By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
On a question put front and center by the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Nickie Humphrey and Ben Hinkle find themselves on opposite sides.
Humphrey, of Joplin, believes that constant exposure to violent video games is part of the problem.
“These things play a part in the progression of already-seeded issues some people may have,” Humphrey said. “They trigger an area of the brain regarding violence.
“These games, in my opinion, are a continuous onslaught to that area of the brain, and it’s not healthy.”
Hinkle, a former Missouri Southern State University student who is now a law student at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., doesn’t believe video games should be blamed.
He noted that “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” sold more than 6.5 million copies within 24 hours of its launch. It broke $1 billion in sales in 16 days.
“You have probably 10 million people playing it, and two of them shot some people,” Hinkle said. “Run the percentages on that, and you will see that the percentage of gamers who decide to kill is much smaller than the percentage of nongamers who kill. Not a real issue.”
Humphrey and Hinkle were responding to a Globe online survey about the impact of violent video games. Their debate reflects not only the arguments being heard around the country, but also the passion.
Brad Bushman and Chris Ferguson are on opposite sides of the argument, too.
“Violent video games increase aggressive thoughts through physiological arousal,” Bushman said.
He is a professor of mass communication at Ohio State University. He was one of eight scholars from the United States and Japan who published an analysis in 2010 of dozens of studies conducted around the world into the effects of violent games on players’ behavior.
“Concerning public policy, we believe that debates can and should finally move beyond the simple question of whether violent video game play is a causal risk factor for aggressive behavior,” their analysis concluded. “The scientific literature has effectively and clearly shown the answer to be ‘yes.’”
The public debate “should move to questions concerning how best to deal with this risk factor,” the report said.
“People who have aggressive thoughts are much more likely to have aggressive behavior,” Bushman said. “This makes people numb to the pain and suffering of others.”
Ferguson, too, is an expert. He teaches in Texas A&M University’s Department of Behavioral, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice. He thinks Bushman and his colleagues should not be so quick to declare the impact of violent video games as definitive. He thinks the 2010 analysis is flawed.
“There was a selection bias,” Ferguson said. “He (Bushman) and his colleagues didn’t include many studies that did not find any effects from violent media.”
Ferguson led a review of other scientific studies that he published in 2009 in the Journal of Pediatrics. He determined that “results from the current analysis do not support the conclusion that media violence leads to aggressive behavior. It cannot be concluded at this time that media violence presents a significant public health risk.”
The public debate, he concluded, would be better focused on other issues that may be triggers for violent behavior.
But Bushman said experiments demonstrate that a person who plays violent video games three days in a row shows more aggressive and hostile behavior than people who don’t play. It’s not certain what the impact would be on people who play these games for years because such testing “isn’t practical or ethical,” he said.
It’s still unclear what or even if any games were played by Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old Newtown shooter, but investigators are reviewing his gaming habits, and online and cellphone records for game purchases.
The CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, says it’s time that the country focus on the issue.
“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” he said at a Dec. 21 news conference. He cited video games “with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’ And here’s one: It’s called ‘Kindergarten Killers.’ It has been online for 10 years.”
He also criticized violent movies such as “Natural Born Killers” and added: “Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?”
Kevin Martin, of Joplin, disagrees.
“Blaming videos is no different than blaming guns,” he argued. “If video games are to blame, then how do you account for the millions of gamers who play those games and do not commit violent crimes?”
Eric Steele, of Carl Junction, said he considers himself a supporter of the Second Amendment. He said he supports the NRA, but he doesn’t like LaPierre’s argument.
“I am concerned about certain positions they, and many others ... have taken,” he said. “Recent statements have shown them willing to sacrifice freedoms in a desperate attempt to save the Second Amendment. While we must protect the Second Amendment, I will not advocate restricting the First Amendment by pushing for controls in the entertainment industry.”
After the shooting in Newtown, some of the surviving children in that community threw away video games containing violent scenes and set up bins so others could do the same. They called their effort “Played Out: Choose Not to Play.”
An organization called GamerFitNation called for a one-day “cease-fire,” asking video game players to refrain from playing violent video games on the one-week anniversary of the Newtown shootings.
And U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has asked the National Academy of Sciences to look at the impact of violent video games and movies on children.
“Some people still do not get it,” Rockefeller said. “They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better.”
He also called on the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to review the effectiveness of video game ratings.
At Vintage Stock’s Northpark Mall location, manager Brandon Bond sees the issue not only from a gamer’s and retailer’s perspective, but also as a parent.
He said he has worked with the Entertainment Software Rating Board system since its inception, and noted that the industry is taking steps to govern the problem.
“I feel that we are a step ahead of the movie rating system in the way that there is a clearer age bracket separation,” Bond said. “Factor in that there are clear details on the back explaining exactly what caused this game to be rated the way it was.”
The ESRB rating system is voluntary, though virtually every game sold at retail is rated. But while the games are rated, the U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that states cannot ban the sale of violent video games to children without parental supervision, which is what California tried to do in 2005.
“Our policy here at Vintage Stock is set in stone,” Bond said. “If it is a mature game, we do not sell to underage kids, period.”
Ultimately, Bond said, much of this lies in the hands of parents, who may have the most important role to play in the debate.
He said he attempts to educate parents when they inquire about the content of games and encourages them to hold a dialogue with their children on what they play.
“Parents have to play the biggest role in what their kids play, not the retailers,” Bond said. “There has to be a dialogue on what is age appropriate and what isn’t or all the ratings in the world won’t matter.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and Scripps Howard News Service contributed to this report.