Opinion: The Impact of Violent Video Games and Protecting Our Children

Slightly more than one year ago, Newtown, Connecticut faced one of the most gruesome atrocities in our nation’s history when a severely mentally ill boy named Adam Lanza killed 20 school children, 6 school staff, his mother, and himself.  In response to what is now known as the Sandy Hook Tragedy, the State of Connecticut passed sweeping gun control legislation with the intent of preventing future mass killings.  As one of the Connecticut State Representatives serving Sandy Hook, I humbly ask you, is this enough?

Does making it harder to purchase a gun, or buy high capacity magazines, change an endemic culture of violence in our society?  I say, absolutely not. There are many other steps, both unobtrusive and less controversial, we can take to reduce violent acts in the future.

As a Legislator, mother, and member of the human race, I wish nothing more than for our society to be free of horrifying acts of life-ending violence.  Unfortunately, these acts continue to occur.  Therefore, it is our job to work to reduce violence by becoming aware of the psychological triggers of aggressive behavior, and to take the time to notice signs of mental illness or aggression in our loved ones.  That is why this legislative session, I proposed a bill that would require a warning label on violent games, those rated with an “M” meaning mature rating, and impose an additional sales tax on these games in the State of Connecticut.  The revenue from this tax would go towards marketing campaigns educating people about the affects of violent video game play and signs of behavioral issues in children and young adults.

Countless studies, including a recent 2014 piece out of Iowa State University, have attributed the playing of violent video games with noticeable increases – in both frequency and severity – of aggressive behavior.  This is true particularly among children and teens.  According to that same study, more than 90% of video games rated E10+ or higher contain violent content, which is often justified and portrayed as ‘fun’.   Moreover, it is now common knowledge that Adam Lanza was known to play these violent video games for hours a day.  If we can educate consumers about mature video games as violent behavior triggers, and put more resources into researching contributing factors of violent behavior, why wouldn’t we?

I am disheartened this bill did not pass.  Assuming Connecticut lawmakers are truly serious about changing the culture of violence in our state, taxing violent video games is a common sense start to achieving this goal.  If mature-rated video games carried an extra warning label, and were charged an extra tax due to their violent content -similar to the sin tax on cigarettes-, a parent might think twice before purchasing that game for their young child. At minimum, a parent would be more conscious of the content in the games their children are playing.  In reality, educating parents about the potential mental health implications to their eight year old from playing violent video games is as common sense as warning pregnant women about the dangers of drinking alcohol.   If the children, teens, and adults who play these games (alike) were aware of the risks of violent video game play, they could moderate their exposure to such play and seek help if needed.

The science is clear and overwhelming; the playing of violent video games by children and teens does lead to observable behavior changes.  That same study from Iowa State University showed that “habitual violent video game play increases long term aggressive behavior” and this increase occurs “regardless of sex, age, initial aggressiveness, and parental involvement.” That means even children with no previous signs of violent tendencies were shown to have an increased incidence of such behavior after prolonged violent video game play.  An additional 2004 study concluded that adolescents who play violent video games for extended periods of time are often more aggressive, more confrontational with teachers and adults, and more likely to engage in fights with peers.  Violent video game play does not only impact the behavior of children with preexisting behavioral issues, but the behavior of all children.

It should be the duty of the State of Connecticut to ensure parents and players are aware of this information. Labeling and taxing mature rated video games is an obvious way to achieve this.  It is clear that violent video game play alters the psyche of our youth and induces violent behavior.  Spreading the word about the affects of violent video games brings the issue of aggressive behavior to the general forefront of parent and player minds.  Most importantly, recognizing and getting help for individuals who display patterns of violent behavior is a key step in preventing mass acts of violence before they occur.  Therefore, I ask you as a Legislator and fellow citizen, let us work together to eradicate our culture of violence, and let us start with spreading the word about the harmful impact of violent video game play across Connecticut.

Layout Image