War in the Living Room

Violent video games spur spirited debate

By Kathy Long | Spanish River High School

Pools of blood are splattered around a room and a battered warehouse shrouded in darkness hides armed silhouettes.

Gunfire erupts around corners, rubble and doorways. Body parts are strewn across the floor. Enemies are gunned down with no mercy.

Assassination, stealth espionages and interrogations involving torture are part of this world, where human bodies explode to pieces and goo, like blood, showers the screen.

Fourteen-year-old Richie Rocca walks amongst the blood and gore. But it’s his fantasy – cyber roleplaying that some psychologists say is hard for youngsters like Rocca to shift out of.

“I don’t think it is wrong or disturbing,” said Rocca’s 14-year-old friend Mathew Tayem, a cyber gunman who plays with Rocca. “All the weapons are real life and you try to kill other team members and do search and destroy and capture the flag.”

“While playing the games, they fantasize about being the characters on the screen, so when they are in character they are more likely to trash talk,” said Andrew Davis, a Miami-based school psychologist. “The extents of the trash talk continuing beyond the video game are due to the raising and the age and maturity of the child.”

Recently, The Supreme Court overturned a California law that made renting or selling violent videogames to minors illegal.

“Me and my friends trash talk but we also get to know each other,” Rocca said. “Sometimes we start arguments and even yell.”

He admitted he was more prone to yelling during the games than when he was conversing with his friends.

“Children are learning to distinguish reality from fantasy by age three, and human learning is much more complex and not nearly as mechanistic as this theoretical view would have us believe,” said Professor Chris Ferguson, who researches the positive and negative effects of playing violent video game at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

“I’m running some long-term outcome studies right now and find no link between video game violence and later youth violence, bullying, ADHD, school problems or mental health,” Ferguson said.

In another study, Ferguson found that people who played more violent games handled stressful situations better.

“I play violent video games because it releases stress and the problems I have in reality,” said 13-year-old Dante Brown, who plays Battlefield, Modern Warfare, and Black Ops every afternoon in his room with several of his friends for about 20 minutes.

He has always found the games to just be entertaining.

Joel Hirschhorn, a Miami attorney specializing in the First Amendment, said he doesn’t believe the recent Supreme Court ruling will bring much change.

“Kids will still have access to violent video games; it’s just a matter of enforcement,” Hirshhorn said. “The ruling won’t have much of an effect if everyone understands the ruling.”

Davis, the school psychologist, said desensitization to games brings out the behavior problems that are already there. He thinks most high-achieving students who play these games will not turn into people who commit violent acts.

Ferguson says the argument that Columbine-like violence is linked to violent video games is false. The Secret Service, in a 2002 report on school shooters, found no evidence such shooters consume more violent media than anyone else. The shooters usually have mental health problems and a long history of psychopathic or erratic behavior.

First Amendment Lawyer Sam Terelli said that video games are no different from when he was young and played with BB guns and reenacted army fights.

“We need better programs and intervention to prevent crime,” Terelli said. “I don’t think limited access to media will solve anything.”

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