Lisa Spears, licensed professional counselor with Aspire Child & Adolescent Program, said that children can’t always distinguish between acts of fantasy and reality and become desensitized to physical aggression, or even murder by violent video games.
ALBANY, Ga. -- In the turbulent wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, questions are still being asked, fingers being pointed.
Is it too many guns that is the problem or should we have more? The National Rifle Association has stated its belief that armed guards should be posted at public schools.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre said following the Connecticut tragedy, in which 26 people were killed.
Some believe the answer lies in identification and treatment of the criminally insane or better background checks for firearm sales. What is an assault weapon anyway? Why would anyone commit such senseless, violent crimes?
Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza, 20, was reportedly "obsessed" with "Call of Duty," one of the more violent video games, which features weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15, a gun Lanza used during the massacre. Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik loved the game as well, admitting he used it to train for the attack.
Did the violent actions of those men spring directly from the violence of their games, or do mass killers just like to look at violent things?
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) recently proposed one of the first pieces of legislation related to the shooting: a bill to study the impact of violent video games on children. According to a Dec. 19 article on huffingtonpost.com, the bill would direct the National Academy of Sciences to lead the investigation on video games' impact and submit a report on its findings within 18 months.
"At times like this, we need to take a comprehensive look at all the ways we can keep our kids safe," Rockefeller said. "I have long expressed concern about the impact of the violent content our kids see and interact with every day."
Lisa Spears is a licensed professional counselor with Aspire Child & Adolescent Program in Albany, working with at-risk children and their families. She's convinced that violent games make for troubled and violent children.
"Children who engage in violent video games are more aggressive," Spears said. "That's been statistically proven, by and large."
Part of the problem, she says, is that children can't always distinguish between acts of fantasy and reality. According to Spears, game players can become desensitized to acts of physical violence, murder and sexual aggression.
"When a child becomes aggressive to another child, his brain doesn't distinguish the difference and that's very harmful. They have fewer life skills when they engage for hours at any type of video game," Spears said.
But what is violence anyway, as viewed on a monitor, TV screen or movie? How is it defined? Daffy Duck is crushed by steam rollers, exploded with dynamite and falls off high cliffs. Should Looney Tunes be banned?
High-tech games can couple ultra-realism with the ability to self-direct. Unlike movies and TV shows, players become their own characters, and thereby gain the freedom to act without real penalty. Depending on the game, participants methodically rob, injure, kill, sexually abuse or commit almost any atrocity -- then take a break for lunch.
"Children should be learning other problem-solving skills, such as talking with a teacher or walking away from a situation," Spears said. "Instead, the child goes straight to what they've learned in gaming -- that is, violence."
While Spears would love to see more regulation for video games, she doesn't expect she will, she said, not with the billions of dollars at stake for the game makers. Instead, she believes parents should take more responsibility for what their children watch.
"You have to tell your child, 'Look, I don't care if the neighbor kid or the kids at school are playing these things. If it seems inappropriate, you're not going to have it,'" Spears said.
Large-scale studies, such as "Grand Theft Childhood," a book by Cheryl K. Olson and Lawrence Kutner, indicate a dramatically heightened level of aggression in children who play violent video games. Boys 12 to 14 years old in the Boston area were twice as likely to get into physical fights, damage property, steal something from a store or get poor grades. The rise in aggression levels for girl gamers was even greater.
But Sen. Rockefeller's bill may have a long hill to climb. Extensive studies by the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service found no link between violent video games and headline-grabbing crimes of violence. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court seems disinclined toward laws involving censorship. In 2011 the court ruled 7-2 against a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children.
"In truth," said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, "California's ban on violent video games is just the latest in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors, be it dime store novels, movies or even Superman comics, which in their time were portrayed as leading to juvenile delinquency. The justifications offered in this case against violent video games are no better than those offered in the past against other forms of violent entertainment."