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Published December 12 2013

Forum editorial: Why not study link to violence?

The videogame industry is fighting a proposal in Congress to study the links between real-life violence and videogames. The congressional initiative comes in the wake of mass shootings in which some of the shooters were obsessive videogame players.

The Entertainment Software Association should be ashamed of itself, not only for opposing a congressional study, but also for working to scuttle state studies in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oklahoma. The state measures were unsuccessful.

To oppose even studies of a possible (likely?) link between the realistic violence of the games and the violence perpetrated in the real world suggests the industry fears a strong link will be scientifically established. The association’s vigorous lobbying against the federal measure is akin to the tobacco industry’s failed attempt to deny the links between smoking and cancer. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if, like the tobacco industry, the videogame people already know the games have a measurable effect on stimulating violent behavior or numbing gamers to real-world violence.

Wait a minute, complain executives of the videogame industry. What about movie violence? Or television violence? Why single out videogames?

Fair questions all. But videogames are different from movies and TV in that the games are interactive and personal. Regulations and ratings are minimal and ineffectively applied. The depictions of blood, gore and mayhem are so realistic and often directed by the player (unlike movies and TV), that their effects on young minds, on values and ultimately on behavior should be studied in a different context than TV and film violence.

The industry is powerful and well-funded. Lobbying has stalled the measure in Congress. And while there are studies that strongly suggest there is a relationship between violent games and acted-out real violence, the data is incomplete or inclusive. So why not fund a comprehensive examination of the burgeoning videogame phenomenon? Why not determine whether violent games lead to violent behavior by game players?

The industry should welcome such a study, rather than adopting Big Tobacco’s failed circle-the-wagons strategy.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.