Kyle Rittenhouse and Violent Video Games

What possessed Kyle Rittenhouse, a baby-faced 17-year-old, to pick up an AR-15 style rifle and head to Kenosha, Wisconsin in the first place?

There has been a lot of discussion about the harm caused by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to American youth but very little discussion about the role of violent videogames, where teens arm themselves with massive weaponry to maim and kill.

Rittenhouse claims he and a friend volunteered to go to Kenosha to protect a car dealership that was set upon by rioters the night before. Rittenhouse, who is now a nursing student, wore a medical kit and said he intended to provide medical care. At one point he also carried a fire extinguisher.

It all seems hopelessly naïve, but not altogether implausible for a 17-year-old teenager, especially one who testified Wednesday to playing violent video games.

Rittenhouse ended up killing two men and grievously wounding a third. He’s claiming self-defense.  Cell phone videos of the action that evening in Kenosha show Rittenhouse lying on the pavement, while protesters/rioters attacked him and attempted to wrestle the gun away from him. The only reason they didn’t succeed is because it was strapped on his shoulder.

A few decades years ago, a teenager like Rittenhouse might be working to become an Eagle Scout.

Healthline reports that more than 90 percent of kids play video games and more than 90 percent of popular games portray violence.

It seems intuitive that a culture permeated by the extreme violence of Mortal Kombat, Splatterhouse and Grand Theft Auto would be affected negatively. Especially with the availability of guns in America.  But, it isn’t easy to measure the effect of such games in real time.

Banned in China, etc.

The lobbying group for the video game industry, the Entertainment Software Association, assures us on its website that “[v]ideo games are fun, often educational, and increasingly therapeutic.” The ESA says the games promote stress relief and “positive” mental stimulation.

 “Medical professionals and health experts now recognize the benefits of gameplay, employing games to achieve positive health outcomes for patients of all ages,” states the ESA.

It seems unlikely that child psychologists are “employing” games like RapeLay, which supports the use of violence to compel a person to submit to sexual contact. RapeLay is one of many video games banned by other countries.

You might ask how these products can be marketed to impressionable young minds in the United States?

Supreme Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 ruled 7-2 in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that a California law prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors violated the First Amendment.  The opinion’s author, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, cited a long tradition of violent themes in books, including Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The Court requires that state laws must show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful impact on children before they can ban violent videogames.

Many other countries take a different view. According to Wikipedia, China has banned a large number of video games that depict drugs, sexual themes, blood, organized crime and defamation of the Chinese government. Germany also has banned many violent video games because of high-impact, gory violence. Some of these games are reintroduced and permitted in a “censored” form.

Reason for Concern

The American Psychological Association says there is reason for concern about violent videogames.

The APA states that a 2010 review of the literature by psychologist Craig A. Anderson and others concluded that “the evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.”

They way industry proponents get around appraisals like Anderson’s is by pointing out that laboratory results fail to control for other variables. For example, they say children who are already at risk may be more likely to play video games. It is a daunting if not impossible task to make a concrete connection between a specific behavior like watching violent videogames and violence in later life.

The APA states on its web site that it is still studying the situation.

Meanwhile, do you know what your child is playing?

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