President Barack Obama called on Congress today to fund research into the effects of violent video games on young minds.
Since news emerged that Newtown, Conn. gunman Adam Lanza played “Call of Duty,” a debate has raged over whether violent video games are to blame for mass shootings America.
The U.S. Supreme Court last weighed in on the issue when striking down a California ban on selling violent video games to minors.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the June 2011 opinion doing away with the law on free speech grounds. Scalia suggested lawmakers were unfairly singling out violent video games, noting Hansel and Gretel and Lord of the Flies featured plenty of gory storylines.
Two justices wrote dissents favouring the ban: right-leaning Clarence Thomas and the liberal justice Stephen Breyer.
Thomas essentially argues that minors shouldn’t be able to buy violent video games on their own because parents should have absolute control over their children.
But Breyer offers some interesting points about why video games might be more insidious than the “dime novels” of the 1800s or choose-your-own adventure stories Scalia cited in his majority opinion.
Video games require a lot of actual physical activity, Breyer notes. From his dissent:
“Learning a practical task often means developing habits, becoming accustomed to performing the task, and receiving positive reinforcement when performing that task well. Video games can help develop habits, accustom the player to performance of the task, and reward the player for performing that task well. Why else would the Armed Forces incorporate video games into its training?”
“When the military uses video games to help soldiers train for missions, it is using this medium for a beneficial purpose. But California argues that when the teaching features of video games are put to less desirable ends, harm can ensue. In particular, extremely violent games can harm children by rewarding them for being violently aggressive in play, and thereby often teaching them to be violently aggressive in life. And video games can cause more harm in this respect than can typically passive media, such as books or films or television programs.”
Breyer stressed that social scientists have come up with different answers about whether violent video games definitively spur young people to lash out in real life. We’ll have to wait and see whether Obama’s call for more research provides some more clear-cut answers.
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