Pressure mounts to tame videogame violence. Good call or bad move?

Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. People continue to visit memorials after gunman Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Friday, Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a Newtown memorial to the children who lost their lives in the Dec. 14th school massacre (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

In the Newtown aftermath, everyone is looking for ways to reduce violence, including banning gory and gruesome videogames.

One town in Connecticut, Southington, even considered a voluntary collection of violent video games, but canceled the event this past weekend.

We have discussed the issue here on the blog in response to a piece by the headmaster of Pace.

In his essay, Fred Assaf wrote, “Each of these games, simply put, eats away at a child’s sensitivity toward killing. We have ‘gamified’ the murder of people, and our children shoot, steal, and bomb in their virtual worlds. Like the basketball player who practices foul shots, we get better at things when we practice. Their habits become automatic, reactive, and second-nature.”

There are calls in Congress to impose more regulation on the $60 billion videogame industry.

“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican, told The New York Times.  “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”

Among those expressing concerns has been New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who told MSNBC, “I don’t let games like ‘Call of Duty’ in my house. You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing ‘Call of Duty’ and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

According to the Hartfort Courant:

As a response to the Newtown school massacre, the Southington SOS community coalition last week went on TV and sought news stories to spread a message: Saturday would be a good time for local families to get rid of overly violent video games.

The group invited people to gather at the old theater property to throw away violence-themed video games — or DVDs or CDs. In return, the local chamber of commerce would encourage some game-free family time by giving them vouchers for restaurant meals or admissions to local attractions.

Southington SOS insisted that it wasn’t blaming video games as the cause of the Newtown shooting, and emphasized that it wasn’t condemning all violent games. Instead, the group said it wanted to spark conversations between parents and their children about the potentially desensitizing effects of games where players kill or maim characters with guns and other weapons.

The concept was a hit with local families, who praised it to teachers and the YMCA, according to Charlie Cocuzza, board president of the chamber of commerce. Numerous video game enthusiasts from around the country and overseas reacted quite differently, though, sending complaints that the idea amounted to knee-jerk book burning.

Southington SOS said it’s convinced that it achieved its goal already. “We didn’t cancel this because of pressure from anyone. The idea was never about burning games or protesting — there’s been a lot of misinformation out there,” Cocuzza said. “Instead of just hour after hour of video games, we wanted parents — who probably don’t know much about the games — to talk with their children about them. And we’re hearing that hundreds of families did.”

Among those critical of the videogame focus is Christopher J. Ferguson, an associate professor and chairman of the department of psychology and communication at Texas A&M International University.

Here is an excerpt from a piece  he wrote for the Hartford Courant: (Please read his full piece.)

Given that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook perpetrator, was a young man, and almost all young men play violent video games at least occasionally, it’s easy and valueless to “link” crimes by young men to video games. In doing so, we fail to learn from past mistakes.

Back in the 1950s, the culprit for juvenile delinquency was comic books. Experts testified before Congress that Batman and Robin comics caused not only delinquency but homosexuality (the Caped Crusaders were secretly gay, it was claimed). We’ve seen similar claims about music.

During periods of media-based moral panics, politicians, activists and scholars will say irresponsible things that the data can’t support. These statements feed our fear and give us answers we so desperately want, even if those answers are false. One might reasonably ask, even if the evidence does not support a link between violent media and societal violence, why take the chance? Why not restrict violent media just in case?

The danger in this logic is that in focusing on the wrong issue we distract society from more pressing issues such as mental health. After the 1999 Columbine massacre, the country focused on video games. That led to a decade’s worth of useless legislation that cost millions of dollars and ultimately was struck down as unconstitutional. We’ve tried that path before.

It’s time to learn from the past and pick a new road. I have no doubt in the sincerity of Southington SOS’ efforts. But I am concerned that they are built on a false premise, and particularly worry about their inaccurate statements about the research.

Our attention is better focused elsewhere.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

34 comments Add your comment

All I'm Saying Is....

