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Video games and shooting: Is the NRA right?

The NRA says the problem with mass shootings like the recent one at the Sandy Hook grade school in Connecticut is not too many unregulated guns but violent video games. But most academic and government research does not support the gun lobby's charge.

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Gaming experts say that the majority of the games LaPierre cited do not portray gun violence – “Mortal Kombat” involves hand-to-hand combat, for example. They say they do not understand why he did not single out “first person shooter” games such as blockbuster franchises like the “Call of Duty” series, which is based on simulated gun action and is considered one of the most hyper-violent on the market. In fact, according to news reports, the game was also a favorite of Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman who spent hours at home playing it.

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“Some of those games [LaPierre mentions] are older than the [Newtown] shooter,” who was 20, says Christopher Grant, editor-in-chief of Polygon.com, an online site based in New York City that covers gaming news and trends. “I have no idea why he chose them. My theory is he didn’t want to pick anything too modern [such as ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Doom’] that might overlap unfavorably with something their own members might enjoy.”

“Call of Duty” is known as a favorite of the military and is often credited for driving up recruitment. Activision Blizzard, the company behind “Call of Duty,” has donated thousands of copies to the US Navy; the company also created a non-profit foundation to help returning US military veterans.

According to the NPD Group, a global market research firm, retail gaming sales in the US plummeted 20 percent in the first eight months of 2012 compared to the same time period the previous year, a trend that follows years of declining sales. Between 2008 and 2011, total sales of industry software and hardware dropped 20.5 percent. According to the gaming industry website Gamasutra, 2012 sales are expected to be the lowest since 2006.

The sales drop is representative of major shifts in the gaming industry, which is slowly moving away from console-based games to those that are played via smartphones, digital tablets, and online through social networks.

The change has produced a new type of gamer: They are generally older, more ethnically and economically diverse, and they feed their gaming appetite in smaller bites and on-the-go, as opposed to the traditional gamer profile of a few years ago, which tended to be young males playing for hours in one sitting.

The Entertainment Software Association, an industry trade group based in Washington, reports that the average gamer today is 30 years old, the most frequent game purchaser is 35 years old, and that almost half (47 percent) of all gamers are women.

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