Trump re­opens a seem­ingly set­tled video-game de­bate


NEW YORK — In the wake of the Florida school shoot­ing, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is re­viv­ing an old de­bate over whether vi­o­lent video games can trig­ger vi­o­lent be­hav­ior. There’s just one prob­lem: Roughly two decades of re­search has re­peat­edly failed to un­cover any such link.

Trump plans to meet Thurs­day with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the video game in­dus­try. Trump’s re­cent pub­lic com­ments ref­er­enc­ing the “vi­cious” level of game and movie vi­o­lence in the con­text of school safety show that he is ea­ger to ex­plore the is­sue.

The En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware As­so­ci­a­tion, the big­gest video game trade group, said Mon­day that it will at­tend the meet­ing at the White House. A full list of at­ten­dees hasn’t been re­leased. Here’s a look at the is­sues the meet­ing may ad­dress.

-o0oWHAT DOES RE­SEARCH SHOW? Some stud­ies have shown a con­nec­tion be­tween gam­ing and emo­tional arousal, al­though there’s no ev­i­dence that this height­ened emo­tional state leads to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence.

In 2006, a small study by In­di­ana Univer­sity found that teenagers who played vi­o­lent video games showed higher lev­els of emo­tional arousal, but less ac­tiv­ity in the parts of the brain as­so­ci­ated with the abil­ity to plan, con­trol and di­rect thoughts and be­hav­ior.

The study as­signed 44 ado­les­cents to play ei­ther a vi­o­lent or non­vi­o­lent but “equally fun and ex­cit­ing” video game for half an hour. Re­searchers mea­sured their brain func­tion im­me­di­ately af­ter play­ing. The group that played the non­vi­o­lent game showed more ac­tiv­ity in the pre­frontal parts of the brain, which are in­volved in in­hi­bi­tion, con­cen­tra­tion and self-con­trol. They also showed less ac­tiv­ity in the area in­volved in emo­tional arousal.

But if those changes have any im­pact on real-world be­hav­ior, re­searchers haven’t yet de­tected it.

Patrick Markey, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Vil­lanova Univer­sity who fo­cuses on video games, found in his re­search that men who com­mit se­vere acts of vi­o­lence ac­tu­ally play vi­o­lent video games less than the av­er­age male. About 20 per­cent were in­ter­ested in vi­o­lent video games, com­pared with 70 per­cent of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, he ex­plained in his 2017 book “Moral Com­bat: Why the War on Vi­o­lent Video Games Is Wrong.”

An­other study by Markey and his col­leagues showed that vi­o­lence tends to dip when a new vi­o­lent movie or video game comes out, pos­si­bil­ity be­cause peo­ple are at home play­ing the game or in the­aters watch­ing the movie.

“Ev­ery­thing kind of sug­gests no link, or if any­thing, it goes in the op­po­site di­rec­tion,” Markey said in an in­ter­view.

In 2013, af­ter the shoot­ing at Sandy Hook ele­men­tary school in New­ton, Con­necti­cut, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den held three days of wide-rang­ing talks on gun vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion in­clud­ing a meet­ing with video game in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives. At that meet­ing the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware As­so­ci­a­tion gave a state­ment sim­i­lar to the one it is­sued on Mon­day.

“Like all Amer­i­cans, we are deeply con­cerned about the level of gun vi­o­lence in the United States,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion said Mon­day. “Video games are plainly not the is­sue: en­ter­tain­ment is dis­trib­uted and con­sumed glob­ally, but the U.S. has an ex­po­nen­tially higher level of gun vi­o­lence than any other na­tion.”

Af­ter the 2013 meet­ings wrapped, the White House called on re­search on the ef­fect of me­dia and video games on gun vi­o­lence but noth­ing sub­stan­tial came out of that.


Be­cause vir­tual-re­al­ity head­sets and games are rel­a­tively new, there hasn’t been much re­search into the ef­fects of im­mer­sion in vi­o­lent vir­tual worlds. But ex­perts say that such gam­ing hy­per­re­al­ism is un­likely to make much of a dif­fer­ence.

“That’s an area that is on­go­ing and needs to be ex­plored fur­ther, but games like ‘Call of Duty,’ are al­ready pretty re­al­is­tic,” said Ben­jamin Bur­roughs, a pro­fes­sor of emerg­ing me­dia at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada in Las Ve­gas. “I have a hard time think­ing there’s go­ing to be a mas­sive change in data due to the in­creased height­ened sense of re­al­ity.”

Trump has sug­gested rat­ing both games and movies for vi­o­lence. Such rat­ings al­ready ex­ist.

Fol­low­ing an out­cry over vi­o­lent games such as 1992's “Mor­tal Kom­bat,” the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware Rat­ings Board was es­tab­lished in 1994 by the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware As­so­ci­a­tion to give each game a rat­ing based on five-cat­e­gories rang­ing from “E? for “Ev­ery­one” to “Adults Only” rat­ing for those 18 and older.

The rat­ings sug­gest an age range and the type of con­tent. The “ma­ture” rat­ing, for ex­am­ple, in­di­cates the con­tent is “gen­er­ally suit­able for ages 17 and up” and that the game “may con­tain in­tense vi­o­lence, blood and gore, sex­ual con­tent and/or strong lan­guage.”

In 2011 , the Supreme Court re­jected a Cal­i­for­nia law ban­ning the sale of vi­o­lent video games to chil­dren. The de­ci­sion claimed that video games, like other me­dia, are pro­tected by the First Amend­ment.

In the ma­jor­ity, Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia wrote that the gov­ern­ment can’t reg­u­late de­pic­tions of vi­o­lence, which he said were age-old, any­way: “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for ex­am­ple, are grim in­deed.” AP

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