January 14th, 2013
3:52 pm

Let’s see, what are we up to now, oh yes, video games. How does it go again? Comic books, cartoons, knives, guns, lead pipes, video arcades, internet porn, video games, etc. don’t kill people, people kill people.

living in an outdated ed system

January 14th, 2013
3:52 pm

@Maureen, I thank you for posting again about this issue. The notion of a 21st century equivalent to “book burning” makes my stomach churn.

My two cents? Lets NOT rush to judgement about video games without clear and irrefutable research on direct links between violent video gaming and real-life criminal acts, absent other factors. We really don’t need to see Prohibition 2.0 again. In fact, bans only encourage more deviant behavior.

Lets instead focus on stronger parental monitoring, and stricter sales and ratings requirements. As stated on previous posts, movie and video game ratings tell you very little about the content itself. However, there are excellent sites for parents such as Common Sense Media.

Lets not eliminate the freedom of speech that makes our democracy strong, but instead focus on tighter regulations and more robust disclosure requirements on the content in such products.

mifted

January 14th, 2013
3:57 pm

How is this an education topic? This is a parenting topic. Where do we draw the line? Are schools responsible for all our ills?

JM

January 14th, 2013
4:05 pm

I blame rock music. Where is that Ozzy Osbourne character these days?

Devil's Advocate

January 14th, 2013
4:06 pm

Bad move because once again people will think they have solved a problem only to see the badness resurface again.

Old Scratch

January 14th, 2013
4:08 pm

Replace video games with rap music and see if the same support exists.

Inman Parker

January 14th, 2013
4:13 pm

One question: If, in fact, video and video games have no effect on behavior, then what is the pupose of advertising on television? What is the purpose of ANY ad or program that seeks to persuade you to do something? Why do little boys play cops and robbers?

Devil's Advocate

January 14th, 2013
4:19 pm

Inman Parker,

I don’t own a Snuggie, Sham-Wow, and hate coffee. Obviously advertising doesn’t control those who don’t want to be controlled.

Mountain Man

January 14th, 2013
4:28 pm

“Lets instead focus on stronger parental monitoring, and stricter sales and ratings requirements.”

But Adam Lanza was an ADULT. He could play as much of these games as he wanted. Why do we restrict access to child pornography because of its “desensitizing effect” on morals, while allowing violent behavior games. Where is the graphic rape video game – surely it is “just a game”.

Grasshopper

January 14th, 2013
4:32 pm

The Advocate above must live in the wild and eat bugs and berries then.

But seriously Maureen, why must the answer always be government interference and regulation? The abject failure of many parents to control what their kids play, watch, do, even eat is pathetic.

Kudo’s to the community mentioned in your quoted story for trying a different approach.

Devil's Advocate

January 14th, 2013
4:38 pm

Oh I see, just because the simple minded are easily manipulated by advertising, those who choose to think on their own and do what they’d like are the crazy ones.

Once Again

January 14th, 2013
4:41 pm

What eats away even more at societies sensitivity to violence is when their government lies so that it can invade and destroy a sovereign nation, resorts to violence over diplomacy so that it can secure oil pipeline rights for Shell Oil, throws people in jail for putting substances into their bodies that the government does not approve of, militarizes their police force with tanks, M-16 rifles, drones, etc. and freely uses them at the drop of a hat for nearly every police situation. Our sensitivities are also destroyed when our president says that its ok for him to assassinate US citizens without due process, charges even being filed, etc. and maintains a “kill list” of individuals. Also when he signs legislation that allows him to throw anyone in jail indefinitely with no due process and when all of the same folks in society that were up in arms about this kind of violence when it was committed by a republican president don’t even say a word because this president is a democrat and black.

Video games are not the source of the problem. Government is. Most of the worst offenders in the video game violence segment are based on US military atrocities around the world. Maybe we should be questioning why we don’t question anything related to either our foreign policy or our oppressive police state.

Georgia

January 14th, 2013
4:51 pm

Imagine a video game that instructed players how to build a briefcase dirty bomb, or a movie that instructed the same. Don’t you think some terrorist domestic or foreign would copy it and actually build the bomb?

