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Do Violent Video Games Lead to Real Violence?

Akron, Ohio — Since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., mental health experts, the media, bereavement counselors, grieving parents and others have wondered what wickedness lurked in the mind of Adam Lanza.

One of the issues at the forefront is whether violent video games, to which the 20-year-old was reportedly addicted, could be the problem. But could the games alone have caused Lanza to become so out of control that they made him kill those children and seven adults, including his mother? Or was it something much more sinister?

“When someone goes and shoots like that … there’s mental illness and then there’s evil,” said Kathy Royer, clinical nurse specialist at 4KidHelp — Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in North Canton, Ohio. “When it comes to video games, there is some research that says … kids playing video games can lead to aggressive behaviors.”

But assigning blame solely to video games is a mistake, Royer said.

“Based on my own research … some of the information is more conclusive that it’s family issues — and I hold to that,” she continued.

“Nothing ever is just one thing. It’s always a combination of things.”

In-depth, evidence-based research about the effects of violent video games is rare. Still, the Dayton Daily News reported recently that a new Ohio State University study shows that playing violent video games can make people more aggressive over time, though it’s impossible to link such games to violent criminal behavior like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Last month, President Obama asked for $10 million to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to research the causes of gun violence, specifying “research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.”

And Vice President Joe Biden said during a PBS News Hour “Fireside Hangout” on Google Plus that there is no hard data to prove that excessively violent video games can cause people to engage in behavior that is anti-social, including using guns.

“Let the CDC, let the National Institute of Health, let these people go out and look at the pathology that’s behind this — if there is a pathology related to gun violence. We shouldn’t be afraid of the facts,” Biden said.

Saying all of that though, back in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the sale or rental of super violent games — noting it violated young people’s First Amendment rights and left it up to parents and the gaming industry to determine what children could purchase.

To learn what local young people think about the influence of violent video games on such crimes, we asked the Beacon Journal’s young readers group, our go-to source when it comes to issues involving children and adolescents.

Isabella Sparhawk, 18, a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, agrees that video games aren’t the solitary reason for violent acts, though they do help to desensitize kids to violence.

Games “can contribute to a person’s tendency for violent acts because, to them, it is something normal to do that has no repercussions, because that is what they are used to in their video games,” Isabella said.

One of the most violent games is Call of Duty, a wartime role-playing game that Lanza reportedly played in the basement of his mother’s home. Some are even suggesting that games such as this one be banned.

“I do believe that there should be stricter regulations on who has access to these games,” said Jeanette Lansigner, a Tallmadge High School freshman. “If there were (over time) we could see if there is a decrease in gun-violence tragedy.”

Jenny Book, 20, of Barberton, Ohio, said a ban might be going too far — punishing those who would never take a leap from playing a video game to murder. “I think people who do violent acts are sick and need to get . help,” said the University of Mount Union sophomore.

But finding help can be a problem.

“There’s a lack of providers (therapists, psychiatrists),” Royer said. “For instance, 4 KidHelp is the only true child and adolescent psychiatry practice in Stark County. And when we go to Dover once a week to see clients, we are the only provider in a five-county area” south of Stark County.

“We need more providers and a safe place for the mentally ill,” she said. “Places like halfway houses or group-type homes.”

Parents need to pay attention to what their children are doing and step up when something seems amiss, Royer said. And if a game is too violent, parents need to get rid of it — even if it angers the kids.

But it has gotten to the point, she added, that some parents are fearful of their child’s reactions.

“I talk to a lot of parents and they are afraid to discipline their kids .” she said. “I have never seen so many kids who are disrespectful, and mouthy, and nasty.

“Often, my job ends up being a cheerleader and support, saying ‘Go ahead and be a parent. Discipline your child. Quit being afraid of your kids.’ ”