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Dangerous games

Media | On the Parkland shooting anniversary, parents criticize producers of violent video games
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/15/19, 02:41 pm

A year after the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the Parents Television Council (PTC) is calling out the entertainment industry for ignoring pleas from parents and regulators to curb gun violence in media marketed to children.

“What the entertainment industry does is offer dress rehearsals for gun violence on TV, in the movies, in violent video games, and then proceeds to rate … graphic violence and gun violence as appropriate for children,” PTC President Tim Winter said in a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of Nikolas Cruz’s rampage that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz, now under arrest and awaiting trial, reportedly played video games for up to 15 hours a day.

“It was kill, kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,” neighbor Paul Gold told the Miami Herald. Gold lived next door to Cruz and his family for several years and sometimes played video games with him.

Psychologists who have studied the effects of violent video games agree that the games themselves don’t cause people to commit mass shootings. But when played by someone with mental illness and other risk factors, the games can contribute to that individual’s willingness to commit violence.

“In almost every instance where there’s been a major school shooting, there has been some interest on the part of the shooter in violent media or, in particular, violent video games,” Melissa Henson, the program director for PTC, told me.

The modern era of school shootings, ushered in by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., closely followed the advent of so-called first-person shooter video games in which the user plays from the point of view of someone holding a gun and seeking out human targets. The game Wolfenstein 3D set the standard for the genre in 1992, and the success of 1993’s Doom confirmed the games’ mainstream acceptance. Since then, key changes to how shooting games are marketed and played have transformed them from popular to almost predatory.

“The people that develop these games know which particular psychological triggers to pull,” Henson said. Today’s shooting games, whether first-person or third-person (players can see the character they are controlling), include short cycles of play and in-game rewards and incentives to keep players engaged “for hours on end,” Henson said. And the barrier to access the games has come way down.

When first-person shooter games were first developed, players had to purchase a disc or cartridge either by mail or in a store for a price of $30 to $60. Now, users can download shooting games for a few dollars and play on mobile devices that almost everyone has. Fortnite, arguably the most popular shooting game on today’s market, has a free mobile version.

Another significant step in the evolution of shooting games is the gradual elimination of villains. Players killed World War II Nazis in Wolfenstein 3D and demonic aliens in Doom. But in some modes of Fortnite, including the popular mobile version called Battle Royale, players log in to a multiplayer virtual universe and kill each other.

To be clear, there is no evidence that playing Fortnite or any other shooting game can transform an average adolescent into a mass shooter. Studies have shown, however, that playing violent video games, especially as first-person shooters, can increase aggressive behavior in kids.

“People are more likely to behave aggressively themselves when they identify with a violent character,” psychologist Brad J. Bushman wrote in 2013 for Psychology Today.

Parents should also know that, because it does not include a lot of blood and guts, Fortnite earned a T rating for teens and up instead of the M rating for players 17 and older. And it is unquestionably marketed toward children with its use of cartoon-esque characters and trademark victory dances.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2011 declared video games are free speech protected by the First Amendment, largely tying the government’s hands in regulating their content, ratings, and marketing. That leaves it up to parents to try to control what their children play and for how long.

In its final report in December 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety, formed in response to the Parkland shooting, admonished families that “Parents are best positioned to determine which forms of entertainment are appropriate for their children. While rating systems can be helpful tools, they are not a substitute for conversations with children about the content children consume.”

Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Jeff Bezos

Trump denies involvement in Bezos story

President Donald Trump this week denied any foreknowledge of a National Enquirer investigative report about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ extramarital affair. Last month, hours after Bezos and his wife of 25 years announced their divorce on Twitter, the National Enquirer ran an exposé that revealed the billionaire and father of four was having an affair with former television news host Lauren Sanchez.

In a highly publicized blog post last week, Bezos claimed that the Enquirer threatened to publish graphic photos of him. He accused the company that owns the tabloid, American Media Inc., of “extortion and blackmail” and suggested its coverage was politically motivated and had ties to Trump. The president has blasted Bezos and The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, for criticizing him. The Enquirer, meanwhile, and its owner, David Pecker, are seen as Trump-friendly and the media company admitted it worked with Trump attorneys before the 2016 election to quash stories about an affair he allegedly had with Playboy model Karen McDougal.

The scandal shines light on major media outlets can become weapons used by their owners in personal and political battles. —Mary Jackson

Associated Press/Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision Associated Press/Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision Chris Pratt at the world premiere of The Lego Movie 2 on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles

Mixed signals

Actor Chris Pratt defended his church and his personal convictions this week after lesbian actress Ellen Page tweeted that the church he attends is “infamously anti-LGBTQ.”

Pratt posted on his Instagram story that his congregation, Zoe Church in Los Angeles, “opens their doors to absolutely everyone” and helped him through his 2017 divorce to actress Anna Faris.

Zoe Church’s stance on Biblical sexuality isn’t clear. The church is modeled after Hillsong, an evangelical megachurch known for its modern worship style and celebrity following. Zoe Pastor Chad Veach told The New York Times last year that he doesn’t discuss politics publicly but, “at the end of the day, I’m a Bible guy.”

Page criticized Pratt last week after he told The Late Show host Stephen Colbert he had completed a 21-day fast encouraged by his pastor. Pratt wrote in response that his values, not a particular church, define him, and he believes: “Everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgement of their fellow man.” He said he is guided by a “God of Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness.” —M.J.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • DS
    Posted: Fri, 02/15/2019 03:08 pm

    I have a question. My parents aren't big fans of "real-world" war games (games that take place in WWI, WWII, etc.), so I have only seen one of those (Medal of Honor 2), and it wasn't a very violent game (kinda stupid in parts, actually). But I have, in the past, enjoyed playing the Metroid Prime Trilogy games, which are not "real-world" war games, but are first-person shooter games. They are not that violent, actually mostly envolving mysteries and getting from point A to point B stuff. Are those games considered hinderful like the ones in mentioned in the article? (Please note: we don't own those games any more; they were sold a year or two ago. I was just wondering because I use to play them every week for a while. They were one of my favorite games at the time.)

  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Sat, 02/16/2019 12:16 am

    Regarding violent video games: The Supreme Court left it up to parents...??  Protecting the weak (children) from the strong (eg: game makers who phycologically craft games to be adictive to children) is one of the legitimate roles of government.  Common sense says we reap what is sown in the heart.  When trying to control our son’s gaming and media choices, often the other parents have been our biggest problem.  Unbelievable what they allow their kids to watch and play at very early ages!  This is not free speach when regarding minors. As it is parents must step up to the plate. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 02/16/2019 09:11 am

    I would rather that the government err towards too much than too little freedom. Sin abides in both cases.  We parents need to do our jobs, and hold each other accountable for same.

  • MS
    Posted: Sat, 02/16/2019 08:59 pm

    Don't buy the foolish games and that will put them out of business.


  • Marc Mertens
    Posted: Sun, 02/17/2019 12:14 am

    I advise you to watch Brad Huddleston's video on "digital cocaïne". Can be very helpfull.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 02/18/2019 07:45 am

    From what I've observed of friends playing, Fortnight looks an awful lot like glorified online laser tag to me. If you're okay with kids pretending to have a gun-like weapon and "shooting" everything that moves offline, it probably won't damage their psyche any more for them to do it online. There are a lot of games that go way too far towards realistic simulations of gunning down innocent people, but Fortnight seems like an odd choice to pick on.