COLUMN: Violent video games need warning labels

Though most games are rated, there should be clear warnings that exposure to violent games has been linked to aggressive behaviour.

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children were brutally murdered by Adam Lanza, we are again reminded of the dangers of guns.

Though American politicians have certainly been awakened and stirred into action by the unfortunate tragedy, only time will tell the types of gun control policies that will emerge in order to prevent such horrific tragedies from happening in the future.

Aside from politics, talk about a “gun culture” has also emerged in recent days, with prominent news anchors such as Piers Morgan suggesting a link between violent video games and stimulation of an “insane person’s bloodlust.” In fact, Lanza played violent video games.

Certainly, policies from the top are important in order to tackle the lack of gun control in the United States, but even here at home, we are exposed to violent media socialization.

In 2010, 16-year-old Kimberly Proctor was killed by two teens who were avid players of an online violent video game.

Much has been written about violent video games and gun violence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that violence portrayed in video games has a detrimental psychological effect on children. Critics of this statement will cite a study released earlier this week which apparently finds little correlation between gun violence and violent video games.

However, a quick search on the American Psychological Association website debunks many of the myths that critics would like video gamers to believe.  By probing deeper through research evidence, it is not difficult to find many studies which find a strong link between increased violent video game interaction and higher levels of aggression.

Though video games are certainly a fun form of entertainment and can have positive effects in moderation, parents must take precautions when allowing their children to play video games.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation suggests that parents supervise video game usage time, discuss the implications of video games with their children, and not allow children to have video game consoles in their rooms.

Individuals on both sides of the debate continue to fight for their side of the argument. But if we step away from the debating, we see that it is our youth who are the victims in this situation.

Unlike the United States, here in B.C., motion picture legislation makes it illegal to sell violent video games to minors. However, where parents fail is when they buy these video games for their children.

A parent has the freedom to purchase a video game of his liking for his/her child, but a child also has the right to be protected from violent exposure.

A study released just last year found that violent video games have an effect on the brain and may decrease emotional control and cognitive function.

And even though B.C. legislation forbids minors from purchasing violent games, video games here in B.C. should include a warning label: “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behaviour” – legislation that was proposed earlier this year in the U.S. by Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf.

Labelling all games, regardless of the ESRB rating – (the Entertainment Software Rating Board assigns rating information for computer and video games indicating the appropriate age group and content) – would help both parents and children make better decisions when it comes to video game purchasing.  This would essentially ensure consumer protection and it is imperative that B.C. and provinces across Canada adopt this type of legislation.

So this year, as parents go out shopping for gifts to put under the Christmas tree, it may just be better if they reached for a sports game instead of a shoot-’em-up video. Certainly, violent video games are not the only factor in violent crimes, but they do play a contributory role.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

japreet@live.ca

 

 

 

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