In struggle to curb violence, some take aim at video games
By Jenette Sturges firstname.lastname@example.org January 20, 2013 10:22PM
Only four of about 40 video games are first person shooting games at Funway in Batavia, and only one involves a conflict between humans. Friday, January 18, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
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For information on how to better monitor and control your child’s access to video games — including instructions on setting parental controls on various gaming systems — go to onguardonline.gov and click on “Kids, Parents, and Video Games.”
Updated: February 22, 2013 6:19AM
Bob Hansen thinks a review of violent video games is a great idea.
“I agree 100 percent,” Hansen said. “I don’t think kids need that exposure at all.”
The owner of Funway — a Batavia entertainment center with an arcade, bowling alley, skate rink, laser tag and outdoor park — said he’s done his best to keep violent video games off his arcade floor.
“We haven’t bought a matures game, that I can recall, in years and years,” Hansen said. “Our audience has changed drastically in 15 years from a teen place to a family entertainment center.”
Funway has about 40 games on the floor of its arcade, including a few shoot-’em-ups from a first-person perspective — the sorts of games often blamed after violent incidents — but his are not of the blood-and-gore variety, Hansen said.
And bloody fighting games such as “Mortal Kombat” — which sparked the original national debate on violence in video games in the early 1990s and eventually led to a video game rating system — come in toned-down versions, if they make it to the Funway floor at all. Players hunt mostly squirrels and aliens.
“I could have a ‘Mortal Kombat,’ but I may not have that version with a lot of violence,” Hansen said. “There are programming options where you don’t have to have that sort of violence.”
Part of the nationwide discussion surrounding mass shootings and gun violence prompted by last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has focused on video games as an industry, with National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre singling out “Mortal Kombat,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Bulletstorm” as culprits for the Sandy Hook shooting.
President Barack Obama’s plan for addressing gun violence takes a more reserved stance on the role of video games and other images of violence in media. One of his 40-plus provisions calls not for a ban or restrictions on video games but for more research on how such media can affect viewers. Specifically, an executive order directs the Centers for Disease Control to “conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence.”
It’s the kind of research that the White House claims hasn’t been done on a wide enough scale because of laws that prohibit Congress from using funds to advocate for gun control.
The Obama administration contends that such laws do not prohibit research on the causes of gun violence.
Kevin Richards is the sort of young adult male consumer that such research would target. On Friday afternoon, the 19-year-old Naperville resident was headed to GameStop, on Route 59 in Aurora. He’s been playing video games, including ones he considers to be violent, for years.
“And I haven’t shot anybody yet,” Richards said. “And I’m not going to. They’re games. Probably some people have a difficult time telling the difference between a game and reality, but that’s not really a problem with the game.”
Richards said he’s not necessarily against more research on the topic of how violence in video games affects people, especially children, but he said that should extend to all kinds of media, not just video games, which he said are often “scapegoats.”
And he’s wary of new policy that could lead to censorship.
“It should be up to the parents to decide if kids should play certain games,” Richards said. “But I think a lot of times they don’t bother to research a game for themselves to figure out if it’s OK.”
Illinois, it turns out, already has tried to impose stricter laws when it comes to renting or selling video games to people under 18. The Violent Video Games Act, introduced by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, and passed in 2005, imposed a $5,000 fine on anyone selling violent or sexually explicit video games to minors — until it was struck down in federal courts for impinging on freedom of speech.
Chapa LaVia said she is still frustrated by the number of violent movies, games and TV shows available to children. But when it comes to the current debate, Chapa LaVia said violence in media is just one piece that needs to be addressed to curb violence.
She said she’s more concerned about the capacity of the country’s health care system to identify and help those suffering from mental illness.
“Whether it’s post-traumatic stress from kids seeing violence on the streets to kids spending too much time in front of games, all of this is mental illness,” she said. “It’s more about kids not having the maturity to understand that being fake.”
During the crafting of the Violent Video Games Act and the subsequent court battles, Chapa LaVia said she saw a lot of research that pointed to problems when young children interact with violent games.
“All the studies we saw, even brain scans, there’s a lot of aggressiveness. Whole parts of the brain turn bright red. When you get them off the games, it calms down.”
The question many researchers likely will face, then, is whether that reaction results in actual incidents in violence, either immediately or over the long term.
A wide-sweeping survey of research into the effects of violent video games on aggression proved “contested and inconclusive” in Australia, which has some of the most widespread censorship of video games among all English-speaking countries. There, violent games — such as the most recent release of “Mortal Kombat” — are banned, but so too are games such as “Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure,” which was banned largely for its glorification of graffiti.
Which is what another video game shopper said he fears most about the whole discussion.
“You have ratings already,” said Aurora resident Sam Lopez. “It’s censorship. You can’t take away guns, which actually kill people, so you take away games instead? It’s ridiculous.”