Sheri McInvale, a state representative from Florida, decided to surprise her two children. She purchased two Playstation video games, Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. These are two very popular games that were designed especially for Playstation. And then - she told an Associated Press reporter - she discovered her teenagers playing a profanity-laced game in which the winner is the player who is the most successful at killing. "As a parent," the Orlando Democrat recalled, "I was appalled."
In fact, McInvale was so appalled that two weeks ago she submitted a proposed law which would make it a felony in Florida to sell violent video games to minors.
Bill Herrle, vice president for government affairs from the Florida Retail Federation, adamantly opposes the bill on the grounds that its enforcement could send unsuspecting retail employees to the clink simply because they make a mistake at the counter and sell the wrong game to a minor. Herrle pointed out to McInvale that 92 percent of all computer games are purchased by adults over 18.
In the U.S. alone, more than 150 million people play computer and video games. About 90 percent of the most widely sold games in 2001 were marketed for persons aged six and older.
The Florida incident is not the first time that conservatives have attempted to intervene in the video game industry due to what they view as the corruption of youth; as they see it, the pernicious influence of video games can led to murderous shooting incidents on the street.
Robin Benger made a documentary film about his son, who became addicted to a violent video game. The film, "The First Person Shooter," was shown recently within the framework of Open University broadcasts, on Channel 8; and it features eye-opening footage of people who view computer games as the source of all evil in the world. A U.S. reservist officer, David Grossman, who delivers some 200 lectures a year, appears in the film, and expounds on the putative lethal influences of violent video games. Grossman cites the example of a 14-year-old youth who in December 1997 shot and killed three peers at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, and wounded five others. "He fired eight shots, five at the heads of his friends. So what was he doing," Grossman asks dramatically, and then answers his own question. "He was playing a stinking video game."
Benger decided to investigate this claim. He asked the U.S. army reservist whether he knew which game the Kentucky assailant liked to play. Grossman didn't have a clue. Benger then approached the youth's psychiatrist, and asked him whether the army officer's claim is correct. The psychiatrist categorically rejected the theory. "Perhaps he [the 14-year-old shooter] was influenced by movies, but not by video games," she states.
Benger cites a study carried out by the U.S. Secret Service which investigated 41 cases since the 1970s in which youths have fired shots at peers in schools. The study's aim was to clarify whether or not there is a connection between violent video games and the shooting incidents. As it turns out, only five of the 41 shooters played video games; and in these five incidents, the study concluded, there is not strong evidence that the games' influence is what led the disturbed young people to pull the trigger.
Over 1,300 studies have been carried out about the connection between violence and the media, and no strong connection (acceptable to the scientific community) has been found to link video games to violent behavior. In 1999, Australia's government sponsored an independent review of hundreds of studies conducted up to then about possible connections between violent video games and the behavior of people who play them. The conclusion was that there is little evidence to support the claim that violent video games have a negative effect on those who play them.
Nonetheless, one can sympathize with the concerns of worried parents. They see their children playing games in which figures shoot at one another, kick one another in the head and are gleeful when opponents bleed. "Might our children fail to distinguish between games and reality," the troubled parents wonder. Yet as it turns out, it is adults who take part in reality survival shows who find it hard to distinguish between games and the real world.
Society at large, and youths in particular, have not become violent because of video games. The vast majority of teenagers understand that when Jerry the mouse slices Tom the cat to bits, he does so because that's the drill in the cartoon (and cartoons tend to be more violent than video games). They also know that unlike Spiderman, they can't climb on walls. In fact, it's precisely because teenagers are so well attuned to what reality is about that they get so much enjoyment from video games. It would be best if the video game puritans were to let the subject rest, attempt to identify the real causes of violence and let the children play.
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