Using Tragedy To Push An Anti-Video Games Agenda

We all knew that it would come to this.  Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, has introduced the first piece of legislation tied to the horrible tragedy that took place last week in Newtown, Connecticut.  It isn’t a law to ban assault rifles, or limit ammo capacities; it’s about video games.

The legislation is spurred off of reports that the alleged shooter (who will not be named here) may have played video games.  The bill calls for a study to be conducted on the effects of video games on children.  Of course, this issue has been at debate for a long time now, and we thought that the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision to cast down a California law banning violent video games would be the last we heard of it.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  Here are some facts regarding gamers in the United States, compliments of the Entertainment Software Association:

  • Over 50% of the households in the United States owns one or two video game consoles.
  • 68% of video gamers aren’t children.  They are in fact over the age of 18, with the average gamer being 30 years old.
  • More females over the age of 18 (30%) play video games than boys under the age of 17 (18%).
  • 73% of parents believe that parental controls on the console are useful, with 91% of parents watching what their children are playing.
  • Collectively, non-violent genres such as casual, sports, racing, and Family Entertainment games make up 35.6% of the market share.  While Shooters made up 18.4% of the market.  (Other genres could really fit in either camp depending on their ESRB rating.)

According to NPD (thanks GI International), there were over 211.5 million gamers in the US.  That’s over 67% of the country’s 315 million people.  That means that if we were to take every murder in the United States for 2011 (14,612 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports website) and label the killer as a gamer, it would account for 0.00006908747% of the gamer population.  Conceivably, if video games were turning the populous into psycho killers, it would be doing so to more than 6/100000ths of the population.  Furthermore, looking at the numbers supplied by the ESA, if they are driving people to kill, then based off of market share I would say that Angry Birds and Super Mario Brothers are the root cause, not Call of Duty.

In regard to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision to throw out California’s violent video game ban, as well as numerous other courts tossing out similar laws, Rockefeller states, “They [the courts] believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons.”  This is in reference to the Supreme Court’s examples of books such as The Adventures of You: Sugar- cane Island (an example of interactivity in a novel), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (as an example of violence and gore in a children’s book) among others, while the Saturday morning cartoons bit is in reference to SCOTUS’ note that the study California relied so heavily upon openly admitted that effects of video games were the same as that produced from showing a child a cartoon like Bugs Bunny:

“The State’s evidence is not compelling.  California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children.  These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, “[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.” Video Software Dealers Assn. 556 F. 3d, at 964. They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.

Even taking for granted Dr. Anderson’s conclusions that violent video games produce some effect on children’s feelings of aggression, those effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. In his testimony in a similar lawsuit, Dr. Anderson admitted that the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television. App. 1263. And he admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, id., at 1304, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), id., at 1270, or even when they “vie[w] a picture of a gun,” id., at 1315–1316.8”

Read up on the full decision here.

The fact that Mr. Rockefeller is calling for a “comprehensive study” of a topic not related to this horrible tragedy is, in my opinion, unfounded, outrageous, and immoral.  While parents in Connecticut are burying their dead children a week before Christmas, this gentleman decides to use their grief for his own agenda; an agenda that has been stricken down in the courts more times than can be counted, all the way to the highest court in the United States.

Can’t we for once, instead of looking for ways to legislate a bad solution to a problem, take a step back?  Instead of making mindless accusations to pass a law that goes against two-thirds of the population of a country, how about we support those families that need the caring and support in this horrible time?   Senator Rockefeller and his bill-weaving constituents should be writing a bill to make sure that not one of those mothers and fathers bear the financial burden of a funeral while dealing with the fact that they’ll never get to see their departed children grow up.  That would be a bill that I’d gladly pay additional tax dollars for.


Huffington Post

Entertainment Software Association

Games Industry International

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Supreme Court of The United States (via Google)

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About This Post

December 20, 2012 - 8:00 am

Gaming, Opinion