What 3 decades of research tells us about whether brutally violent video games lead to mass shootings

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It was one of the most brutal video games imaginable—players used cars to murder people in broad daylight. Parents were outraged, and behavioral experts warned of real-world carnage. “In this game a player takes the first step to creating violence,” a psychologist from the National Safety Council told the New York Times. “And I shudder to think what will come next if this is encouraged. It’ll be pretty gory.”

To earn points, Death Race encouraged players to mow down pedestrians. Given that it was 1976, those pedestrians were little pixel-gremlins in a 2-D black-and-white universe that bore almost no recognizable likeness to real people.

Indeed, the debate about whether violent video games lead to violent acts by those who play them goes way back. The public reaction to Death Race can be seen as an early predecessor to the controversial Grand Theft Auto three decades later and the many other graphically violent and hyper-real games of today, including the slew of new titles debuting at the E3 gaming summit this week in Los Angeles.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and numerous other recent mass shootings, familiar condemnations of and questions about these games have reemerged. Here are some answers.

Who’s claiming video games cause violence in the real world?
Though conservatives tend to raise it more frequently, this bogeyman plays across the political spectrum, with regular calls for more research, more regulations, and more censorship. The tragedy in Newtown set off a fresh wave:

Donald Trump tweeted: “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it’s creating monsters!” Ralph Nader likened violent video games to “electronic child molesters.” (His outlandish rhetoric was meant to suggest that parents need to be involved in the media their kids consume.) MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asserted that the government has a right to regulate video games, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, the most over-the-top talk came from the National Rifle Association:

“Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media, and Obama’s budget kill people,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference one week after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He continued without irony: “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse.”

Has the rhetoric led to any government action?
Yes. Amid a flurry of broader legislative activity on gun violence since Newtown there have been proposals specifically focused on video games. Among them:

State Rep. Diane Franklin, a Republican in Missouri, sponsored a state bill that would impose a 1 percent tax on violent games, the revenues of which would go toward “the treatment of mental-health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.” (The bill has since been withdrawn.) Vice President Joe Biden has also promoted this idea.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) proposed a federal bill that would give the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s ratings system the weight of the law, making it illegal to sell Mature-rated games to minors, something Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has also proposed for his home state.

A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed studying the impact of violent video games on children.

So who actually plays these games and how popular are they?
While many of the top selling games in history have been various Mario and Pokemon titles, games from the the first-person-shooter genre, which appeal in particular to teen boys and young men, are also huge sellers.

The new king of the hill is Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which surpassed Wii Play as the No. 1 grossing game in 2012. Call of Duty is now one of the most successful franchises in video game history, topping charts year over year and boasting around 40 million active monthly users playing one of the franchise’s games over the internet. (Which doesn’t even include people playing the game offline.) There is already much anticipation for the release later this year of Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The Battlefield games from Electronic Arts also sell millions of units with each release. Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, released in March, has sold nearly 4 million units and is one of the most violent games to date.

What research has been done on the link between video games and violence, and what does it really tell us?
Studies on how violent video games affect behavior date to the mid 1980s, with conflicting results. Since then there have been at least two dozen studies conducted on the subject.

“Video Games, Television, and Aggression in Teenagers,” published by the University of Georgia in 1984, found that playing arcade games was linked to increases in physical aggression. But a study published a year later by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Personality, Psychopathology, and Developmental Issues in Male Adolescent Video Game Use,” found that arcade games have a “calming effect” and that boys use them to blow off steam. Both studies relied on surveys and interviews asking boys and young men about their media consumption.

Studies grew more sophisticated over the years, but their findings continued to point in different directions. A 2011 study found that people who had played competitive games, regardless of whether they were violent or not, exhibited increased aggression. In 2012, a different study found that cooperative playing in the graphically violent Halo II made the test subjects more cooperative even outside of video game playing.

Metastudies—comparing the results and the methodologies of prior research on the subject—have also been problematic. One published in 2010 by the American Psychological Association, analyzing data from multiple studies and more than 130,000 subjects, concluded that “violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors and decrease empathic feelings and pro-social behaviors.” But results from another metastudy showed that most studies of violent video games over the years suffered from publication biases that tilted the results toward foregone correlative conclusions.

Why is it so hard to get good research on this subject?
“I think that the discussion of media forms—particularly games—as some kind of serious social problem is often an attempt to kind of corral and solve what is a much broader social issue,” says Carly Kocurek, a professor of Digital Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Games aren’t developed in a vacuum, and they reflect the cultural milieu that produces them. So of course we have violent games.”

