After Newtown, some shoppers think twice about violent video games
(CNN) — For many families this holiday season, video games will come wrapped in colorful paper, ribbons and bows — and lots of questions.
Inevitably, in the wake of the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, video games have become part of the national conversation about the roots of violence.
To be sure, any role they may have played in Newtown remains unclear. Police have said nothing about them, and scattered news reports have gunman Adam Lanza playing games ranging from the military strategy “Starcraft” to kid-friendly “Dance Dance Revolution,” neither of which rank among the more violent titles on the market.
And while violent video-game controversies date back to the 1970s, studies into whether games cause violent behavior have been inconclusive. For many gamers, it’s an old and tired debate.
But after the Newtown shootings, which claimed the lives of 20 children and seven adults — including Lanza’s mother — some shoppers are weighing whether it’s appropriate to give certain video games to children or young teens this holiday season.
CNN reached out to iReporters and commenters on the site for their thoughts on the issue.
“I have two boys, age 9, that want ‘Call of Duty,’ ” said a CNN commenter using the screen name goldeneagle78, referring to the popular military-shooter game series. “They will NOT be getting it, or any other game that is rated above their age level.”
Reader Crysty Harper of Maricopa, Arizona, said she understands that millions play games with no ill effect, but that “for the mentally unstable, these fantasy scenarios are fueling the violence, and being re-enacted in real life.”
The Entertainment Software Rating Board created a ratings system for video games similar to the classification used in movies, such as PG-13 and R. “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2,” like many other games depicting violence, adult language or sexual content, is rated “M for Mature,” or suggested for players 17 and older.
Some readers lumped video games in with other media that depict violence.
“If they want to ban guns, why not ban them in movies, television and video games?” asked reader Bill Smells in an iReport article inviting ideas for halting mass shootings. “Why do we allow the media and entertainment industries to glorify weapons and killings?
“If we’re going to start regulating and banning weapons, why not start by aggressively banning and preventing the abuse of weapons in media?” Smells added. “Why do we allow our children and young adults to buy video games that put them in the position of being rewarded for shooting and killing other players?”
Commenters repeatedly mentioned the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s system, saying parents should be as responsible about games their children play as they are about the movies they allow them to see.
David Kaelin, president of Texas-based video game chain Game Over, said part of the confusion around the issue is because some parents and other adults only deal with video games once a year, around Christmas.
Kaelin said he tries to help uninformed parents get the information they need, including ratings, before choosing gifts. But ultimately, he said, parents are responsible for keeping an eye on their kids.
“I have two young kids myself,” Kaelin said. “For any parent to be able to be involved in whatever your kid’s doing, you need to be (educated). You need to know what those things are.”
Kaelin said he doesn’t believe games are responsible for societal violence. But he said he thinks the way kids play them can tell parents a lot about possible problems, especially when a child is spending a lot of time alone on the computer.
“Go into their room and see what they’re doing and what they’re into,” Kaelin said. “Being an active and involved parent is being a good parent.”
That’s a view echoed by many others.
“I would not consider buying my child a first-person shooter game,” wrote a reader using the handle dxp2718. “My kids, admittedly, are too young to play video games like that, but they COULD play with toy guns, swords or soldiers if I let them have them — and I wouldn’t even think of it.
“NOT HURTING OTHERS is lesson #1. It comes before reading, writing, counting or anything else.”
Antwand Pearman, CEO of gaming and health company Gamer Fit Nation, said he doesn’t believe games are to blame. But he started a movement, including a hashtag on Twitter, urging people to give up playing first-person shooter games on Friday, December 21, as a show of sympathy and understanding for the Newtown victims.
“It’s not to say that video games are to blame. It’s more to show that we as gamers give a damn,” Pearman said. “Video games are more so a reflection of real life. Gaming is an outlet, just like movies and music.”
CNN commenter Sean S. said he hopes people will look deeper for answers. He said parents have the most responsibility to teach their kids, especially since they are often the ones buying the games and they cost so much.
“People blame the video games because it is easier than blaming themselves, but the fact is millions of kids around this country and around the world play the same violent and destructive video games, and yet only a very select few have made the choice to take that violence and killing from the game and bring it into real life,” he said.