Not enough proof to justify laws against violent video games

Illustration by Parker Wilhelm

A new measure is being proposed in Conneticut to impose a 10 percent tax on M-rated video games. Republican state representative Debralee Hovey is advocating the measure to educate parents on the danger these games pose to kids.

“M-rated games are purchased most often for children much younger than they are meant for,” Hovey said, according to a Feb. 16 Variety article by Ted Johnson.

This is part of a national debate that’s been going on since last December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Although the measure has yet to be put into a bill and is not likely to pass a First Amendment test, it brings up an important question: Do video games lead to violence?

In many similar tragedies, perpetrators are believed to have been addicts of violent video games. There is, for example, a long-running rumor that the Columbine shootings were planned out in programmed levels of the game “Doom.” This rumor is false, but many think it’s true.

Do violent games lead to real-life violence? The government has already decided on the matter. In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the state of California could not ban the games because video games are a form of protected speech.

The court ruled that such a ban would have to serve a specific public good; therefore, the defendants would have to show a strong connecting link between the medium and the actions resulting from it. No studies in the case made such a link, and connections made in the case were moot. Factors such as exposure to violence were also present in media other than video games.

The misinterpretation of these studies leads to a lot of this anti-video game fervor. According to a Jan. 25 Forbes article by Paul Tassi, Vice President Joe Biden recently jumped on this bandwagon when he announced an initiative for studies to link video game violence to real violence. He did this because of a 2011 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics Association that supposedly linked video games to increased aggression. However, when I looked up the study, I found that the result was taken out of context. The real finding was that competition in video game sessions led to greater aggressive tendencies.

Other studies have found the link between video games and violence to be non-existent. In a 2012 article for the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Chris Ferguson, professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M; International, and several co-authors published a study examining 165 participants over three years and the possibility of a link between video game violence and aggression. The study found that video games weren’t linked to aggression, and that instead “depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer influences were the best predictors of aggression-related outcomes.”

What we have so far is a lot of superstitious assertions standing against the proven record. We also have parents who want to use legislation against other parents who buy video games for their kids regardless of their recommended age-group. Parents handing their kids violent shooter games might be horrible, but it is ultimately their choice.

As far as kids getting their hands on adult material themselves, according to information collected by the Federal Trade Commission in 2009, only 20 percent of underage kids shopping for M-rated games were actually able to succeed in purchasing the item. Meanwhile, 60 percent of underage kids were able to buy tickets to or purchase R-rated movies.

If there is an actual link between video games and violence, we need better research to prove it. Right now, we can’t really say.

Patrick White is a junior in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to