There is also the fundamental problem of measuring violent outcomes ethically and effectively.

“I think anybody who tells you that there’s any kind of consistency to the aggression research is lying to you,” Christopher J. Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University, told Kotaku. “There’s no consistency in the aggression literature, and my impression is that at this point it is not strong enough to draw any kind of causal, or even really correlational links between video game violence and aggression, no matter how weakly we may define aggression.”

Moreover, determining why somebody carries out a violent act like a school shooting can be very complex; underlying mental-health issues are almost always present. More than half of mass shooters over the last 30 years had mental-health problems.

But America’s consumption of violent video games must help explain our inordinate rate of gun violence, right?
Actually, no. A look at global video game spending per capita in relation to gun death statistics reveals that gun deaths in the United States far outpace those in other countries—including countries with higher per capita video game spending.

A 10-country comparison from the Washington Post shows the United States as the clear outlier in this regard. Countries with the highest per capita spending on video games, such as the Netherlands and South Korea, are among the safest countries in the world when it comes to guns. In other words, America plays about the same number of violent video games per capita as the rest of the industrialized world, despite that we far outpace every other nation in terms of gun deaths.

Or, consider it this way: With violent video game sales almost always at the top of the charts, why do so few gamers turn into homicidal shooters? In fact, the number of violent youth offenders in the United States fell by more than half between 1994 and 2010—while video game sales more than doubled since 1996. A working paper from economists on violence and video game sales published in 2011 found that higher rates of violent video game sales in fact correlated with a decrease in crimes, especially violent crimes.

I’m still not convinced. A bunch of mass shooters were gamers, right?
Some mass shooters over the last couple of decades have had a history with violent video games. The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, was reportedly “obsessed” with video games. Norway shooter Anders Behring Breivik was said to have played World of Warcraft for 16 hours a day until he gave up the game in favor of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which he claimed he used to train with a rifle. Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was reportedly a fan of violent video games and movies such as The Dark Knight. (Holmes reportedly went so far as to mimic the Joker by dying his hair prior to carrying out his attack.)

Jerald Block, a researcher and psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon, stirred controversy when he concluded that Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out their rampage after their parents took away their video games. According to the Denver Post, Block said that the two had relied on the virtual world of computer games to express their rage, and that cutting them off in 1998 had sent them into crisis.

But that’s clearly an oversimplification. The age and gender of many mass shooters, including Columbine’s, places them right in the target demographic for first-person-shooter (and most other) video games. And people between ages 18 and 25 also tend to report the highest rates of mental-health issues. Harris and Klebold’s complex mental-health problems have been well documented.

To hold up a few sensational examples as causal evidence between violent games and violent acts ignores the millions of other young men and women who play violent video games and never go on a shooting spree in real life. Furthermore, it’s very difficult to determine empirically whether violent kids are simply drawn to violent forms of entertainment, or if the entertainment somehow makes them violent. Without solid scientific data to go on, it’s easier to draw conclusions that confirm our own biases.
How is the industry reacting to the latest outcry over violent games?
Moral panic over the effects of violent video games on young people has had an impact on the industry over the years, says Kocurek, noting that “public and government pressure has driven the industry’s efforts to self regulate.”

In fact, it is among the best when it comes to abiding by its own voluntary ratings system, with self-regulated retail sales of Mature-rated games to minors lower than in any other entertainment field.

But is that enough? Even conservative judges think there should be stronger laws regulating these games, right?
There have been two major Supreme Court cases involving video games and attempts by the state to regulate access to video games. Aladdin’s Castle, Inc. v. City of Mesquite in 1983 and Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association in 2011.

“Both cases addressed attempts to regulate youth access to games, and in both cases, the court held that youth access can’t be curtailed,” Kocurek says.

In Brown v. EMA, the Supreme Court found that the research simply wasn’t compelling enough to spark government action, and that video games, like books and film, were protected by the First Amendment.

“Parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote when the Supreme Court deemed California’s video game censorship bill unconstitutional in Brown v. EMA. “Filling the remaining modest gap in concerned-parents’ control can hardly be a compelling state interest.”

So how can we explain the violent acts of some kids who play these games?
For her part, Kocurek wonders if the focus on video games is mostly a distraction from more important issues. “When we talk about violent games,” she says, “we are too often talking about something else and looking for a scapegoat.”

