Bozell Column: 'Dialogue' Required for Violent Video Games

February 23rd, 2013 8:08 AM

The Obama administration's assault on the Second Amendment in reaction to Newtown is not a serious solution. It's a Band-Aid on cancer. The NRA's call for armed guards in every school also misses the point. When is anyone going to get serious? The problem is violence, a violence of monstrous and horrific proportions that has infected America's popular culture.

The Hartford Courant reported on Sunday that during a search of Newtown grade-school killer Adam Lanza’s home after the shootings, “police found thousands of dollars worth of graphically violent video games.” Detectives are exploring whether Adam Lanza might have been emulating the shooting range or a video-game scenario as he moved from room to room at Sandy Hook Elementary.

In California, 20-year-old Ali Syed went on a carjacking and shooting rampage, killing three before turning the gun on himself. Syed was a loner and a “gamer” who spent hours holed up in his room, Orange County authorities said. “He took one class at college and he did not work, so that gives him most of the day and evening and most of the time in his free time he was playing video games,” reported county sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.

After Newtown, President Obama and other officials insisted the country needed a “dialogue” about “gun violence,” but there’s been remarkably little exploration of the role of video games and even less of movie and TV violence.

Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia requested a study from the National Science Foundation, and was disappointed that Obama’s State of the Union only focused on gun control. "While I recognize the potential constitutional issues involved in tackling media violence, mental health parity and gun control, I am disappointed that mental health issues and media violence were left out of the president's address,” Wolf said.

The NSF report acknowledged that a link between violent media and real-world violence can be contentious, but explained “Anders Breivik, who murdered 69 youth in Norway, claims he used the video game ‘Modern Warfare 2’ as a military simulator to help him practice shooting people. Similarly, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 fellow students in Colorado, claimed they used the violent video game ‘Doom’ to practice their shooting rampage.” 

No, Virginia, not everyone who’s ever played a violent video game is an assassin in training. “However, a comprehensive review of more than 381 effects from studies involving more than 130,000 participants around the world shows that violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior.”

As researcher Brad Bushman of Ohio State University stated in a “PBS NewsHour” story on violent video games, “correlation doesn’t imply causation,” but the correlation is disturbing enough. Does it make sense for policy makers to go around suggesting that gun makers be held liable for school shootings, but fail to suggest the same for say, Microsoft Game Studios, which makes “Gears of War” series, spotlighted by PBS as especially bloody?

Neither gun makers or video-game makers intend their products for mass shootings, but politicians like Obama have singled out the gun makers and gone soft on their entertainment-industry campaign donors. Somehow, Democrats isolate the inherent evil of a gun almost as if it’s self-shooting, while denying our violent media has any influence on these under-21 shooters.

Even the mildest restrictions on the sales of violent video games – like a California law forbidding minors from buying games rated M for Mature (“Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up”) – were rebuked by the Supreme Court.

In 2010, Obama appointee Elena Kagan mocked the law and the entire controversy by insisting that the game “Mortal Kombat” was "an iconic game, which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spent considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing." But “Mortal Kombat” was a pioneering ultraviolent game when it debuted in 1992, with scenes of decapitations, electrocution, and ripping out the still-beating heart of an opponent with bare hands.

I wonder if Justice Kagan would still argue in public that these games are blameless, and the Adam Lanzas of the world are never influenced by these “iconic” works. She actually suggested  “you could look at these games and say they’re the modern-day equivalent of Monopoly sets.”

No one ever practiced for a school shooting by buying hotels for Park Place and Boardwalk. But Kagan was hailed by USA Today’s Supreme Court reporter as bringing a “practical twist” to the high court. The kids aren’t playing “Monopoly” any more. Three of the four top-selling games on in 2012 were “Halo 4,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” and “Assassins Creed III” – rated M, M, and M.

The people who want to conduct a Newtown “dialogue” really need to broaden their gabby horizons.