In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Senator John Rockefeller has “called for a national study of the impact of violent videogames on children and a review of the rating system,” but the video game manufacturers claim there is “no connection between entertainment and real-life violence.” Are they in denial?
On Wednesday, December 19th, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the $78 billion U.S. videogame industry, offered its “heartfelt prayers and condolences” to the families of the victims, stating that, “the search for meaningful solutions must consider the broad range of actual factors that may have contributed to this tragedy.”
For the ESA, however, it appears that one of those “meaningful solutions” does not include doing away with or greatly curtailing the availability of violent video games: “Any such study,” the ESA stated, “needs to include the years of extensive research that has shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence.”
This is reminiscent of the claims of the tobacco industry not that many years ago. When their companies began to be sued by smokers for lung cancer and other diseases, they first claimed that research indicated that there was no connection between lung cancer and smoking. Eventually, they grudgingly acknowledged that in some cases there could be a connection, but offered this defense in court (as summed up by their critics): “Yes, smoking causes lung cancer, but not in people who sue us.”
Are we witnessing the same pattern of denial, soon to be followed by gradual, grudging admission, when it comes to violent video games?
On the one hand, there is damning anecdotal evidence, from the Columbine killers (obsessive players of “Doom,” not to mention obsessives viewers of the über-violent “Natural Born Killers” movie), to the Newtown killer (Adam Lanza obsessively played “Call of Duty”).
On the other hand, there are academic studies like those of N. L. Carnagey and C. A. Anderson (Department of Psychology Iowa State University, Ames, IA), which examine the connection between violent media (including TV, movies, and video games) and violent behavior. They noted that, “Despite how the news media [continue] to portray the effects of media violence, the research is clear: youth who view violent television tend to become more aggressive adults.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.