Tag Archives: Congress

On Politicians and Villains, Real and Imaginary

i.1.jake-rush-vampire

There’s been quite the kerfuffle the past day or so about Florida U.S. Congressional candidate Jake Rush, a 35-year-old Republican who also apparently plays Camarilla, a live-action vampire role-playing game, in his off time. From the sounds of it, Rush plays some sort of villain in the game, one who’s prone to making upsetting, sexually violent threats against other characters. I won’t quote those threats here; you can click through if you want to see them.

I wrote pretty extensively about role-playing games and LARPs in The Columbine Effect, and interviewed adult gamers who had played with a local Camarilla group in their teens and 20s. Although some people who play seem not to have strong boundaries between their in-game roles and their day-to-day lives, as I mention in the book, for the most part that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t know much about Rush and can’t tell you whether he behaves like his Camarilla character on a day-to-day basis. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a curiosity about villains or evil people, and finding a safe and harmless outlet through which to explore that curiosity.

Through play-acting. It isn’t real life. It’s pretend.

By contrast, let’s look at California Senator Leland Yee, who was arrested last week for allegedly conspiring to traffic weapons and also for taking political contributions (bribes) in exchange for favors. (You may recall that Yee was a vocal opponent of allowing minors to play violent video games, sponsoring legislation that was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court). Yee was allegedly affiliated with a San Francisco-based organized crime gang, who knew him as “Uncle Leland.” Yee apparently told an undercover agent, who was pretending to be a gun runner, “There’s a part of me that wants to be like you. You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent [in the Philippines].”

That wasn’t pretend.

Some legislators play the villain in real life and just hope they don’t get caught. Some find a harmless way to do so instead. Why should we attack the latter as though it’s the former? Doesn’t make sense to me.

CDC gets $10M to study link between guns, gaming


Do violent games cause kids to go on shooting sprees? Congress intends to find out. Photo by Flickr user agitprop/Andrew Kitzmiller.

In January, I wrote a letter to President Barack Obama about his orders to Congress to give the CDC $10 million for more video game studies. Now, it seems like the gears on that plan are rolling. Here’s what CNET reported last week:

The CDC has asked the Institute of Medicine to put together a committee that will look at the influence of video games and other media on real-life violence. The IOM is part of the congressionally chartered and federally funded National Academy of Sciences. In a statement Wednesday the CDC said:

In more than 50 years of research, no study has focused on firearm violence as a specific outcome of violence in media. As a result, a direct relationship between violence in media and real-life firearm violence has not been established and will require additional research.

Interesting. So they’re going to try to tease out the “the characteristics of firearm violence; risk factors; interventions and strategies; gun safety technology; and the influence of video games and other media?” That’s kind of a first, actually.

Reading this, I thought, “Well, good luck with that.”

And then I thought: They might as well. A study this massive has the potential to find some real connections between fantasy violence and real gun violence, or it has the potential to resolve, once and for all, that there are no such connections. Could it actually show the true indicators that lead youths to commit mass shootings? Maybe that’s going too far, but perhaps it will put another nail in the coffin of the idea that video games, even violent ones, play any significant role in the process.

Looks like we’ll be waiting 2-3 years for the findings.

Leaders: don’t waste money on violent-game studies

Dear President Obama,

This month, you said two things: First, that you asked Congress to allocate $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control to study the “the relationship between video games, media images and violence.” Second, that “We won’t be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.”

That’s why I’m writing to you today. I’m not an avid player of video games. I don’t work in the game industry. I’m a journalist, writer and mom who has spent the past several years reading and writing about the relationship between kids, violent video games, and real-life violence. So far, what I’ve learned is that there isn’t one.

Yes, there are hundreds of studies, particularly from researchers Craig Anderson, Brad Bushman, and Doug Gentile, suggesting there may be a link between playing violent video games and short-term aggressive behavior immediately after switching off the game. But they haven’t been able to show that video games _cause_ that behavior, or that post-game aggression translates into violent acts later on. Some people are amped up after playing a particularly intense game of football, too, but we haven’t spent millions of dollars researching whether it makes kids bring guns to school.

If you dig deep into each of these researchers’ studies, they say as much.

