You wouldn’t know it from watching the news, but instances of violence in American society have fallen precipitously over the past decade. At the same time, more Americans than ever are playing video games. Yet, a bipartisan group of members of Congress continue to insist that video games might be responsible for random acts of violence, despite overwhelming evidence and facts showing they are wrong.
Vice-President Joe Biden, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IW) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) are among the leading proponents of the belief that there is a link between violence and video games. And they believe that taxpayer dollars should foot the bill for studies to attempt to prove it. But trying to prove causation is folly.
A few months ago, Congressman Wolf, an Appropriations Committee cardinal responsible for doling out billions of taxpayer dollars to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and hundreds of other government agencies, demanded that the National Science Foundation (of which he oversees funding) conduct a study proving his point. The Foundation hired Communication Professor Brad J. Bushman of Ohio State University to do the study. Bushman was the obvious choice; for he once did a study that concluded that the Bible could be used to incite violence. If the Bible induces violence, perhaps so does Grand Theft Auto. Low and behold, the professor found the link! The professor concluded that there are theoretical reasons to believe that violent video games are even more harmful than violent TV programs or films. Rep. Wolf was happy, as were the bureaucrats who want more funding from Mr. Wolf. A Washington win-win, as they say, except for the taxpayers.
There is just one problem — the facts. More Americans play video games today than ever before. While the sales of video games have expanded exponentially, violence in the United States has fallen. Youth violence has fallen. Incidents of bullying have fallen. Even violent crimes by juveniles have fallen. In short, the taxpayers are left holding the bill for a theoretical study with no basis in reality.
But in Washington, one study is never enough. Sen. Charles Grassley wants his own study. Even the National Rifle Association (NRA) is happy to blame the video game industry to shift attention away from gun control. There have been over 130 studies on video games over the past decade, with most finding no link.
Chris Ferguson, a psychologist at Texas A&M International University, has conducted similar experiments and finds studies linking video games and violence to be trivial. “You know most of the debate now is really on to these minor acts of aggressiveness,” he said. “You know we’re talking about little children sticking their tongues out at each other and that sort of thing.” Ferguson says it’s easy to think that senseless video game violence can lead to senseless violence in the real world. But he says that’s mixing up two separate things. “Many of the games do have morally objectionable material, and I think that is where a lot of the debate on this issue went off the rails,” he said. “We kind of mistook our moral concerns about some of these video games, which are very valid — I find many of the games to be morally objectionable — and then assumed that what is morally objectionable is harmful.”
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Ferguson stands up to those (like Bushman) who seem to be in search of data to validate what they are already spouting as true. A bit of intellectual independence would be refreshing in today’s world.
The last thing the taxpayers need is mountains of money being spent on mountains of politically-driven studies to support the political agendas of those who wish to abridge the First Amendment.
Photo credit: dominicotine (Creative Commons)