Porn is very effective in inducing behavior. Advertising works like a charm. Did you know that during the radio broadcast of a Nascar race, the average speed of cars on the highway goes up by a whole standard deviation? it’s a fact that nobody wants out there, but, I think we need to know.

Whatever is seen or heard, is done again and multiplied over and over. How many of us jumped our GTO over a broken bridge after we saw Smokey and the Bandit? How many of us cheated on our wives after we found out JFK was schtupping Marilyn? How many of us robbed a bank after seeing the movie, Bonnie and Clyde?

We need to ban all dipictions of all human behavior, don’t you see? Why doesn’t someone do something?

Dr. Proud Black Man

January 14th, 2013
4:57 pm

“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” H. Rap Brown tried to warn “you people” about this years ago. But you didn’t listen. Its also too bad that he didn’t heed his own warning. See you next tragedy……

Just Sayin.....

January 14th, 2013
5:02 pm

Here is the thing: a tiny percentage of folks will always ruin things for everyone else. That is the way of things.

9999/10000 people use pseudofed responsibly. 0.01% use it to make meth. What does the government do? Punishes the 99.99% by making them stand in line for 20 minutes at the pharmacy.

The VAST majority of gun owners handle and store their guns safely, yet about 10,000 out of 80 million (thats about .0125%) screw up (most are not legal!) and we want to punish the other 99.98% of gun owners.

The VAST majority of auto owners in metro Atlanta have no problems whatsoever with emissions in their cars, yet we charge them a yearly $25 to read their car’s computer. Not once in the last couple of dozen years have I failed to pass, thus (because SOME people will not keep their cars in good working order) I have paid about $1000 over the last 20 years because someone ELSE won’t keep their car in good working order.

And finally, just because a handful of video game players cannot control themselves, we are going to slam the video game industry even though the vast majority of players are not threat to themselves or society.

That is now the state of America… punish the 99.99+% for the bad deeds of a handful of bad apples.

Grasshopper

January 14th, 2013
5:05 pm

The simple minded ones are those that actually believe they are not manipulated by advertising.

Grasshopper

January 14th, 2013
5:07 pm

Excellent post Mr Sayin.

Just Sayin.....

January 14th, 2013
5:13 pm

BTW. I do think mentally strained folks like Adam Lanza are influenced by video games… and video games may be partially responsible. But should someone be denied a living (video game companies and programmers) because some mentally deficient folks use their products and then do something bad?

Should something be banned, or someone denied a living, because a handful of people use a product for illicit purposes?

In the U.K. they banned confiscated guns… and then went on to clubs, knives, etc. Yes, you cannot carry even a FAKE wooden sword in public, and must get permission to display one in a play! Yet, violent crime (except for firearms) has exploded in the U.K. to far higher levels than in the U.S. Take away guns, and they got groups of thugs with blunt instruments using twitter to coordinate attacks on innocent bystanders instead.

Videogames be damned, thugs are going to be thugs and the mentally deranged will find other ways to commit their acts.

hsn

January 14th, 2013
5:31 pm

Videogame violence IS NOT the issue or the cause of these murders. The same “violent” video games are watched by millions in comparable wealthy nations but these nations don’t have this much uptick in mass murders and gun violence compared to the US.

The difference is that in those nations, these high capacity magazine-type guns are NOT available TO JUST anyone who wants it.

TRUE, banning these weapons will NOT SOLVE ALL the problems (and it is not meant to), but it sure will reduce them and that will be a great START to at least REDUCING these senseless murders. The NRA does not care about anyone’s safety.It is ONLY interested in making millions from promoting gun sales and will demonize any form of sensible gun safety laws with idiotic statements, such as as, “it is an assault on your 2nd amendment right,” and “look.. the evil US government is going to take your guns away from you.”

The US legislative body SHOULD NOT involve the NRA in any legislative solution. It is NOT a govt body but an overrrated stupid gun club that wants to be seen as being more relevant than it actually is.

