Here’s some “interfaith” violent-video-game fearmongering for you — happy holidays!


Should the absence of good science be reason enough to keep kids from playing violent video games? Photo by Flickr user scottfidd.

Just in time for holiday gift-unwrapping, two members of the Interfaith Social Justice Committee for Temple Emanu-El and St. Martha Catholic Church — in Sarasota, Florida — have penned a scaremongering editorial urging parents to keep kids from violent video games at all costs: “Do not purchase them, return those received as gifts, destroy or give away any currently owned; and deny the right to play them wherever you live.”

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog scanning the studies that suggest both positive and negative consequences from playing violent video games. Most recently, I looked at a Swedish study that said, decisively, the jury’s still out on violent gaming and its effect (if any) on young people. So why do Frank Schaal and John McGruder say parents should keep their kids from video games at all costs?

Well, they start with throwing science and reason right out the window:

More detailed studies of video games and their psychological effects are warranted, but as responsible adults, can we afford to wait? There may be no more causal relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior than there was between a moral crisis and the hip gyrations of Elvis in the 1950s; then again, 1950s research about cigarettes was also inconclusive.

That’s … sort of a good point. But their missive goes quickly downhill from there:

We know these facts: Award-winning video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” thrive on murder, theft and destruction. Gamers increase their chances of winning by making a virtual visit to a prostitute who can be subsequently mugged.

… Actually, that isn’t true. It’s true that GTA allows you to do this, if you choose, but it isn’t required to do so in order to advance the game. In the scenario they describe, you break even at best; prostitutes in GTA, as in real life, cost money. (And let’s not even get into the idea that visiting a sex worker is somehow wrong. It’s illegal, yes, but that’s another matter.)

And high school students who committed mass murders were heavy gamers; some even customized the game “Doom” to eerily match the crimes they committed.

… That’s also not true. According to the Secret Service, “Only 1 in 8 school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only 1 in 4 liked violent movies.” In fact, school shooters are much less interested in video games and violent video games than their peers. At least one study has suggested that juvenile criminals might be less likely to harm people if they’re busy playing video games instead, getting their aggressions out virtually rather than in reality.

Schall and McGruder cap their nonsense with this frightening line of argument:

The consequences of this pollution contribute to the degeneration of society. Bullying, fighting, gang warfare, and other aggressive crimes, including murder, are committed by young people, concomitantly spreading destruction and devaluing the gifts of life and freedom. Inevitably, many youths are incarcerated, often with long sentences and always with life-altering ramifications. In Florida alone, close to 100 men are now serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were young.

While it’s true that juveniles are going to prison for crimes they committed, there’s still no evidence that it’s video games that put them there. For those who did enjoy a game or two, there were many other factors — from upbringing and trauma to mental health and desperation — that were much more prominent in these criminals’ lives. Even teen-killer “expert” Phil Chalmers — who thinks video games do contribute to delinquency — says it’s one factor among many.

So, no, parents don’t need to worry. They don’t need to start burning video games like they’re books or records. They can let their kids play games, keep an eye on them, and relax.

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