In the two weeks since the horrific murder of 27 people -- including 20 children -- in Newtown, Conn., by a 20-year-old man who was reportedly a fan of first-person shooter games, fusillades have been fired against the video game industry. From politicians and activists to the National Rifle Association -- seeking to deflect criticism -- a range of voices have condemned realistic games that allow users to deploy an incredible arsenal and rack up a body count.
The $25 billion industry has been slow to react to the criticism, even as of titles like "Medal of Honor," 'Gears of War" and "Call of Duty" soar. This week, though, in one of the first signs of a reaction, Electronic Arts, maker of "Medal of Honor," removed links on the game's Web site to makers of real weapons who partner with EA to have their weapons featured. The page formerly featuring those links now features only logos for the companies.
"We felt it was inappropriate and took the links down," a spokesman for the company told the British Broadcasting Corp. EA's spokeswoman for Medal of Honor on Thursday told us she was out of the office due to a holiday break and unable to comment.
A Nation Shaken
The shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 have shaken the nation in such a way that action of some sort seems almost inevitable, and the gun lobby isn't the only target. Commentators and lawmakers are also pointing at popular culture, calling for a look at how violent movies, TV shows and video games may influence unstable minds and contribute to a recent rise in deadly mass shootings.
Of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, four have happened in the past five years and five since the 1999 Columbine shootings -- more incidents than occurred in the previous 50 years.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, on Dec. 19 introduced a bill calling on the National Academy of Sciences to study whether video games contribute to violence in young people, and specifically the effects of "vivid" depiction of violence.
In a statement, Rockefeller blasted recent legal decisions against restrictions on violent games, such as the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a California law against sales to minors. Some people wrongly "believe video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller also called on the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to "expand their work" in scrutinizing violent content and ratings systems. "Changes in technology now allow kids to access violent content online with less parental involvement," he said.
Restless but Not Violent
But Jonathan Fast, an associate professor at Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York and author of the 2009 book "Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings," said there was no evidence that video games caused real violence.
"There is a wealth of research on this," Fast told us. "There are a couple of studies that show how little kids after they play video games are more excited, they jump around more, but nothing to show that people become more violent."
On the related question of whether games, if not turning healthy people violent, could make disturbed people more likely to act out, Fast noted that the homicide rate has declined nationally since the advent of realistic gaming in the mid-90s.
"If anything there is more of a correlation between violence and the economy," Fast said. "When people can't get jobs they get crazier."