As policy makers debate President Obama's gun control proposals, some have also begun to question the role of violent video games in shootings. The perpetrators of mass shootings, including the Columbine and the Sandy Hook school massacres, reportedly played violent video games, prompting some to call for more regulations of these games. What do the makers of these video games think?
Electronic Arts Inc., Epic Games Inc. and the Valve Corporation declined our requests to interview one of their game developers. The International Game Developers Association agreed to set up an interview with a developer, Daniel Greenberg, but only via email.
Greenberg (pictured above), who participated in the design and writing of the first-person shooter Electronic Arts game Crysis, wrote us why he doesn't think imaginary violence in video games is responsible for real-world violence. (Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza has not been reported to have had any connection to that game.) AOL Jobs has condensed and edited the email.
I wasn't surprised Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza played violent video games. Just like I am not surprised by any young male his age playing violent video games. It would be more noteworthy if Lanza hadn't played violent video games.
This is what the huge majority of young people do in their free time.
Violent video games do not make people people violent.
I believe this is the single biggest misconception about video games today. If imaginary video game violence really did lead to real violence, why wouldn't all young people become violent? During the last 20 years, when violent video games went from a rare to common pastime, the violent crime rate for U.S. youth has not increased. In fact, the numbers have dropped to record levels not seen since the first video games were introduced 40 years ago.
Studies claiming to show a link have been riddled with errors, or have used poor measures. No less than the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed. In 2011, the court examined the research and concluded that imaginary violence does not cause real violence. The "effects" of the game-playing, the court said, "are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media." [Editors' note: In 2011, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to overturn restrictions on the sale of certain violent video games to youths younger than 18.]
Violent video games can be a transformative teaching tool.
Research from Texas A&M associate professor of psychology and communication Christopher Ferguson has shown that violent and nonviolent games tend to relax people over time, not anger them.
I also believe there's proof of health benefits from violent video-game play. New research from the University of Toronto and the University of Rochester show that when non-gamers start playing violent video games with first-person shooters that they experience improved vision, attention, and higher order mental processing -- like spatial reasoning and decision making.
Many games also emphasize nonviolent options to resolve conflicts. A few examples are Bioshock, Fable 2 and Fallout 3. [Editors' note: Greenberg had no involvement in the development in the three games.] In these games, players are forced to choose what kind of violence they want to engage in, and then they must deal with the consequences, for better or worse.
Game designers are also working on games for anti-bullying and other pro-social themes. And the developers are pursuing these games even though there's no proven market for the product.
Parents should choose their kids' media diet
The game development community supports parents' rights to choose the media diet for their children. We show this support by putting clear game ratings and uniform descriptors labeling game content on game packages. Parents need to be parents and choose when, if ever, to allow violent games for their child. Of course, this includes parents of children with mental problems.
Obviously, we are clearly not yet safe from mass shooters.
To their credit, Vice President Biden and President Obama are not scapegoating video games. [Editors' note: The White House's proposal to introduce new gun control measures and restrictions largely left out the video-game industry. The administration did allocate $10 million for new studies by the Centers for Disease Control to look at the relationship between video games and violence, according to PCWorld.] I welcome their desire to keep all of us safe, and the desire for further research into this issue.
We simply ask that any future study or action considers the totality of the effects of violent video games. And that includes the benefits of imaginary violence in video games.
Greenberg is a game writer, designer and producer at Media Rez. He has worked on first-person shooter games like Crysis, in addition to games like The Lord of the Rings online. He currently serves as the chair of the Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee of the IGDA.
Edited by Dan Fastenberg.
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