The Senate is having a hearing on Video Game Violence, and here you can read the statements given in testamony.
The first statement is by Steve Strickland, a minister whose brother was one of three police officers killed by a teenage boy. The boy took one officer’s gun, shot him, then executed the other two officers. Of course, Jack Thompson, lawyer for the persecution of game designers, has convinced this man that this teenager would never have hurt anyone if it hadn’t been for playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’ve got a brother who has played this game. He’s played it alot. The entire thing through, every mini-game, several times over. My brother has never shot anyone. Nor has he stolen cars, raped women, blown up buildings or anything else depicted in the game. In fact, I’d say the game has had no effect on my brother at all. He is the same easy going happy guy he has always been. Perhaps he’s just waiting for the right moment to explode.
The next statement comes from Elizabeth Carll, chair of a department of the AMA that believes that violence on TV makes people violent. So of course, they also believe that violent video games make people violent. The AMA has released this document as a call for what must be done to protect our kids. One of the bullet points of her statement I really enjoyed:
Encourage the entertainment industry to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences. Showing violence without realistic consequences teaches children that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict. Whereas, seeing pain and suffering as a consequence can inhibit aggressive behavior.
The emphasis is mine, because, well, perhaps kids shouldn’t watch the news or read history books either. Violence (war) has been an effective means of resolving conflict for a very long time.
Third we’ve got a statement from another psychologist, Dmitri Williams, who says the smartest thing so far: We don’t know. Internet media and gaming on the level we are talking about is a relatively new area. There are no 30 year studies because violent video games haven’t been mainstream for 30 years yet. As he points out, most of these studies are 10 minute and 30 minute studies, and legislators trying to pass game laws ignore the longer, more in-depth studies, like his own one month test because they show that nothing is conclusive. Also games of huge disparity are often tested together. One such study used sessions of playing Wolfenstein 3D with sessions of playing Myst. The problem is that its not just a case of one game being violent and the other is non-violent, but one game is a fast paced shooter while the other is a plodding puzzle solver.
Next, David Bickham comes in and basically says that the problem isn’t violent video games, but prolonged exposure to violence being rewarded. You know, I can’t say he’s wrong, but as I said a couple of paragraphs above, you can’t limit that to just video games and media. After watching our own government trounce people’s basic freedoms and fight a few wars, the idea that might makes right becomes pretty prevalent through just watching or reading the news. He also says that younger kids are more susceptable to this exposure and what amounts to a desensatization to violence, and again I can’t disagree. But I don’t think legislation is where this needs to be address unless we are going to legislate parents being better parents. Yep, 8 year olds playing Grand Theft Auto might end up with a warped sense of reality and violence, but what parent in their right mind allows their 8 year old to play GTA? And the funny thing is, even though he’s arguing for the wrong side, he agrees with me:
As caretakers of the next generation, we have a responsibility to provide children with a safe environment in which to grow, develop, and learn. As a society, we have decided that we should understand and control the quality and safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat. Research has shown that the media children use have real effects on their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. In the Information Age, media must be understood as a powerful, nearly universal environmental health influence. We ensure the safety of what we feed children’s bodies, we owe it to their future and to the future of our society to ensure the safety of what we feed their minds.
The only difference is that he’s fighting for more laws, more organizations, more government, while I’d prefer parents just pay attention to their kids.
Then we come to Jeff Johnson of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Basically all I have to say about him is that he’s trying to force stores to be penalized for parents not being good parents. Who lets their kids rent or buy games on their own? If you, as a parent, don’t at least look into it before they do it, you are a bad parent. Get better, please.
Now we come to Paul Smith who says, with lots of legal references, that games fall under the same first ammendment protection as books, film and TV. Did you know its not illegal to sell a ticket to an R rated film to an 8 year old? The movie theater may refuse to do it, but there is no law. The MPAA ratings are a suggested guideline. The ESRB already has in place a much better rating system than the MPAA so that parents can make informed decisions about what to buy for their kids. In short: If you don’t want your kids playing violent games, then don’t let your kids play them.
The last statement, from Kevin Saunders, kind of bores the hell out of me. He’s just reviewing the reasons behind various court decisions, and in the end says that even though they keep losing the battles to restrict game, they will keep on fighting because the Supreme Court hasn’t told them “no” yet. One of the most important statements made is:
Judge Kennelly also expressed concern over the size of the community of those studying the issue and the relationships among the scientists. He noted that, of the seventeen research articles relied on by the Illinois General Assembly, fourteen were authored or co-authored by Professor Craig Anderson, one by a colleague of Professor Anderson, and two by a scientist who relied on Professor Anderson’s research in designing his own studies. This concern might be eased by recognizing that the articles all survived peer review, but the concern might simply transfer to the peer review process and the small community from which referees might be drawn. It should, however, be noted that Professors Anderson’s and Bushman’s meta-analysis of the research in the field included studies by a significant number of scientists unaffiliated with Professor Anderson. See Craig A. Anderson & Brad J. Bushman, Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Effect, Physiological Arousal and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic View of the Scientific Literature, 12 Psychol. Sci. 353 (2001): Craig A. Anderson, An Update on the Effects of Playing Violent Video Games, 27 J. Of Adolescence 113 (2004). While these concerns of the court do not even currently seem valid, the continuing development of this area of scholarship and the attention paid by an increased number of scientists should eventually overcome the perceived shortcoming.
While he takes the stance that the court shouldn’t be worried by the lack of variety in sources for study, its important that he mentions it because this is the real problem. Out of 17 studies used by the people trying to pass a game restricting law 14 of them were written by the same guy, and the other three were a friend of his and two people who used his research for the bulk of their work. I think the effect of games on kids should most definately be studied, but right now there just isn’t enough data from which to draw anything close to concrete that would justify the legislation of games exceeding that which already doesn’t exist for other forms of media.
Anyway, in case you haven’t guess yet, I’m against legislating access to video games. Frankly, our society fosters a lifestyle in which neither parent is encouraged to stay home with the children. Raising children is the single more important thing we as a people can do, and yet “homemaker” is a derrided job title. If the US government really want to have an impact on protecting children, institute a new tax write off: If one of your dependants is classified as a homemaker for your other dependants, you get an extra bonus deduction. Reward people for being better parents and they’ll desire to be better parents.