Congressmen push bill to put violence warnings on videogames

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 22, 2012 12:44 EDT
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A child plays a video game on the Nintendo DS handheld system. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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In an apparent effort to leverage a recent court ruling on cigarette warning labels, two members of Congress re-introduced a bill this week that would slap stark warnings on nearly all videogames, cautioning that they can lead to aggressive behavior. However, their push for new warning labels seems to disregard that one of the only studies supporting the claim was later debunked by the very organization that issued it.

The bill (PDF), put forth by Reps. Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), would even require the warning to be printed on covers of games that contain no explicit violence whatsoever. The government-mandated label would read: “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.”

The proposed law comes the same week as a landmark court decision that acknowledged the government’s authority to require cigarette-makers to place graphic images on their packaging showing the health effects of long term tobacco use.

Playing off that ruling, Rep. Wolf compared his bill’s requirements to warnings on cigarette packaging, insisting in a prepared statement that there is “growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior.”

It’s not the first time these two members have proposed such legislation: a similar bill in 2009 died before it could clear a House committee, and a second attempt last year was also basically ignored.

They claim the labeling should be mandated because the American Psychological Association (APA) warned 12 years ago that violent video games increases aggressive behavior. However, that study was essentially retracted in 2010 when the APA revised their findings and said those aggressive tendencies brought on by video games mainly occur in younger children with a predisposition to rule-breaking, emotional instability and psychotic episodes.

“Violent video games are like peanut butter,” Dr. Christopher Ferguson, of Texas A&M University, explained in the June 2010 issue of Review of General Psychology, a scientific journal put out by the APA. “They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems.”

Another study, released in 2011 by the University of Texas at Arlington, Baylor University and the Centre for European Economic Research, found that violent video games may actually help reduce the overall crime rate by giving those individuals prone to aggressive behavior a safe outlet for their urges.

“The findings linking gameplay to an increase in aggression are mainly based on psychological laboratory experiments,” researchers wrote. “However, these experiments do neither consider the intense usage of these games by relatively violence-prone people nor the resulting time use effect. This incapacitation effect prevents gamers from engaging in other violent activities during the time spent playing video games.”

Reached by Raw Story, Rep. Baca was not available for comment and Rep. Wolf’s communications director declined to make any further statements.

(H/T: Ars Technica)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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