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Video games in crosshairs after Newtown shootings

Gun violence ... a screenshot from the Call of Duty: Black Ops II video game.

Gun violence ... a screenshot from the Call of Duty: Black Ops II video game.

In the days since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a shell-shocked nation has looked for reasons.

The list of culprits cited include easy access to guns, a strained mental-health system and the "culture of violence" - the entertainment industry's embrace of violence in movies, TV shows and, especially, video games.

"The violence in the entertainment culture - particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera - does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent," Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said.

"There might well be some direct connection between people who have some mental instability and when they go over the edge - they transport themselves, they become part of one of those video games," said Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, where 12 people were killed in a movie theater shooting in July.

White House adviser David Axelrod tweeted, "But shouldn't we also quit marketing murder as a game?"

And Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting, "Video game violence & glorification must be stopped - it is creating monsters!"

There have been unconfirmed media reports that 20-year-old Newtown shooter Adam Lanza enjoyed a range of video games, from the bloody Call of Duty series to the innocuous Dance Dance Revolution. But the same could be said for about 80 per cent of Americans in Lanza's age group, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Law enforcement officials haven't made any connection between Lanza's possible motives and his interest in games.

The video game industry has been mostly silent since Friday's attack, in which 20 children and six adults were killed. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents game publishers in Washington, has yet to respond to politicians' criticisms. Hal Halpin, president of the nonprofit Entertainment Consumers Association, said, "I'd simply and respectfully point to the lack of evidence to support any causal link."

It's unlikely that lawmakers will pursue legislation to regulate the sales of video games; such efforts were rejected again and again in a series of court cases over the last decade. Indeed, the industry seemed to have moved beyond the entire issue last year, when the Supreme Court revoked a California law criminalising the sale of violent games to minors.

The Supreme Court decision focused on First Amendment concerns; in the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that games "are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature." Scalia also agreed with the ESA's argument that researchers haven't established a link between media violence and real-life violence. "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively," Scalia wrote.

Still, that doesn't make games impervious to criticism, or even some soul-searching within the gaming community. At this year's E3 - the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the industry's largest U.S. gathering - some attendees were stunned by the intensity of violence on display. A demo for Sony's The Last of Us ended with a villain taking a shotgun blast to the face. A scene from Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Blacklist showed the hero torturing an enemy. A trailer for Square Enix's Hitman: Absolution showed the protagonist slaughtering a team of lingerie-clad assassins disguised as nuns.

"The ultraviolence has to stop," designer Warren Spector told the GamesIndustry website after E3. "I do believe that we are fetishising violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble."

"The violence of these games can be off-putting," Brian Crecente, news editor for the gaming website Polygon, said on Monday. "The video-game industry is wrestling with the same issues as movies and TV. There's this tension between violent games that sell really well and games like Journey, a beautiful, artistic creation that was well received by critics but didn't sell as much."

During November, typically the peak month for pre-holiday game releases, the two best sellers were the military shooters Call of Duty: Black Ops II, from Activision, and Halo 4, from Microsoft. But even with the dominance of the genre, Crecente said, "There has been a feeling that some of the sameness of war games is grating on people."

Critic John Peter Grant said, "I've also sensed a growing degree of fatigue with ultra-violent games, but not necessarily because of the violence per se."

The problem, Grant said, "is that violence as a mechanic gets old really fast. Games are amazing possibility spaces! And if the chief way I can interact with them is by destroying and killing? That seems like such a waste of potential."

There are some hints of a growing self-awareness creeping into the gaming community. One gamer - Antwand Pearman, editor of the website GamerFitNation - has called for other players to join in a "Day of Cease-Fire for Online Shooters" this Friday, one week after the massacre.

"We are simply making a statement," Pearman said, "that we as gamers are not going to sit back and ignore the lives that were lost."



  • Because Charles Whitman was totally a fan of COD, right?

    out in the wastelands
    Date and time
    December 20, 2012, 9:46AM
    • Exactly my thinking!

      Not forgetting Brenda Ann Spencer back in 1979 who took her gun to a San Diego school cos she "didn't like Mondays".

