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Obama Announces New Research Into Games & Violence

At a press conference on dealing with gun control in America, President Obama has announced that he wishes there to be further research into any possible relationship between gaming and real-world violence. As Venture Beat reports, he has asked the Center For Disease Control (CDC) to study the causes of violent behaviour, including movies, TV, and of course gaming.

This instruction to the CDC, according to Polygon, at first appears to be in conflict with a bar against using Congress funds to "advocate or promote gun control". However, it seems it has been ruled that this is not a barrier here.

As part of a package of actions from Obama, this is in response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where many children and staff were killed. Also included is an appeal to pass bills to more broadly require a background check before selling weapons, and a limitation on the sales of assault weapons. Moves that are likely to be met with hostility from gun lobby groups in the States.

For us, it's tempting to see the headline, and to let those knees jerk. But I'd argue that the news that Obama wants to invest money in research to investigate the links between gaming and real-world violence is good news for us all. Of course the fact that it's being investigated will cause the lazy and the ignorant to suppose there must be a link to investigate in the first place, and you'll likely see a fair few misleading or outright ridiculous headlines as a consequence. But the reality is, more independent research can only be a good thing for gamers.

It comes down to two scenarios:

1) There is no demonstrable causation link between experiencing fictional violence, and performing violent acts in real life, and the studies will prove this.

2) There is a demonstrable causation link between experiencing fictional violence, and performing violent acts in real life, and we as gamers damn well need to know about it.

Yes, abundant previous studies have tended toward number 1. And yes, there's the very obvious common sense fact that over half the population of the Western world are gamers and there is no recent horrendous outbreak in violence from previously peaceful people. But while the bumbling nonsense that gets reported by the mainstream press of a nation in the grip of a violence epidemic is patently false, this isn't a black and white issue. Respectable studies have shown links between raised aggression levels in players with a predisposition for violence, when playing violent games. Some have claimed to show mildly, and short-term, raised aggression levels in those without violent predispositions. No one has ever found any evidence to show that a game, film, or TV show can turn a teenager into a killer, and it seems fairly astronomically unlikely that anyone ever will, but that doesn't discount it being worth investigating any possible relationships there may be.

Especially research that isn't being funded by poorly disguised fundamentalist Christian organisations (How to spot a poorly disguised fundamentalist Christian organisation: their website looks like it was made with Angelfire in 1996, and they have "family" somewhere in their title). So such investigation should only ever be welcomed by gamers. As I've said over and over, if there are dangers out there, we are the ones who need to know the most. And if there aren't, we are the ones who need to be equipped with the evidence and knowledge to explain it to others.

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John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs