Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn., Ruben Rosario column
Jan 04, 2013 (Pioneer Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It's a New Year's Eve party at a friend's home, and two fine and decent teens I know are playing the militaristic and jingoistic "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" on a large TV screen as I'm doing another kind of shooting -- billiards -- with my son several feet away. Thunderous ping, ping, ping, rat-tat-tat and boom sounds echo off the basement walls.
"Dad, I don't think they should be playing that game, with little kids running around," my 12-year-old, who's giving me a run for the money on the pool table, tells me. He's right, considering the mixed company conversing nearby as bullet-riddled figures flash on the screen.
I don't let my son buy or play these games. But I live in the real world. He may do so on the sneak at some point, and I know I likely would do the same if I was his age or a teen, though I'd rather be outdoors playing something.
Violent video games, like powerful firearms with which a user can carry out mass carnage, have come under scrutiny once again in the wake of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut last month that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Learning that the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter regularly played games like "Call of Duty" and others, legislators introduced bills to fund more research on such games or further regulate the video gaming industry. The NRA, which loses credibility with me each time its leader opens his mouth, blamed such games for playing a role in mass shootings. But he did not utter
a peep about the accessibility of the type of semi-automatic assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines used in the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Conn., and other shootings. He knows where his bread is buttered, and it's not where the best interests and welfare of the citizenry is the top priority.
But back to video games. Life and my gut tell me that playing violent video games by itself doesn't cause people to turn violent or carry out a mass murder. But I do believe such games contribute to a far too accepted culture of violence in America, if not elsewhere. And they do legitimize or reaffirm violence as the way to resolve conflict in those folks predisposed to violent, aggressive behavior.
Case in point: Anders Breivik, the man responsible for Norway's mass shooting in July 2011, acknowledged that he prepped for the deadly assault with the same type of "Call of Duty" game Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza played.
But what does the best research say It just so happens that a journalist resource research division of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy came out this week with a compilation of major data-driven studies on the topic in recent years.
Bottom line: There's a link between such games and aggressive behavior in some aspect, but direct cause and effect is still a subject of much debate and contested results.
One research project cited is a 2010 international study of the effects violent video games have on aggressive behavior, empathy and pro-social behavior in Eastern and Western nations. The study, which involved more than 18,000 people from several countries, ages and culture types, "yielded strong evidence" that playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for short-term and long-term increases in physically aggressive behavior and decreased empathy and pro-social behavior.
Another research project published last year in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal tackled how long aggressive behavior lasts after exposure to playing such games. Through the flip of a coin, participants played a violent or nonviolent game for 20 minutes. Half of each group ruminated about the game. The next day, participants competed with opponents on a competitive task in which the winner could punish the loser with painful noise blasts through headphones. Results showed that violent video games increased aggression 24 hours later, but only among men who ruminated about the game. The researchers concluded that rumination keeps aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavioral tendencies active.
One study found similar results in the playing of excessively violent sports video games, and another concluded that habitual playing of shooting games improved accuracy in real life.
Other studies come up with different or opposite conclusions or interpretations of data. One of them, published last year in Crime and Delinquency, analyzed the influence of violent video game playing on delinquency and bullying behavior in 1,254 seventh- and eighth-grade students. Factoring other variables that included trait aggression, stress and family/peer support, researchers determined that delinquent and bullying behavior were predicted more by the child's trait aggression and stress level than exposure to violent video games.
Essentially, my gut and life experiences weren't that far off, after all. As the debate unfurls over how best to prevent or lessen another tragedy like Sandy Hook or Aurora or the shooting at Accent Signage Systems factory in Minneapolis, at least one thing I would like to see is a drastic change in consumer taste. Four of the five top-selling video games on Amazon are violent. "Just Dance" comes in at No. 2. Maybe that's what we all need to be constantly exposed to: less violence and more dancing and games where imagination and construction trumps mayhem and destruction.
Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @nycrican.
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