Rockefeller Bill Dead, But Not For Long

Jay Rockefeller
(Source: The Washington Post)

When the 112th session of Congress ended on January 2, another thing ended with it: Jay Rockefeller’s (D – WV) bill mandating that the National Academy of Sciences investigate the effect of violent video games on children. However, like any good zombie, the bill won’t stay dead for long: Rockefeller plans to reintroduce it during this Congressional session, most likely at the end of the month.

Online gaming news site Polygon summarizes what Rockefeller wants investigated:

Specifically, the bill calls for the study to investigate:

Whether there is a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children.

Whether there is a connection between exposure to violent video programming and harmful effects on children.

In conducting their research, the group is asked to look into whether violent video games cause children to act aggressively or causes cognitive harm to children, has a disproportionately harmful effect on children already prone to aggressive behavior, has a harmful effect that is distinguishable from any negative effects produced by other types of media, according to the bill.

If passed, study would have to begin within 30 days, and the results would be due within 18 months. Polygon further notes that this is the eighth such study mandated since 1999’s Columbine shooting, and that none of the previous studies have found a strong link between media violence and violent behavior.

Outside studies further support the absence of a link between violent video game play and violent behavior. Recently, Max Fisher with The Washington Post examined crime data for the 10 countries that spend the greatest amount on video games. Had there been a link between video games and gun crime, there would be increasing rates of gun crime as per capita spending on video games increases. The country with the largest per-capita spending — Netherlands — would have the highest rate of gun crime. Instead, the actual trend represented by the data shows a slightly decreasing rate of gun crime with increased spending on video games. The United States stood out as an outlier in the data, indicating that other factors have much greater influence on violent behavior than video game play.

The study frequently cited by the factions would-be video game censors is Craig A. Anderson et al’s “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review” (Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, 2010, Vol. 136, No. 2, 151–173). However, in “Much Ado About Nothing: The Misestimation and Overinterpretation of Violent Video Game Effects in Eastern and Western Nations: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010)” (Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, 2010, Vol. 136, No. 2, 174–178), Christoper J. Ferguson and John Kilburn took Anderson to task for incorporating biased and flawed studies into their meta-analysis. Many of these studies did not consider other environmental factors that influence violent behavior, such as socioeconomic status and substance abuse. Further, Ferguson and Kilburn noted that even as violent video game use has increased, crime rates among youth have actually plummeted, and further illustrated that Anderson’s statistical data could be interpreted to mean the opposite of the conclusion Anderson drew.

The current conversation about violent media is reminiscent of the 1950s era moral panic that led to the self-censorship of comics and nearly led to the demise of the medium. Between Rockefeller’s bill and Vice President Biden’s meetings with entertainment leaders, we’ll be watching these developments closely.

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.