But don’t hold your breath ! There are fools who will actually continue to blindly support and pledge allegiance to a stupid gun club that has perfected the art of ginning up gullible people’s fears and anxiety to increase gun sales and make millions, even if it came with the price of sacrificing the lives of precious children, some as young as six. SMFH

Georgia

January 14th, 2013
5:36 pm

and I said we should ban all dipictions (sic) of all human behavior on all medium (sic) in all circumstances for all time including Miller Time (hic).

Shark Punch!

January 14th, 2013
5:42 pm

Here’s a bit of perspective:

Just under 100 deaths last year due to mass shootings. More than 32,000 motor vehicle fatalities during the same period. Are we talking about banning video games that require the player to drive (almost always recklessly)? No.

But don’t let something as silly as facts get in the way of hysteria.

mountain man

January 14th, 2013
5:51 pm

Videogames such as “call of duty” (I imagine) portray killing as a part of war, because that is the ONLY “legal” time when you can kill another human being with impunity. In real war, killing is not the objective, the propagation of policy by force is the objective. Did we go to war with Germany in order to exterminate all Germans ( I guess we really failed there). Should we have eterminated the Japanese race in WWII – just keep dropping a-bombs until the entire island was uninhabitable.

living in an outdated ed system

January 14th, 2013
8:33 pm

@Mountain Man, you are making an assumption that there is a direct link between violent video games and real life. I fail to see the research showing that. There was a combination of factors involved here. That’s the problem with focusing solely on video games.

Mitch

January 14th, 2013
11:22 pm

In Georgia we can look to our Legislature and some Governors to find the gun enthusiasts. Certain legislators want everyone to carry a gun in church, in schools, in our parks, to the grocery store, you name it. A recent governor publically stated that he wanted his wife to take a gun to the Airport and challenge the system. I wrote him to consider divorce if he hated his wife. Just read the paper and see a killing every day. We don’t need comic books or vidio games to leet our kids know the joys of carrying a gun. Real life in Georiga is far worse.

Private Citizen

January 15th, 2013
1:07 am

Mountain Man

January 15th, 2013
7:20 am

“@Mountain Man, you are making an assumption that there is a direct link between violent video games and real life. I fail to see the research showing that. There was a combination of factors involved here. That’s the problem with focusing solely on video games.”

I don’t think we should focus ONLY on video games – there were lots of contributing factors to the Newtown shooting (and no one has shown that Adam Lanza was addicted to FPS video games). Mental helath issues, security at schools, easy access to guns are also contributing factors.

My only point is that highly restrict pornography because we, as a society, think it inflames the passions and “desensitizes” people to sex, so why do we allow killing games? (note I said killing games and not “war” games) Why not allow “snuff” films? Why not allow games where the object is to rape as many women as possible? To me it is the same as a killing game. “War” games just try to hide their true purpose (to glorify killing) behind a mask of propriety. If you want to go kill someone legally, where do you go? The armed forces, of course.

Mountain Man

January 15th, 2013
7:25 am

What would the public reaction be if the gaming industry came out with a “first person f*cker” porno game? Points awarded for how many rapes you can commit. Very graphic in detail. Rated Mature, of course, so only adults would play this game. You would be able to choose the size of your “weapon”.

living in an outdated ed system

January 15th, 2013
8:53 am

Banning is not the answer, @Mountain Man. Your example is not a good analogy. In that case, it would be treated as an adult rated title, meaning no one under 17 can purchase it! Just like X-rated movies.

Not BANS, but proper restrictions. This is about better research, more descriptive ratings, and better restrictions. NOT bans.

V for Vendetta

January 15th, 2013
9:03 am

Is this how far we’ve fallen? We can’t take responsibility for ANYTHING anymore? If a young child is exposed to games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo, and plays them incessantly for over a decade, then perhaps that child will grow up to be a bit “off.” But the greater question is why a young child is playing those games to begin with? Children have no money. Last I checked, child labor was a crime in this country. So where do they get the games? Well, that part is easy:

Parents. Parents. Parents.

It doesn’t take a great deal of common sense to look at the cover or description of any of the aforementioned games and understand that they are woefully inappropriate for children not in high school. But parents lack common sense these days. Should we all be punished for their stupidity? Of course not, but it’s easier to punish us all, regulate, and intervene than it is to call a spade a spade and expect people to be responsible for themselves. We truly have freed stupid from the consequences of his or her actions.

