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Government Bill Proposes Cigarette-Style Warning Labels For Games

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Posted on March 20, 2012 AT 04:30pm

THE BUZZ: People don’t know the dangers of playing video games—and to help in that fight, two congressmen have proposed a bill that would put warning labels on games similar to those required for tobacco products.

EGM’s TAKE: The bill is called the “Violence in Video Games Labeling Act” (H.R. 4204), co-sponsored by Virginia Representative Frank Wolf, and California Representative Joe Baca. The two Representatives want a label reading “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior” to be on the packaging of games, or presented in some way if the game is digitally distributed. This label would be required for any game, no matter its rating or maturity level.

“The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families, and to consumers – to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products,” said Representative Baca in a statement on the legislation. “They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility. Meanwhile research continues to show that playing violent video games is a casual risk factor for a host of detrimental effects in both the short- and long-term, including increasing the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior. American families deserve to know the truth about these potentially dangerous products.”

“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents—and children—about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior,” Representative Wolf said. “As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games.”

One question I’d like to ask is this: Have Representatives Baca and Wolf ever even played a video game? I mean, outside of something like Solitaire, or Tetris, or Wii Sports (and I’m not even certain if they’ve touched any of those). One huge problem we have in this current era is that technology is progressing far beyond the ability of a lot of people to fully understand it—which leads us to politicians who push hugely influential policies for things they often don’t even understand or have any experience with.

I’m sure Baca and Wolf have their hearts in the right place—at least, I’d like to believe so. I’d also like to believe that they’ve done proper research on this topic, though I’m not sure about that. I’ve seen far too many cases where scare tactics produce knee-jerk reactions in those in Washington, and you end up with politicians who feel like they have to do something about this terrible new menace they’ve just been made aware of. Who can forget Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ conversation about the internet being “a series of tubes”—these people have immense power over things that are completely foreign to them.

Also—are we then going to do the same thing for movies, television programs, music, books, comics, and every other form of entertainment? If not, isn’t that only fair?

Finally, I’ll just leave you with this bit of information offered up on message forum NeoGAF by Arcteryx, which is a statement by the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to Dr. Craig Anderson—somebody that California (and thus, no doubt, Representative Baca) relies on in terms of research about the effects of video game violence:

The State’s evidence is not compelling. 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 video games and harmful effects on children. 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 (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, “[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.” Video Software Dealers Assn. 556 F. 3d, at 964. They show at best some correlation between expo- sure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or mak- ing louder noises in the few minutes after playing a vio- lent game than after playing a nonviolent game.

Even taking for granted Dr. Anderson’s conclusions that violent video games produce some effect on children’s feelings of aggression, those effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. In his testimony in a similar lawsuit, Dr. Anderson admit- ted that the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television. App. 1263. And he admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, id., at 1304, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), id., at 1270, or even when they “vie[w] a picture of a gun,” id., at 1315–1316.

We’d love to hear your opinions on this matter in the comments below.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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