Marc Schroeder plays “Gears of War 3” at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some lawmakers have been quick to blame video games such as the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Gears of War” franchises for glorifying violence.
Does exposing children to violence in TV shows, movies and video games increase their odds of violent behavior later on?
That question lies at the heart of the ongoing debate over gun control, mental health and the effect of violent media on our society. Mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere have brought renewed attention to the issue of who is responsible when a young adult with no history of violence chooses to open fire on innocent people.
Eager to deflect a storm of negative headlines, some gun rights advocates have pointed a finger at video games, movies and other sources of violent images. A similar debate took place after the 1999 Columbine shootings, but the current national conversation surrounding media violence follows a string of particularly violent shootings, climaxing in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
The level of outrage following that incident has provided fodder to those concerned about the long-term effects of violent media on children, particularly as video games become more realistic with advances in technology.
The gun lobby found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who was quick to blame video games such as “Grand Theft Auto” for glorifying violent crimes. He was joined by several other lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. President Barack Obama in January called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to invest $10 million in studying the effect of violent video games and movies, among other areas, highlighting the broad public concern over the issue.
But proving a correlation between exposure to violent media images and actual violence is a difficult task at best, especially at a time when children are constantly exposed to violent images on the news and via the Internet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on the issue in 2009, arguing that extensive research shows that exposure to media violence can result in aggressive behavior in children. In one study, 98 percent of the pediatricians surveyed believed violent images affect children’s aggression.
The entertainment and video game industries, however, emphasize other studies that find no connection between exposure to violent images and actual violence, and researchers have come to widely differing conclusions depending on their subjects and methodologies.
Critics also note that violent crime in the United States has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, even as media exposure has risen exponentially.