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Pause: Video games are not to blame

Other factors more prevalent in relation to violent crime

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Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:13 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Since the release of games like “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Kombat,” and “Call of Duty,” there have been heated debates on if there are links between incidences of violent crime and violent video games.

In a press conference earlier this month, President Barack Obama asked Congress to support a bill that would grant the Center for Disease Control and Prevention $10 million to research any relationship between video games and violence.

"We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science," Obama said. “Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds.”

About a week before the press conference, Vice President Joe Biden met with video game industry leaders to discuss ways to decrease gun violence. Among the leaders that were asked to join Biden were executives from the Entertainment Software Association, Entertainment Software Ratings Board, Activision Blizzard and Epic Games.

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have been conducted to find correlations between video games and violence. After the press conference, ESA released a statement on the matter. "The same entertainment is enjoyed across all cultures and nations, but tragic levels of gun violence remain unique to our country,” it read. “Scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world.”

Christopher Ferguson, professor of psychology and communication at Texas A&M University, has done several studies and written extensively on the impact of violent video games on players. Ferguson attended the meeting with Biden as a researcher for the university. In Ferguson’s experience, he says the studies support “a growing body of evidence pointing away from video game violence” as the cause of real-world violent behavior.

In a 2011 study that Ferguson took part in, the “results indicated that exposure to video game violence was not related to any of the negative outcomes,” and rather that “depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer influences were the best predictors of aggression-related outcomes.”

In the outcome of the study researchers said “public policy efforts, including funding, would best be served by redirecting them toward other prevention programs for youth violence.”

This study is only one of hundreds out there with the same result: video games are not the problem. While there are a few studies here and there that indicate that violent video games may increase desire for aggressive behavior, these specific tests have shown very inconsistent data and are notoriously hard to replicate.

In an interview with ABC News, Ferguson said, “If we are serious about reducing these types of violence in our society, video game violence or other media violence issues are clearly the wrong direction to focus on.” Instead, Ferguson “stressed the importance of mental health treatment access and of parents monitoring what their children are exposed to,” according to ABC News.

Ferguson could not be more right.

It should be up to the parents to keep track of the kinds of video games their children are playing. That is why there is a rating system in place, to prevent kids under the age of said rating from being exposed to inappropriate material. Parents can decide based on the rating of a game if it is appropriate for their child.

However, if a parent does allow a child to play games deemed inappropriate for their age, it should also be the parent’s responsibility to talk to their child about what they are playing. Parents need to teach their children the differences between fantasy and reality and right versus wrong.

Another important factor to consider, as Ferguson pointed out, is the accessibility of mental health care. There are not nearly enough places for people seeking mental health care to go for help, in addition to the taboo topic mental health has become in our society. If we don’t talk about it, how can we be actively part of a solution?

Finding the key signs of a mental health issue really comes down to parents and even schools. If parents, teachers, or guidance counselors notice certain behavior(s) in a child, it should be addressed accordingly. Concerning video games, if a child is having a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality, it is up to the parents to teach their child and even limit time spent with video games if needed.

It is not video games that make people violent, and the video game industry is not to blame, either. They already provide tools for parents through the ESRB to make educated decisions on what kinds of video games are age-appropriate for their children.

Funding to help decrease violence among youth should be targeted in a more relevant direction instead of something that has been already been exhausted by years of research.

It is easy to place blame on something as simple as video games but it should not become a scapegoat for the real issues.

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