In other words, violent video games are an easy thing to blame for a more complex problem. Public policy debates, she says, need to focus on serious research into the myriad factors that may contribute to gun violence. This may include video games—but a serious debate needs to look at the dearth of mental-health care in America, our abundance of easily accessible weapons, our highly flawed background-check system, and other factors.

There is at least one practical approach to violent video games, however, that most people would agree on: Parents should think deliberately about purchasing these games for their kids. Better still, they should be involved in the games their kids play as much as possible so that they can know firsthand whether the actions and images they’re allowing their children to consume are appropriate or not.

Thanks to SRW for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

The Truth About Video Games and Gun Violence

Brandon J. Raub

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A former Marine involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting strident anti-government messages on Facebook has received an outpouring of support from people who say authorities are trampling on his First Amendment rights.

Brandon J. Raub, 26, has been in custody since FBI, Secret Service agents and police in Virginia’s Chesterfield County questioned him Thursday evening about what they said were ominous posts talking about a coming revolution. In one message earlier this month according to authorities, Raub wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads.”

Police – acting under a state law that allows emergency, temporary psychiatric commitments upon the recommendation of a mental health professional – took Raub to the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell. He was not charged with any crime.

A Virginia-based civil liberties group, The Rutherford Institute, dispatched one of its attorneys to the hospital to represent Raub at a hearing Monday. A judge ordered Raub detained for another month, Rutherford executive director John Whitehead said.

“For government officials to not only arrest Brandon Raub for doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment rights but to actually force him to undergo psychological evaluations and detain him against his will goes against every constitutional principle this country was founded upon,” Whitehead said.

Raub’s mother, Cathleen Thomas, said by telephone that the government had overstepped its bounds.

“The bottom line is his freedom of speech has been violated,” she said.

Thomas said her son, who served tours as a combat engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan, is “concerned about all the wars we’ve experienced” and believes the U.S. government was complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One of his Facebook posts, she said, pictured the gaping hole in the Pentagon and asked “where’s the plane?”

Whitehead said he found nothing alarming in Raub’s social media commentaries. “The posts I read that supposedly were of concern were libertarian-type posts I see all the time,” he said.

The big concern, Whitehead said, is whether government officials are monitoring citizens’ private Facebook pages and detaining people with whom they disagree.

Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, said there was no Facebook snooping by her agency.

“We received quite a few complaints about what were perceived as threatening posts,” she said. “Given the circumstances with the things that have gone on in the country with some of these mass shootings, it would be horrible for law enforcement not to pay attention to complaints.”

Whitehead said some of the posts in question were made on a closed Facebook page that Raub had recently created so he questioned whether anyone from the public would have complained about them.

“Support Brandon Raub” Facebook pages have drawn significant interest, and other Internet sites had numerous comments from people outraged by the veteran’s detention.

Raub’s supporters characterized the detention as an arrest, complaining he was handcuffed and whisked away in a police cruiser without being served a warrant or read his rights. But authorities say it wasn’t an arrest because Raub doesn’t face criminal charges.

Col. Thierry Dupuis, the county police chief, said Raub was taken into custody upon the recommendation of mental health crisis intervention workers. He said the action was taken under the state’s emergency custody statute, which allows a magistrate to order the civil detention and psychiatric evaluation of a person who is considered potentially dangerous.

He said Raub was handcuffed because he resisted officers’ attempts to take him into custody.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/brandon-j-raub-marine-detained_n_1817484.html

Thanks to Dr. Mike Moore for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

The Sexxxtons, Mother-Daughter Porn Duo, Provoke Controversy

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The erotic activities of a mother and daughter in Tampa, Fla., who have become an on-screen pornography duo, are pushing the boundaries of propriety and sparking a debate among some experts, even in an industry known for its taboos.

For the last year, Jessica, 56, and her 22-year-old daughter, Monica — known as the Sexxxtons — have been filming sex scenes with each other and non-related partners for their self-titled website. The duo, who like many in pornography do not use their last names, say that even though they will have sex with another person at the same time, they are not interacting with each other.

Their definition of sex may be strictly semantics to the average person, but it also may have legal merit, according to Randy Reep, a Florida-based criminal defense attorney who said that Florida law defines incest, in part, as penetration by one family member to another.

