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Conflicting views muddle violent games debate

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Grand Theft Auto IV (Credit: Rockstar Games)

The horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut have re-ignited the debate about video game violence in the media.

Friday morning, the National Rifle Association was the latest to chime in, pointing the finger of blame at many forms of media and entertainment with a specific focus on video games.

NRA head Wayne LaPierre cited games like Grand Theft Auto and Bulletstorm (as well as the previously unheard of web-based game Kindergarten Killer) as examples of "a callous, corrupt and corrupting industry that sells and sows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games."

It's hardly that straightforward, though other notable lawmakers agree with LaPierre's sentiment. While the NRA chief ay not have an ally in Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democrat from West Virginia certainly joins him in his criticism of the game industry.

"Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children," he said in a statement. "They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on the Congress to take a more aggressive role."

Experts, though, disagree there is a correlation between video game violence and real world aggression.

Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M who has studied the effects of game violence for years, isn't buying what the NRA and others are selling.

"As a video game violence researcher and someone who has done scholarship on mass homicides, let me state very emphatically: There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth," he told Time Magazine.

There are competing studies, of course, that claim otherwise, but they haven't convinced too many officials. The Surgeon General, the Federal Trade Commission, and the FCC have all rejected arguments attempting to draw a definitive line between violent games and violent behavior.

Most importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court scolded California last year for trying to draw a line between violent games and violent behavior as it struck down a law that would have restricted the sale of violent games to minors.

"California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent videogames and harmful effects on children," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia. "These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively."

At the time, the author of the California bill, State Senator Leeland Yee, was miffed that his law was denied. But in a turnabout on Friday, Yee took the NRA to task for attacking violent games.

"I find it mind-boggling that the NRA suddenly cares about the harmful effects of ultra-violent video games," he wrote in an email to gaming website Kotaku. "When our law was before the Supreme Court -- while several states, medical organizations, and child advocates submitted briefs in support of California's efforts -- the NRA was completely silent. Now, rather than face reality and be part of the solution to the widespread proliferation of assault weapons in America, they attempt to pass the buck. More guns are not the answer to protecting our children, as evident by the fact that armed guards weren't enough to stop the tragedy at Columbine High School. The NRA's response is pathetic and completely unacceptable."

Video game trade groups are largely avoiding the spotlight as this debate swells once again. Rather than having spokespeople refute the charges, both the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) have only done their talking through a couple of very short statements.

"The Entertainment Software Association and the entire industry it represents, mourns the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones, and to the entire community of Newtown," said the ESA.

"The search for meaningful solutions must consider the broad range of actual factors that may have contributed to this tragedy. Any such study needs to include the years of extensive research that has shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence."

The Entertainment Consumers Association issued a separate statement on Friday.

"We agree with the Supreme Court's decisions, and the volumes of scientific research, which all clearly state that there is no causal link between media violence and real life violence," said Jennifer Mercurio, Vice President & General Counsel at the ECA. "As we are all learning increasingly through the news, this is a situation of the perpetrator's mental disorders, and his family's inability to adequately deal with them in time. Our hearts remain with all those suffering in the aftermath of this horrendous crime."

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