Tuesday, July 8, 2008

sources of violence

When we assign argument papers, we look for relevant topics because we know that passionate writing depends upon it. A popular subject for an argument paper is this: Do violent video games promote youth violence? The news media can be counted on to bring us fresh rants every time there is a new release of the most frequently bashed game, Grand Theft Auto. It's easy to find opinions--everyone's got one--but, it's rare to find arguments supported by credible sources.

Duke Ferris at Game Revolution responds to the argument with an article entitled, "Caution: Children at Play--The Truth About Violent Youth and Video Games." Since Ferris is a gamer writing for a video game site, it's to be expected that he would support a position that is friendly to video games. To his credit, he doesn't merely prolong the argument, he provides sources to support his position.

If I may quote directly from the D.O.J. report "Recently, the offending rates for 14-17 year-olds reached the lowest levels ever recorded." The lowest levels ever recorded. In other words, the Playstation era has, in fact, produced the most non-violent kids ever. [Duke Ferris, quote]

Students will likely agree with Ferris's claims, since virtually all of them have experience playing video games and they don't consider themselves violent. So, the best use of this article is to model its use of sources, statistics, and charts, which come from the US Department of Justice. The DOJ site has updated its statistical charts through 2005, so have your students refer to these.

Ferris's argument is strengthened by his admission that overtly violent games are not for children; they are clearly marked 'mature' for a reason, and are rightfully not sold to anyone under 17. Emphasize to your students how this concession strengthens his argument, showing that he is willing to consider opposing arguments. He goes to the effort to link to a variety of opposing opinions, though I would point out to my students how outdated these sources are. We would also make it clear that simple links to other sources are not enough for an academic argument. Each source requires a discussion.

One of the strengths of the internet is ease in finding sources, though that ease is also its weakness: how credible are those sources? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments we find?

It's up to us teachers to show them how it's done.


Anonymous said...

At the same time, however, it's also our job to show them that there are multiple interpretations of the same data. For example, just looking at the graph you shared can lead to the suggestions you made. However, it can also lead to an alternate theory: look at the changes in the 18-24 group and compare those to the changes in the 25-34 group. After 1999, when the former is dropping, the latter begins to rise. Couldn't it be suggested that the generation of kids that were affected by violent video games are just getting older?
Perhaps another valid question worth asking in an essay on this topic would be why violence had such a steep increase in the first place (that climb from 1984-91 is disturbing). What causes such statistical patterns?
I really like this essay topic - I wrote it down as a great one to use for this year. Thanks!

ggratton said...

Great point. We definitely should take the opportunity to critique statistics and charts for alternate interpretations.

Also, as your comment implies, it's important to make the distinctions, in this case, between the age groups, as they don't necessarily all agree with the findings.

Thanks for your comments, ggratton