Mortal Kombat - if mom's there
Indianapolis sets strictest rules yet for what arcade games kids can play
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Peterson, whose office consulted a First Amendment expert in drafting the ordinance, disagrees. "No court has ever held that video games are protected under the First Amendment as speech - that they have a political or artistic message."Skip to next paragraph
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Research attempting to link actual violence with TV and video-game violence provides fodder for both sides in the debate. A study that appeared in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that violent video-game play is related to aggressive behavior and delinquency. It also suggested that the games may be more harmful to adolescents than either violent TV shows or movies, because players identify with the aggressor, actively participate in the violence, and become seemingly addicted to the games.
But critics are quick to point out that "aggressive behavior" is a long way from a murder, and that a joystick is no pistol grip.
They also worry the entire $8.9 billion industry - which has doubled in size since 1996 and now surpasses Hollywood in terms of domestic revenue - will be tarred with the brush Indianapolis is wielding. They note that 145 million Americans play video games, and that only a small percentage of the games depict graphic violence.
Proponents of restrictions on electronic mayhem counter that stopping the rare school shooter is only one reason to adopt new measures. Mostly, they say, they're interested in preventing kids from becoming desensitized to violence.
"It takes three things for a person to kill: the weapon, the skill, and the will," says David Grossman, author of "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill." "Video games provide two out of three.... They are the moral and psychological equivalent of putting a rifle in the hands of every kid."
He says there are many causes of youth violence, but he doesn't believe the number of factors renders the new ordinance irrelevant. "It will be as effective as seat-belt laws and laws that say you can't sell liquor, tobacco, or guns to kids," he says.
A desensitizing influence?
Grossman argues that humans are naturally reluctant to kill their own kind, and that studies dating back as far as the Civil War show that soldiers often do not fire their weapons in battle - and sometimes even fake doing so. He claims that the military has successfully raised "fire rates" by desensitizing soldiers to violence using the kind of imagery video games employ.
Yet critics of attempts to restrict violent video games point to the drop in youth crime in the '90s - at the very time video games were surging in popularity - as evidence no link exists between the two.
For the mayor here, Peterson answers the charge by pointing to an increased incidence of such things as road and air rage in modern society.
"When I was a kid, we had all the same social conditions in place - young people who felt alienated, who resented their classmates, and we had guns around - and we didn't have the kind of school shootings we've seen in the last few years," he says. "Something has definitely happened."
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