Pols call for study on violent videogames

Ent. Software Assn. says research shows no real-life connection

Joining other lawmakers who have pointed to media violence in the wake of the tragic shootings in Connecticut, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) introduced legislation on Wednesday calling for a study of the impact of violent videogames and other content on children.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is calling for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the study, and said that he also will call on the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission to “expand” their work in this area.

“Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process.”

Rockefeller was referring to the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision striking down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the majority opinion, made comparisons to videogame violence to Grimm’s fairy tales and “The Divine Comedy,” as a way of showing how difficult it would be to draw a line on what type of violence is acceptable and what is not. He also pointed out that “studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively.”

But Rockfeller said that the study he is proposing would “examine whether violent video games/programming cause kids to act aggressively or otherwise hurt their wellbeing, and whether that effect is distinguishable from other types of media. It also would look at the direct and long-lasting impact of violent content on a child’s well-being.”

Rockefeller said that the FCC and FTC needed to take a “fresh look” at the issues because “changes in technology now allow kids to access violent content on-line with less parental involvement.”

His bill also includes violent “video programming,” although that was left undefined, but its major focus appeared to be on videogames.

Although the investigation into the shootings and of the assailant, Adam Lanza, is ongoing, there have been reports that he was an avid player of videogames.

In a statement, the Entertainment Software Association said that “our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones, and to the entire community of Newtown.”

The ESA added, “The search for meaningful solutions must consider the broad range of actual factors that may have contributed to this tragedy. Any such study needs to include the years of extensive research that has shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence.”

A spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters said that “given the events of the last week, NAB believes a scientific study on the potential impact of video violence on real-life violence is appropriate.”

A 2007 report from the American Medical Assn. cited “multiple small studies” suggesting an association between playing violent games and negative actions, such as aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors, but found little evidence of a link to serious violence or crime. Advocates for the gaming industry have long said that the overall breadth of studios shows that the evidence is either inconclusive or proves no link.

What is becoming clearer is that violence in videogames, movies and TV shows will be a part of efforts in D.C. to address the issue of gun violence, although the major urgency has been to take a fresh look at gun control legislation.

In announcing the creation of a task force, led by Vice President Joseph Biden, to come up with legislative and other recommendations, President Obama also said that the mission would be to examine “a culture that too often glorifies runs and violence.”

“This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reform now,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, a number of industry figures, including Mark Ruffalo, Mariska Hargitay, Anthony LaPaglia, Rosanne Cash and Liev Schrieber, are appearing in a series of public service announcements for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The spots also feature the parents of one of the victims of the Aurora theater shooting in July and a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. They were directed by Griffin Dunne and produced by Maria Cuomo Cole.