Here we are again, waiting for politicians to decide how our hobby is handled. A new bill has been proposed, but before we go into depth about what it means, it’s merits and it’s flaws, read through the contents so we are all on the same page:

To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION REGULATION.

a) REGULATION.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall promulgate regulations to require the warning label described in subsection (b) to be placed on the packaging of any video game that is rated ‘‘E’’ (Everyone), ‘‘Everyone 10+’’ (Everyone 10 and older), ‘‘T’’ (Teen), ‘‘M’’ (Mature), or ‘‘A’’ (Adult) by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

(b) WARNING LABEL CONTENT.—The warning label required under a regulation issued under subsection (a) shall be placed in a clear and conspicuous location on the packaging of the applicable video game and shall state: ‘‘WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.’’.

(c) VIDEO GAME DEFINED.—As used in this Act, the term ‘‘video game’’ means any product, whether distributed electronically or through a tangible device, consisting of data, programs, routines, instructions, applications, symbolic languages, or similar electronic information (collectively referred to as ‘‘software’’) that controls the operation of a computer or telecommunication device and that enables a user to interact with a computer controlled virtual environment for entertainment purposes.

I have searched quiet a bit and can’t find any information about the studies they are referring to. Granted, there are a ton of studies that link violent actions to violent video games, but none are definitive.  If one does come up with definitive links, I will be sure to update here, or on the site at that time.

So are violent video games truly linked to violent actions? It all depends on what you want the answer to be.  The Washington Post ran a story a few years back that covered quiet a bit of information about a study that was looking for this link.  In the study conducted by Psychologist Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and his team, published in the Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association, a link is found between violent games and  aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive “affect.”  It also found that it desensitizes users and is associated with lack of empathy and a lack of “prosocial” behavior. In response  Christopher Ferguson and John Kilburn of the department of behavioral applied science and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University note faults in the research. Ferguson states a bias in the research and notes that Anderson found a very weak link between violent games and violent deeds. He goes on to point out that violent crime rates have declined in areas where violent gaming has increased. His reply follows:

Although it is certainly true that few researchers suggest that VVGs [violent video games] are the sole cause of violence, this does not mean they cannot be wrong about VVGs having any meaningful effect at all. Psychology, too often, has lost its ability to put the weak (if any) effects found for VVGs on aggression into a proper perspective. In doing so, it does more to misinform than inform public debates on this issue.

Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association also responded with a prepared statement:

Numerous authorities, including the U.S. Surgeon General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and numerous courts have thoroughly and critically examined the social science research and found that it does not establish any causal link between violent content and violent behavior.

Most recently in 2008, Drs. Cheryl K. Olson and Lawrence Kutner, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, conducted a study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice on the effects of video games on young teenagers. In contrast to previous research, they studied real children and families in real situations. In their authoritative analysis, Grand Theft Childhood, they found that ‘the strong link between video game violence and real world violence, and the conclusion that video games lead to social isolation and poor interpersonal skills, are drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports.’

Finally the study authors wanted to push for a fix:

Concerning public policy, we believe that debates can and should finally move beyond the simple question of whether violent video game play is a causal risk factor for aggressive behavior. Instead, we believe the public policy debate should move to questions concerning how best to deal with this risk factor. Public education about this risk factor — and about how parents, schools, and society at large can deal with it — could be very useful.

In times of severe economic decline, crime rates go up. People can’t afford what they need and may steal it, or act out because of their frustration. Video games, according to Grand Theft Childhood give an outlet for this frustration and are likely more therapeutic than harmful. The book gives some great advice to parents. A few excerpts worth a read, even if you don’t care about going through the entire book follow here:

For most kids and most parents, the bottom-line results of our research can be summed up in a single word: relax. While concerns about the effects of violent video games are understandable, they’re basically no different from the unfounded concerns previous generations had about the new media of their day. Remember, we’re a remarkably resilient species. (p. 229)

If a child plays basketball or plays the piano for 4 hours a day, we may describe him as a dedicated athlete or musician. But if that child takes the same approach to playing video games, spending hours each day at the computer, and reveling in the details and strategies of play, we may worry about an addiction.

All of the studies conducted don’t even get into discussing other mediums outside of video games and, at times, movies or television.  How does a piece of art like this affect a child?

You can argue kids spend less time looking at this type of art when compared to video games, but think back to your school days. If you remember them honestly, you spent more time looking at the art in your textbook than listening to your teacher. Until researchers spend the time to look at all types of violent images, art, video games, books, and movies, the warnings should be blanketed across all platforms, not just the cherry-picked few, or not at all. But the discussion about video games as art should be left for another time.

Grand Theft Childhood is a fantastic book by the way.  If you like to take a break from gaming, spend some time reading through it. I read it shortly before my daughter was born, when I was researching the effects of video games on children and came to the conclusion that my daughter can play what she wants. Ultimately, my parenting will affect how she grows up. If I ignore her, and let her play Grand Theft Auto games without any type of feedback from me, issues could arise. “Could” is the key word here. Video games will not make a good person do something terrible, no art will do that. A persons willingness to act on a violent thought is determined more by their DNA, economy, how they were raised and their own mental state. Until the politicians come to their senses and rely on definitive science, I will push for a shirt that says “Warning: Bad parenting has been linked to bad children.” True or not, I’ll find a scientist to give me proof.


Interested in the book mentioned here? Grand Theft Childhood

Follow Chris on Twitter @TheCGravelle for constant updates on video games, Magic: The Gathering, and his daughter.