What happened to him: He was found dead in Melbourne last Tuesday.

Xia Yun, 19

Online activities: He played games from the multi-player online gaming site, AuditionSea.

What he did: Two years ago, he met a 10-year-old girl at the gaming site, and eight months later, they had sex.

What happened to him: He was charged with two counts of carnal connection. If he is not granted probation, he faces jail of up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000 for each charge.


This is the most incredible Straits Times report I've read all year.

Based on all the expert opinions in the article itself, the heading should be "Experts say: no link between gaming and violent crime"

But yet it is "A link between gaming and violence?"


The experts have clearly stated that the aggression displayed by engrossed gamers is short-term and there is only correlation data to show that violent computer games are "linked" to violent behaviour, not to say violent crime.

Correlation does not imply causation; this sort of "link" has no predictive value.

Let me illustrate this concept using an example given by Stanford professor Jerker Denrell.

The three men mentioned in the article not only played computer games regularly, but also brushed their teeth regularly.

Does it mean that toothbrushing is "linked" to violence?

To underscore how ridiculous this sort of insinuation is, let's rewrite some parts of the original article to reveal yet another apparently sinister, but utterly meaningless "link":

A link between newspaper-reading and violence?

Experts say there is no direct link but in extreme cases, multiple risk factors are involved

Three newspaper-readers were in the news last week for the wrong reasons. Two are dead and a third is in jail after they hurt themselves or others...

... Experts agree that in extremely violent cases, there will usually be a convergence of multiple risk factors. There include gang involvement, anti-social parents and peers, substance abuse, poverty and media violence. Males are more at risk.

Oh my!

Now I know why many people are so irate when they read our mainstream media articles - they become angry because of the violent news that is reported in the papers!

Or perhaps it's because the newspapers sometimes perform bizarre stunts, like trying to draw such a tenuous connection between three disparate cases and gaming.

To their credit, the Straits Times seemed to know that a single case cannot tell us much, and attempted to do a comparative analysis of these three cases.

However, a cursory look will reveal that even the correlation is not there:

Online activities:

1. David Widjaja = WOW (MMORPG with combat element - possibly violent)
2. Allan Ooi = WOW (MMORPG with combat element - possibly violent)
3. Xia Yun = AuditionSea (Online dancing game - violent???)

What they did and the aftermath:

1. David Widjaja = Apparently stabbed lecturer and committed suicide, investigation underway (violent)
2. Allan Ooi = AWOL, found dead under a bridge in Melbourne, investigation underway (violent???)
3. Xia Yun = Underaged sex with 10-year-old girl, charged in court (violent???)

Also, their interviews with various members of the public do not suggest any such correlation:

a. Nicholas Khoo: "Such incidents happen to a minority of gamers... could have been other reasons..." (disagreed with correlation)
b. Sabrina Ong: "I don't become more violent, but I tend to be more engrossed..." (disagreed with correlation, engrossed = violent???)
c. Eddy Zhang: "I became a bit reclusive. My girlfriend also broke up with me..." (reclusive = violent???)

What the hell is going on?


At first, I could not believe that I was reading this sort of rubbish in our mainstream media.

On closer reading, I realized that practically nothing in this article supports the suspicion that gaming is linked to violent behaviour.

In fact, it almost seems as if the writers had set out to disprove this connection, but a subeditor decided to slap on a heading that is 180 degrees opposite to their assertion.

Which brings us to this crucial question that is glaringly omitted in the article:

Who is claiming a direct link between gaming and violence?

Experts don't claim this and the people interviewed don't claim this.

Is this report spurred by a massive discussion on online forums about the role of gaming in recent cases of violent crime (which I doubt because netizens tend to focus on the scholarship issue)?

Or did the Straits Times receive a huge influx of letters from concerned parents regarding gaming (which they have decided not to publish for some reason)?

Someone wanted to push the angle of computer games and violence.


Would you like to know more?

Proponent of association between violent games and violent behaviour:

Actual viewpoint of Prof. Craig Anderson (Dept of Psychology, Iowa State University)
Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions (APA Online)

Opponent of causal link between violent games and violent behaviour:

Viewpoint of Prof. Jonathan Freedman (Dept of Psychology, University of Toronto)
- Evaluating the Research on Violent Video Games
- Jonathan Freedman, deputy provost

Another article that revealed more than its author intended:
- A Uniquely Singaporean Letter


Anonymous said...

Straits Times is shit.

1. They are censored by our ruling party, and is SEVERELY biased. E.g. the coverage of GIC/ Temasek losses. Only idiots think they have fair coverage.

2. They have idiot writers. Reference aforementioned article. Like you said, all 3 of them wear underwear, play computer games, brush teeth, hence resulting in violence. Even 3 year olds know you can't link it like that.

3. They publish shit like TCM theories e.g. Eczema is caused by Liver being on Fire and lots of Water and Wind in the Kidneys. I'm not kidding.

4. They publish Sunday Times "Invest" articles that are merely chances for Singaporeans to show off their wealth and have no useful info on actual investing. It always conclude with "oh , i drive 3 BMWs, 2 Mercedes and 6 Ferraris."

so on and so forth.

btw great blog.

angry doc said...

Wolf said...

