Backward Messages

The straight story on influences that turn teens violent.

Beth Winegarner

Beth Winegarner
Location
SAN FRANCISCO, California, United States
Birthday
March 05
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At Backward Messages, Beth Winegarner gives you the straight story on all the influences you’ve been told will turn your teen violent: the occult, violent video games, heavy-metal music, and more. Winegarner is a San Francisco author, journalist, and mom writing a book for parents on the most controversial teen influences and why they’re a healthy part of growing up.

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MARCH 22, 2012 3:11PM

Congressmen revive, expand failed proposal for warning label on violent video games

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A new bill proposing warning labels on almost all video games is giving at least one of us PMRC flashbacks.

Here we go again.

US Congressmen Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) have introduced a bill that would slap a warning label on almost all video games (except those labeled “EC” for “early childhood”) that reads:

WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.

If the name Joe Baca is familiar to you, it’s because he tried this a year ago and failed. That bill, which would have placed a warning label only on “T” (teen) and “M” (mature) games, died in committee. And that was the second time Baca and Wolf introduced that bill.

It’s unclear what makes them think a new, broader bill will fly — particularly in the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court decision rejecting a California ban on the sale of violent games to minors, as well as the demise of an Oklahoma bill that would have taxed the sale of violent video games.

Here’s what Baca had to say for himself this time:

“The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products. They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility.”

Actually, no, they haven’t. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has created very clear labeling for its video-game ratings. In addition, every video game has a detailed content description on the back. Buyers who want more information can find a wealth of it, including screenshots and videos, online. (A quick check with a smartphone can bring this to your fingertips, right in the store.) In addition, underage undercover shoppers have found it increasingly difficult to purchase M-rated games — much more difficult than getting into an R-rated film or buying a stickered record.

Let’s get down to the business of the warning label itself: It claims that “exposure to violent video games” (What does that mean? Does it mean glancing at one as you’re walking through the living room, or does it mean playing Manhunt like it’s a full-time job at a startup?) “has been linked to aggressive behavior.” While it’s true that a number of flawed studies have shown that subjects who play violent video games in a lab are slightly more aggressive immediately after gameplay, there’s little evidence that such behavior is lasting, or that it’s related to the violent content at all.

Here’s Wolf’s two cents’ worth:

“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents—and children—about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior.”

The only reason there is “growing evidence” is that people keep studying the same false correlations. Adding one more flawed study to the heap does, indeed, make it grow.

But you know what else is growing? Evidence that video games are good for you. Why don’t we put that on a label? If we can claim that sugary cereal “may reduce the risk of heart disease,” surely we can put labels on violent video games claiming the much-more-proven health benefits of playing them.


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Thanks for your comment. If you follow the links in this article, and read some of my prior posts, you'll see plenty of examples of their benefits.