In addition, the right to make pornography is, for the most part, covered by the First Amendment, but the Sexxxtons still might face risks.  “Being involved in pornography in the South carries certain risks,” Reep told HuffPost.  “It’s not as liberal as in California.”

But the letter of the law and the spirir of the law can be two different things, and expert psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman believes the Sexxxtons are guilty of “emotional incest.”

 “Even if they’re not having sex with each other, it has to be titillating to one or both of them, so it crosses the line since sexual arousal comes into the mix.”

Monica defends their work and says it was her idea to start the website.  “I enjoy the sex and I enjoy being with my mom,” she told The Huffington Post.  “During the scenes, I think about how we’re going to be filthy rich.”

Donna Mae Depola, a child sex abuse activist, however, believes that the Sexxxtons’ activities are potentially damaging even if they are consensual.

Depola’s book “The Twelve Tins” documents her reaction to discovering films that her dad made while having sex with her between ages 5 and 12.

“This might be even worse than my situation,” she told HuffPost. “I had no choice, but this mother is an adult and she is a mother and a mother is suppose to protect her daughter. Whether it was the daughter’s idea or not, someday this mother will regret this decision and the daughter will have such resentment that her mother agreed to her daughter’s request, that this appears to have long lasting damage.”

Depola insisted she is not judging them.

“I have no right to do that,” she said. “All I am saying is you can’t justify this behavior to anyone with half a brain. The mom has to stand up and face the truth: A mother does not have sex in the same bed that the daughter is in. Just plain and simple.”

Even though the Sexxxtons claim this is just business, New York-based therapist Silvia M. Dutchevici also believes there could be lasting damage.

“Psychologically, there will be scars for both women,” Dutchevici said. “One cannot perform sexual acts in front of one’s parent (or caretaker) without shame or guilt surfacing. Also, if there is a history of sexual abuse, these “scenes” will trigger some of the trauma.”

Porn actress and Huffington Post blogger Amber Peach has done her share of kinky sex scenes, but the Sexxxtons’ work is too much for her.

“I don’t care if they don’t touch each other or not, it’s got to be hurting something mentally. Some things are secret and most [adult] industry people understand that I think. This really has just left me speechless,” she told HuffPost by email. “I have a great relationship with my parents, and am very open with them, but shooting with them has and will never cross my mind.”

Incest has been called the universal taboo, but there are some sex experts who don’t believe the Sexxxtons are guilty of it — or that it is potentially damaging. 

Veronica Monet, a certified sexologist and anger management specialist, believes the Sexxxtons have handled their situation about as well as it can be.

“At first blush, it sounds like an incestuous enterprise but upon closer examination, I have to admit that both Monica and Jessica appear to enjoy a congenial, egalitarian and respectful relationship,” she told HuffPost. “I find their refusal to be shamed for their adult consensual choice, courageous and admirable. To their credit, they have maintained the sexual boundaries which would preclude this as being an overtly incestuous endeavor.”

Cora Emens, a Netherlands-based sex coach, said that their Jessica and Monica’s personal decisions are no one’s business, but that a mother and daughter sex scene is better in some ways than the typical girl-girl interaction.

“I’d rather see a mother and daughter interact in a sex scene than two women who are strangers and fighting for the attention of the camera,” she told HuffPost. “Whatever gets you off. Porn is all fantasy and let us all at least be free in our fantasy world. Whatever that world may be.”

Although the Sexxxtons’ story sparked controversy, research suggests that long-term porn success may not be in the cards, according to Nicole Prause, an assistant researcher at UCLA in the Department of Psychiatry who studies sexual arousal in response to porn.

“Research shows sexual acts between any parent and child leads most people to report feeling high levels of disgust, especially women, so the strong reaction to their films is unlikely to be seen as more acceptable over time,” she said. “Some researchers have suggested that erotic images online are so sexually compelling because of the novelty they provide. Since these type of interactions are so rare, and even rarely portrayed, I would expect many people who use erotic images on the internet to find them sexually arousing.”

For her part, Monica sees porn as an easy, fun way to make money, but she does have some fantasies she’d like to fulfill with her mom.

“We’ve never come across a father-son porn duo in real life,” she told HuffPost. “We tried to film a scene that was like that, but the guy they cast as the ‘Dad’ looked too much like the ‘Cockroach’ guy from that movie, ‘Men In Black’.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/07/the-sexxxtons-mother-daughter-porn-duo_n_2258245.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news