“Boom, headshot!” Disputed video game paper retracted

After a years-long dispute over a 2012 paper which suggested there might be some effects of first-person shooter video games on players, the journal has retracted the paper.

The stated reason in the notice: Some outside researchers spotted irregularities in the data, and contacted the corresponding author’s institution, Ohio State University, in 2015. Since the original data were missing, Communication Research is retracting the paper, with the corresponding author’s okay.

But as our story last month about this years-long dispute reported, there is a bit more to it. 

The two outside researchers mentioned in the notice are Patrick Markey, psychology professor at Villanova University and Malte Elson, a behavioral psychology postdoc at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. They began questioning the results when Markey noticed some statistical inconsistencies that suggested the data were positively skewed.

(A timeline Markey and Elson posted of their communications with the authors, journal, and OSU over the last few years appears to no longer be active.)

The debate over the findings has spilled beyond this individual paper, which suggested that first-person shooter video games can train players to become better marksmen. The corresponding author, Brad Bushman, has shown that video games and violent media can lead to increases in aggression and violence, but Markey believes the opposite is true, saying studies suggest violent video games have little lasting effect. (Look for his upcoming book, Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong).

Bushman has claimed that the push to retract the paper was a smear campaign. But, ultimately, he agreed with the retraction, as the notice states:

It should be noted that, to ensure impartiality, [journal editor] Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick was not involved in the preparation of this decision, because she is on the faculty at the same institution as the corresponding author. This retraction is in response to inquiries from Drs. Markey (Villanova U) and Elson (Ruhr U Bochum), in agreement with the corresponding author Dr. Bushman.

A Committee of Initial Inquiry at Ohio State University recommended retracting this article after being alerted to irregularities in some variables of the data set by Drs. Markey and Elson in January 2015. Unfortunately, the values of the questioned variables could not be confirmed because the original research records were unavailable. In 2016, Drs. Markey and Elson sent their report to Dr. Gibbs, one of the editors of Communication Research, who decided that a retraction was warranted. A replication of the study by Dr. Bushman is in review.

The 2012 paper “Boom, Headshot!”: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy has been cited twice, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

When we reached out to Bushman, we received a reply from a spokesperson at OSU, who said:

The Ohio State University was alerted to irregularities in some of the variables of the data set by Drs. Markey (Villanova U) and Elson (Ruhr U Bochum) in January 2015. The university and Dr. Bushman were unable to confirm the values of the questioned variables because the original research records had been taken from The Ohio State University. Therefore, in November 2015, Dr. Bushman and The Ohio State University recommended the retraction or correction of the article. In 2016, Drs. Markey (Villanova U) and Elson (Ruhr U Bochum) sent an inquiry regarding this matter to Dr. Gibbs, one of the editors of Communication Research, who decided that a retraction was warranted. A replication of the study by Dr. Bushman has been done and is under review.

Elson told us:

I am pleased to see the paper is finally retracted almost 3 years after the authors were first notified of the concerns (and 2 years after it was first reported to the Ohio State University). The public record has now been corrected, which is the only thing Patrick and I ever wanted after we found evidence of severe errors in the data on which the now retracted paper was based.

Update 2/3/17 2:36 pm eastern: We spoke further with the OSU spokesperson about the timing of the initial request to retract or correct the paper. He explained that in November 2015, OSU and the first author said the journal could make the change, or wait until they had replicated the results. The journal agreed to put off the notice until it received new data, then changed its mind and issued the retraction earlier this year.

Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.

5 thoughts on ““Boom, headshot!” Disputed video game paper retracted”

      1. If I may broaden the focus for a moment, this tactic is used frequently when research findings threaten the profitability of a large industry:
        1. Demand more research to establish result beyond possible doubt.
        2. Accuse researchers of wasting money and of creating the field of research purely to ensure permanent careers for themselves.

        1. Yes, but it’s also false equivalence to claim that *every* time a study that threatens the profitability of a large industry is challenged, it’s to cover up and protect its profits.

          To use the favored analogy, slasher movies didn’t lead to a wave of murderers in hockey masks. So it behooves us to, at worst, treat the chance of violent video games inspiring violence as a possibility to be considered, studied, and debated, and absolutely not a fait accompli. And therefore a poorly conducted study only harms this process.

Leave a Reply to Neuroskeptic Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.