Who? It'll be the same group claiming that Dungeons and Dragons cause violence, Satanic worshipping, and what-have-you back in the 80s. You know, those guys pushing for wholesome and moral family values.

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Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Anon 3:51,

Welcome to Fresh Brainz! Not everything that comes out of the Straits Times is this bad, but their quality of work is wildly variable. I sense inner conflict within the organization - a group of adversarial tigers with nothing in common working together only because... actually I'm not sure how they work together.

To Angry Doc:

Heh, what a coincidence. I like that xkcd girl; she reminds me of Carla Gugino.

Come to think of it, everything reminds me of Carla Gugino.

To Wolf:

I knew it! The North Koreans are trying to take over the world!

Wolf said...

Well, if the only other alternative is MapleStory players taking over the world... :P

Anonymous said...

what's worse? Their report on Allan was completely insensitive and disrespectful. Publishing that on the very day his obituary was in the papers, and when the family is trying to grieve their beloved son!

On top of that, as a friend of Allan's, I am incensed (and am not a gamer, lest there be doubt!) He only played DOTA around 2001 and stopped since!

What on earth possessed those journalists to make use of the memory of Allan like that??

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I'm just really disappointed. My friend's life was trivialized by a stroke of a pen.

Edgar said...

I was quite horrified when I saw that horribly, irresponsibly titled news article. Any chance you'd be writing in to the forums about that?

I'm working with a group of youths who are organizing a cyber-wellness/gaming forum together with AsiaSoft, hopefully we can help correct this ridiculous claims. Now I feel like giving a presentation on that day about such claims.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Anon 4:15/4:17,

My condolences on your loss of a good friend.

To Edgar:

Thanks for the suggestion, but I've stopped writing to the ST forum a long time ago.

It'll be great if you can address this claim during the event!

Amused said...

From what I read, David seems to be a very popular player in his game.

He was portrayed as a kind and very helpful player. You can google his name and the game he's on for more info.

Plus, the game that he was currently playing is not World of Warcraft. It is Destiny Online. The newspaper did not even bother to get the correct fact.

Anonymous said...

It pains me to see how our local journalists, supposedly the cream of the crop, has shit for brains and no compassion at all.

Totally unfair and unjust for them to find invalid links/ reasons for such unfortunate deaths of these individuals - all just to stir up an angle of interest for a story that's totally incoherent to any background of any case.

Give their families a break please. Let them mourn without having to deal with irresponsible journalism or heartless ethics.

I am very sure these journos wouldn't want their own editors writing about how their "deaths" (this is just in the context of this post and with no malice) were linked to them having shit for brains and for inhaling too much office air-conditioning in Toa Payoh.

This is really one big " WTF".

Wake up, Straits Times.

Anonymous said...

The writers can't go write the rubbish unless it's ordered by the editor. So poor, disposable shock troops for being slammed while the editor hides in the shadows.

Ed said...

I guess you are right anon, someone obviously let it pass into print, even if the idea wasnt suggested by him/her.

What irks me is their staunch refusal to publish apologies and corrections to the mistakes they make.

Sivasothi said...

I do expect a reasonable amount of crap in the papers but this article was difficult to calmly ignore in the usual cynical manner.

I was glad to see you highlight this, Leng Hiong, well done. And its good that you point out the schizophrenic nature of the article and its headers and boxes.

My sympathies to the family and friends of David and Allan.

Nicholas Khoo said...

I'm one of the persons quoted in this story. I'm quite appalled at the unprofessionalism displayed coz :
1. They got my name wrong
2. I believe the reporter who interviewed me, by the name of 'Winnie' was not even listed as one of the writers of this story (unless she goes by another name)
3. I gave more complete and balanced view of the whole incident, only my most extreme view was taken and out of context of what I stated. i.e. I was quoted out of context.

This was a phone interview and in essence what I said was :
- I spoke to a Nanyang Polytechnic lecturer recently and he gave a good analogy : driving. Driving itself, isit bad? So for drunk driving and hit and run incidents, do we then say that driving is bad and people shouldn't drive?
- I dunno the full story but so many factors could have lead to this NTU 'stabbing incident'. It might not be fair just to blame the gaming.
- For example there was this story about a gamer who died 'after playing DOTA' a few months back. The thing is, he fainted on his mahjong table the day before, so why was gaming blamed and not mahjong?
- As an association, our aim is make more positive and meaningful engagements with gamers and one of the things is to get families to understand and engage the gamer better to prevent isolation.
- there are so many gamers in Singapore. If playing games make you violent and do violent things is true, then why do most of the other gamers turn out ok and normal?

Anyways, there was this story about a boy who committed suicide over his CCA. In the same argument, can we say that CCA is bad and to be blamed? Reference story :

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Ed and Sivasothi:

Whatever happened during the editorial process, the resulting article is terrible and it appears that nobody is convinced by their gaming angle. Even casual readers will suspect that there is an intent to distract people away from the pertinent issues behind these recent cases.

To Nicholas:

Welcome to Fresh Brainz! Thanks for providing your complete view of this matter. As you have shown in your examples, if we go by Straits Times' standard then practically any activity can be "linked" to any undesirable result.

One can even claim that taking up a scholarship is "linked" to suicide; an angle which I suspect that the Straits Times is desperately trying to avoid.