And this is what happens.

V for Vendetta

January 15th, 2013
9:06 am

Mountain Man,

Grand Theft Auto was pretty close to that at times. The world still spins.

I don’t think we should rate movies, either. Guess what? When I went and saw “Django Unchained,” an extremely violent movie, there were a number of children in the theater under the age of ten. You know what else? All of their parents looked like mouth-breathing idiots. Should my life be impacted at all because of these morons? Of course not.

Ros Dalton

January 15th, 2013
5:56 pm

The argument against video games is extremely well summed up by this statement from the article:

“You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing ‘Call of Duty’ and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

This is a completely meaningless statement. For example consider this slight alteration:

“You cannot tell me that a politician sitting in an office for hours saying ‘Call of Duty’ is evil over and over and over again does not amount to pandering to an easily deluded base while ignoring the possibility of real solutions to the violence committed by a man with a poorly managed mental illness.”

No data supports his mindless assertion, while ample data supports the idea that we as a nation are inadequately supporting the mentally ill. The latter, however, is a problem that requires real work and real funding to solve, while mindlessly chanting “Ban the games!” looks very productive, is extremely popular, costs nothing, but accomplishes nothing and involves no real work.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 15th, 2013
9:54 pm

I have no problem whatsoever with video games of varying degrees of violence and realism. Banning them amounts to censorship and I don’t advocate that any more than I believe in burning books or censoring films. My problem lies with parents who abandon their responsibilities to preserve their children’s innocence until they reach an age & maturity where they can handle such things, if ever, before adulthood.

My own son, now an adult, is an avid gamer and adores military-themed games. He majored in history in college and is a minor-league expert on World War II. I did not permit him to play video games that are designated for mature players until he reached the later middle grades, and then only some games and not others. I didn’t allow my kids to view most R-rated films until they were in high school, with a few notable exceptions that I watched with them to provide context and guidance.

Many parents exercise absolutely ZERO judgment and filter nothing, exposing their very young and impressionable (preschool, elementary & young middle grades) children to an incredible diet of violence, sex, and other adult content on television and other media, sometimes by neglect and lack of supervision, other times by actually dragging them to the cinema because they are too damned sorry and cheap to hire a babysitter so they can go to the latest slasher flick without toddlers in tow. That’s what I have a problem with. I don’t, however, see a solution to the problem of crappy parenting.

V for Vendetta

January 16th, 2013
8:19 am

Dr. Monica,

You are absolutely correct, yet we are expected to be just that solution. And we wonder why it doesn’t work…?

Jullian

January 16th, 2013
4:04 pm

It is important that game-players and game markers realize that video-games are an artwork and work of fiction, that the entirety of gaming itself should be supported as a WHOLE in it’s content as marked appropriately for it’s age-group audience. Neither game can be used as a “substitute” for real life. This has happened before with Comic-Books and Rock-N-Roll, now congress has turned its eyes on the game industry entertainment.

Video-games, are often created in such exaggerated or supernatural circumstances that the brain CAN tell the difference between real life (which is outside the game) and the fake, virtual world (which is the video-game). When one picks up a controller, they know they are playing a game and not real-life.

The problem with U.S. Congress is that it has had a history of pin-pointing the supposed “issues” or “causes” on inanimate objects like a video-game (which is made out of plastic, data, and a disc), rather than dealing with the very complicated issues that affect society as a whole (such as health care, mental health care, single-mother hardships and other factors in life).

There is a very starking difference between buying a $40 dollar plastic cover game cartridge from the store, and the cold heavy metal of an actua gunl weapon.

It is not video-games that are the cause of problems itself. It is the very problems IN society which have happened even before the invention of games which are not being properly addressed. Just alone in CT many people from prison and mental-health faculties were ‘let out’ to roam the street because of cut-backs. Video-games do not make kooks, it does not make criminals, it does not make rapists. Nor do games turn people kooky. Those are usually those who already have mental issues with themselves to began with.