Video games, violence remain hot-button issues

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Video games, violence remain hot-button issues

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Video games, violence remain hot-button issues
By SHERYL SCHMECKPEPER [email protected]
Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 9:53 am

Does violence depicted in movies and games cause people to be violent?

It’s a question that’s been discussed and debated for years — ever since the 1950s when Lucas McCain shot the bad guy in a fuzzy black-and-white scenes from “The Rifleman” television show.

In their book, “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” Lt. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano tell a story about future television executive Brandon Tartikoff who, when he was in the first grade, formed a gang that “went around imitating TV Westerns.”

“We’d disrupt class to play out scenes, picking up chairs and hitting people over the head with them. Finally the teacher called my parents in and said, ‘Obviously he’s being influenced by these shows, and if he’s to continue in this class, you’ve got to agree not to let him watch television anymore,” Tartikoff said at the time.

Tartikoff, who was born in 1949 and died in 1997, was president of NBC for many years. He would have been in the first grade about 1955 — about the time when The Rifleman and Sheriff Matt Dillon were popular television characters.

Movies and TV shows were pretty mild then compared to now. And video games didn’t exist.

Since the days of Matt Dillon and Lucas McCain, numerous studies have shown that watching screen violence makes people more aggressive, which, in turn, can lead to violent behavior, say Grossman and DeGaetano.

Grossman is a psychology professor at West Point Military Academy, chairman of the department of military science at Arkansas State University, a military historian and Army ranger. DeGaetano is a media literacy consultant to corporations, school districts, parent groups and social service agencies.

“The fact is that media violence primes children to see killing as acceptable. Teachers report first-graders stabbing kittens to death and mutilating pets after seeing violent acts on TV or in the movies,” DeGaetano said in the book. “Law officers tell of the hundreds of pre-teens who plot murder and revenge and, luckily, are stopped before the tragedy occurs.”

Video games offer another element by allowing children to actively participate in “carnage” by clicking a mouse or pulling a trigger.

And while no report contends that every person who plays video games will take up arms against his or her neighbor or classmates, there is evidence that a number of people involved in high-profile killings “habitually played violent video games.”

In fact, Michael Carneal, who was responsible for the school shooting at Paducah, Ky., in 1997, had never fired a gun before he took one to school and killed or wounded eight people with the eight bullets.

He honed his skills on “point-and-shoot video games he played for hundreds of hours in video arcades and in the comfort of his own home,” Grossman wrote. They are the same types of simulators that military and law enforcement officers use, he added.

According to a recent Iowa State study, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played a game called Doom. Harris even created a custom version “with two shooters, extra weapons, unlimited ammunition and victims who couldn’t fight back.”

Harris and Klebold are responsible for the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., during which 13 people were killed and 23 were wounded.

“Violent behavior is nurtured over time,” write Grossman and DeGaetano. “Due to overexposure to gratuitous violent imagery, our children undergo a systematic conditioning process that alters their cognitive, emotional and social development in such ways as to embed in them a desire . . . to act out violently without remorse.”

The notion that the media influences behavior should be an accepted fact, according to a report commissioned by the International Society for Research on Aggression.

“The multi-billion dollar advertising industry flourishes on the assumption that showing people media advertisements will make them more likely to buy the advertised product,” the report said.

Which is why DeGaetano tells parents to not expose their young children to TV, videos and other electronic media until they are at least 3 years old.

Children younger than that are not able to process the information and images, DeGaetano said during a phone interview with the Daily News. Even 6- and 7 year-olds should be limited to an hour of screen time a day, she added. It’s important, she said, that children live in a three-dimensional environment for proper brain development.

Too often, she said, “children are creating emotional bonds with screens.”

Yet lawmakers seems little inclined to do anything about violence in the entertainment world.

“One minute you’ll be watching the president’s televised anti-gun speech, and a minute later, on the same network, you’ll see a shooting-spree and ax-fight laced trailer for a movie . . . .” wrote Carolyn Kaster in a recent New York Times article.

“Has Hollywood’s top lobbyist, former Sen. Chris Dodd, succeeded in making the Motion Picture Association of America as untouchable with Democrats as the National Rifle Association is with Republicans?” she asked.

Others agree.

“Actors, movie producers and video producers are big money contributors to political campaigns, and it is doubtful that either political party will risk the opposition to legislate restrictions on the film violence currently protected by the First Amendment,” said Mike Nolan of Lincoln, an avid gun collector and gun rights advocate.

While violence in some movies — such as “Saving Private Ryan,” which depicts the D-Day invasion during WWII — has a purpose, most of it is just violence for the sake of violence, DeGaetano said.

Still, the American public drives the market for violent entertainment by buying movie tickets and video games. And they eagerly feed the country’s seemingly insatiable appetite for such fare.

“Jason Statham’s recent film ‘Parker’ is a good example. The film is entirely gratuitous violence that exalts no worthwhile ideal,” Nolan added.

Yet, before placing the blame for the worlds ills on the shoulders of video games and movies, some researchers say that aggressive children are most drawn to violent video games and movies.

And there are other factors than video games and violent movies that come into play.

Some say the only way to curb violence is to remove guns. Others say more and better mental health care is needed.

Most say adults need to monitor what their children are watching and doing.

But in the end, there is no clear-cut, definitive answer.

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