There are other studies that reveal the positive influences of these games. For example, two studies from Ohio State University researchers David Ewoldsen and John Velez showed that when kids play violent games cooperatively – as many do – they come out of the games feeling pretty good. Canadian researcher Jayne Gackenbach has shown that playing violent video games can help soldiers overcome nightmares induced by the traumas of war, an outcome that seems like it could apply to other gamers trying to make sense of our violent world overall.

In Somalia, video-game-play is on the rise, and many parents are glad, because it’s keeping their kids off the dangerous streets. That’s also true at home: University of Texas at Arlington researcher Michael Ward found that in towns with more video-game retailers, juveniles commit fewer violent crimes – because they’re too busy playing to get into trouble.

By far the best text on the benefits of violent games and aggressive play for kids is Gerard Jones’ book “Killing Monsters.” I interviewed Jones in 2011 for a Wired.com article on why violent video games are good for teens, written at the time the Supreme Court voted against a ban on the sale of these games to minors. He said:

“For the world of adolescents, [reality has] mostly gotten more stressful and bleaker,” he said, citing the dire economy, stressed-out parents, the increasing demands of public education and two lengthy wars in the Middle East. “This is not a cheerful time to be coming of age in America. The need for escape, the need for fantasies of potency, and the need for a community of peers is greater than it’s been in a long time.” He has said, in other moments, that we cannot expect teens to accept forms of entertainment that have been sanitized of the violence they know exists around them every day.

However, one of the most important sources of information on the relationship between violent video games and young players is the players themselves. As a nation we have spent far too much time studying the supposed affects of games on gamers, and almost no time asking gamers questions about why they enjoy them. If you ask, they will tell you that they love the escape, the chance to explore violent ideas safely and without hurting anybody, the opportunity to play the hero, and much more. I interviewed and surveyed dozens of young gamers for a book I wrote for parents – a book that, given our current cultural climate, I believe parents need more than ever, but unfortunately has found almost no support in the publishing world.

So far, Congress has been smart, vetoing just about every bill that proposes a study of violent video games and young players. To start spending money now on such studies would be a tremendous waste of money that could be put to more productive use, such as providing more mental-health support for violent teens and their struggling families. If Congress does wind up putting money into video-game studies, however, please make sure those studies look at the potential benefits of violent games, not just our preconceived notions of harm, which hundreds of studies have already failed to support.

Thank you.

Congressmen revive, expand failed proposal for warning label on violent video games


A new bill proposing warning labels on almost all video games is giving at least one of us PMRC flashbacks.

Here we go again.

US Congressmen Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) have introduced a bill that would slap a warning label on almost all video games (except those labeled “EC” for “early childhood”) that reads:

WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.

If the name Joe Baca is familiar to you, it’s because he tried this a year ago and failed. That bill, which would have placed a warning label only on “T” (teen) and “M” (mature) games, died in committee. And that was the second time Baca and Wolf introduced that bill.

It’s unclear what makes them think a new, broader bill will fly — particularly in the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court decision rejecting a California ban on the sale of violent games to minors, as well as the demise of an Oklahoma bill that would have taxed the sale of violent video games.

Here’s what Baca had to say for himself this time:

“The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products. They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility.”

Actually, no, they haven’t. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has created very clear labeling for its video-game ratings. In addition, every video game has a detailed content description on the back. Buyers who want more information can find a wealth of it, including screenshots and videos, online. (A quick check with a smartphone can bring this to your fingertips, right in the store.) In addition, underage undercover shoppers have found it increasingly difficult to purchase M-rated games — much more difficult than getting into an R-rated film or buying a stickered record.

Let’s get down to the business of the warning label itself: It claims that “exposure to violent video games” (What does that mean? Does it mean glancing at one as you’re walking through the living room, or does it mean playing Manhunt like it’s a full-time job at a startup?) “has been linked to aggressive behavior.” While it’s true that a number of flawed studies have shown that subjects who play violent video games in a lab are slightly more aggressive immediately after gameplay, there’s little evidence that such behavior is lasting, or that it’s related to the violent content at all.

Here’s Wolf’s two cents’ worth:

“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents—and children—about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior.”

The only reason there is “growing evidence” is that people keep studying the same false correlations. Adding one more flawed study to the heap does, indeed, make it grow.

But you know what else is growing? Evidence that video games are good for you. Why don’t we put that on a label? If we can claim that sugary cereal “may reduce the risk of heart disease,” surely we can put labels on violent video games claiming the much-more-proven health benefits of playing them.