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 1:36PM
  • they shouldn't be. there's an article in the washington post also covered by Ars Technica that shows, USA aside, gun violence actually goes down with higher consumption of gaming. the usa is their own anomaly. no use blaming anything else.

    Date and time
    December 20, 2012, 9:48AM
    • Mate, if you get onto some US newspaper blogs, they are blaming EVERYTHING from video games, to the Fabian society, to Zionist world governments, to the healthcare system to teachers NOT being armed! They cannot fathom that with assault and automatic weapons that their society is as safe as say Mexico....I generally have no issue with Americans but when it comes to their guns......its a NO GO ZONE, since its their constitutional right to bear arms..... I feel sad for them, but my pity won't change a thing

      We live in the western world, they live in the wild west..................

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 11:22AM
    • The comments I have read so far are as knee jerk to the issue as are the politicians comments. Video games do not turn gamers into real life killers, the same as getting a drivers license does not make everyone a race car driver.... but... those with the temperment to lose self control may find a proving ground for their violent tendencies, vis-a-vis, road rage.

      I can only imagine there are numerous triggers for violent episodes related to first person shooters, ranging from the breaking of inanimate objects all the way up to actual physical harm. Whereas once FPS was human against machine it is increasingly now human against human via gaming servers. Frustration fuelled aggression is no longer directed just at the game but at the other person who blew 'you' away over and over again.

      Possibly a lesser but relevant issue is the training a person of poor temperment receives. FPS teaches that death or retaliation can come from any direction, from behind any object, around any corner and that success often lies in a no holds barred, all guns blazing frenzied frontal assault. Kill them quicker than they can kill you.

      Weapons, ammunition, tactics and perseverence, all of it fictional and easily processed as such by most people, except the few who can't. Did FPS games reduce the survival chances of those poor kids and teachers? Are there are others who have been shot, assaulted or worse as a result of the effect FPS games have on those of unstable temperment?

      One day we may find out.

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 11:37AM
    • "Data helps rebut the “violent video games cause shootings” argument"
      is the article headline.. Google it.
      The graph makes a VERY compelling argument that, if anything, game buying (and it is assumed, playing) has an inverse relationship with the number of gun related murders.
      As my namesake Steve O points out below, the leap of logic

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 2:18PM
    • Speaking from my own experience. I was in an awful marriage and wanted to escape. I chose videogames instead of the interest of an attraactive lady down the road or the bottle to escape my existance. It didnt cost me any money and i didnt loose my license or go on any benders and i didnt cheat on my wife with the lady down the road as two wrongs dont make a right. Video games allowed me to feel in control and i didnt hurt anyone.
      I left my wife with no regrets and head held high.
      In short it allowed me to escape my reality for a moment and keep charged up. The problem with this child killer is that he left reality compleltley and created a fantasy world that was inside that pc monitor. The underlting cause of that behaviour is mental health!
      For 99.99% of us video games are a postive escape that we come back from when we turn the pc off.

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 5:31PM
  • The US is the only place with this tragic problem, violent video games are played all over the world. The only common denominator is the US gun culture and the abundance of lethal military style weapons in the community.

    I play these games and you don't see me grabbing a horde of weapons wanting to slaughter people.

    Date and time
    December 20, 2012, 9:53AM
    • Yes, but the US is the easiest place in the world to get hold of guns. And most people who play violent video games aren't so courageous [or foolish, depending on your point of view] to act out the violence in real life.

      Think about it, if you are surrounded by violence in one form or another [including TV & video games], and you've already got guns to hand, what is likely to happen if you lose your temper with someone? You pick up the gun and use it.

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 10:34AM
    • @ WillD

      Umm yes i would agree if you are affected by some kind of PTS disorder that is obtained via video games.

      Although I don't think their have been cases of post traumatic stress to onset this kind of violence from video games.

      This sort of behavior stems from very disturbed mental processes that are more influenced by their surroundings and upbringings than the media that entertains them. That's not to say media does not influence people...of course it does, but does it make people lash out?

      Well i guess that's one reason they have classifications on certain products.

      I'm not saying it is not possible just very very unlikely. If someone was going to lash out it would more likely be due to traumatic REAL experiences within their lives. Not some fictional, safe, fun environment.

      Date and time
      December 20, 2012, 11:29AM

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