Because Congress clearly has nothing more important to focus on at the moment, Rep. Joe Baca (D) has just introduced a bill called the Video Game Health Labeling Act, which would require all violent video games to carry a Surgeon General-type explicit warning label on them. What would it read?
“WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.”
The act states this would be plastered on all games rated Teen and above. Baca cites “scientific studies from the Pediatrics Journal, University of Indiana, University of Missouri, and Michigan State University” which point to a “neurological link between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior in children and teenagers.”
The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Frank Wolf (R), has more light to shed on the cigarette comparison. “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. 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.”
But to say the relationship between real-world violence and video games is as solid as the one between lung cancer and smoking is drastically misleading. Yes, there are a handful of studies that claim to show some sort of causal link, but there are just as many that show none whatsoever. The Australian government recently concluded a study on the matter which stunned officials when it revealed that “Evidence about the effect of violent computer games on the aggression displayed by those who play them is inconclusive.”
I find it incomprehensible that most people do not seem to realize the existence of the effective ESRB rating system that has been in place in clear view on games for years. All games are categorized by not only their overall rating (E for Everyone, T for Teen, M for Mature) but also the specific content found in the games. Added descriptors like “Strong, Brutal Violence” and “Pervasive Language” clearly state what you’re likely to find in the game, but if parents aren’t reading that on the box, why would they read an additional warning label?
Fact is, even if a parent fails to read the box, viewing five minutes of gameplay would likely clue them in to whether or not they want their child to spend prolonged amounts of time playing a game. But the kind of parents too busy to even do that, probably will buy anything that will make their kid sit still for three hours, regardless of psychological effects.
But when the effects themselves aren’t even scientifically proven, that’s where things start to get murky. If the US government officially states that video games are a mental health hazard without conclusive evidence, that sets a dangerous precedent. While cigarettes have 60 years of medical research to back up the Surgeon General’s claims, no such documentation exists for video games, and to claim otherwise is deliberately misleading and unfair to the $7B industry.