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Video game violence isn't harmless fun

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The room lights are low. The TV screen is flickering with images of a shootout between cops and bad guys. Wide-eyed in front of the screen sits a 9-year-old clutching a remote control. But the control isn't to a questionable TV program or video. It is to a video game that requires active participation. Hitting the buttons in a certain sequence, the 9-year-old can shoot a cop. The screen flashes a "reward" of so many points. The background music rises in a congratulatory crescendo: "Good shot," or "impressive," a voice blares back, encouraging him to kill more police officers.

This is an accurate illustration of what regularly takes place in some American homes. The frequency of sex, profanity, and violence in movies and on TV is wellknown. Less well understood is the degree of violence in video games.

Videomakers dismiss the thesis that violent videos can generate aggressive behavior in viewers. But scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Two Iowa State University psychologists, Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman, conclude in an article in the journal Psychological Science that "violent video games increase aggressive behavior in children and young adults." They note that in three recent school shootings, the shooters were "students who habitually played violent video games." For instance, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School students who killed 13 people in Littleton, Colo., enjoyed playing a bloody video game, "Doom." Eric even created a customized version with extra weapons and victims who couldn't fight back.

Mr. Bushman, now at the University of Michigan, conducted a statistical review of 85 separate studies of video violence. He told me in a phone interview: "There's no question that exposure to violent videos stimulates aggressive behavior. It's incredibly troubling."


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