Following the shocking events that took place in Connecticut last week, it is important that a discussion ensue in which the increased occurrence of mass shootings is examined in relation to the violence present in various forms of the entertainment media.
In a recent Fox News appearance, Sen. Joe Lieberman insisted that producers of violent movies and video games must be asked to “tone it down,” characterizing violence in entertainment as “a causative factor” that may lead to tragic incidents such as the one that occurred in Newtown.
Making reference to a “direct connection” between people who have some mental instability and digital gaming, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an appearance on Sunday’s CNN “State of the Union” program, said, “When they go over the edge – they transport themselves, they become part of one of those video games.”
Hickenlooper’s comments are particularly significant since earlier in the year a mass shooting took place at a movie theater in the governor’s state in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded.
In reaction to the horrific Colorado movie theater shooting, studio mogul Harvey Weinstein at the time called for an entertainment industry summit to take a serious look at cinema violence.
“Fortunately, I’ve made enough money from producing violent movies, that I’m in a position to say Hollywood needs to stop making them,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein knows a great deal about violent content, having produced Quentin Tarantino movie fare that includes “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” and “Inglorious Basterds.”
Unfortunately, just days after calling for the summit Weinstein announced plans to premiere Tarantino’s extremely violent “Django Unchained” in an apparent move to generate Oscar buzz for one of his company’s movies.
In the wake of the Connecticut shootings, Jamie Foxx, star of the blood-soaked “Django Unchained,” publicly criticized the film industry, stating that the entertainment business needs to take responsibility for the violence it puts forth.
“We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence,” Foxx said at a recent press event for his latest film. “It does.”
Meanwhile entertainment companies were quick to alter some of the plans and special events that had been scheduled. Paramount Pictures postponed the new Tom Cruise action movie “Jack Reacher” and Fox pulled new episodes of “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”
The time has come for industry figures to take the lead in examining the violent content of entertainment product. Empirical data now exists that links violent content in a variety of media forms to overly aggressive behavior in individuals.
The video gaming industry, however, is of the most pressing concern and deserves particular scrutiny due to the unique characteristics inherent in video game products and the greater potentiality for negative societal consequences as a result of active engagement.
Video games are distinctively interactive and have actually been shown to have addictive qualities. Many of the games are laden with highly charged content.
In November 2012 an Australian National University psychology researcher confirmed the addictive nature of video games, discovering that frequent gamers had “attentional bias,” i.e., individuals were unable to stop thinking about gaming when attempting to focus on other tasks, a phenomenon that also occurs in alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions.
When the video gaming addiction occurs during adolescence, other developmental issues may arise including difficulty in successfully acquiring the social skills necessary to establish and maintain healthy relationships. A social awkwardness and/or isolationism related to the gaming addiction may result, which may feed upon itself as the addicted individual retreats further into a digital world.
Technology such as 3D and HD imagery has enabled video game production to escalate its graphic intensity. The violence has become disturbingly realistic, and games may include themes that encourage and even reward players who are “successful” in the virtual participation in torture, sadism, and gruesome brutality.
In December 2012 research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shed light on the long-term effects of playing violent video games. In the research study, an individual who played a violent video game for three consecutive days was found to exhibit escalations in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations.
Parents, of course, would be wise to equip themselves with as much information as possible about the video games in which their children are engaging and to which their children are being exposed in order to best protect them.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns ratings for video games, is in of revision so that the rankings are clear, precise, and user-friendly.
Additionally, since there is so often an overlap with regard to entertainment media products, rather than having separate rating systems for films, television, music, and video games, a uniform system might better serve the public.
Perhaps entertainment industry leaders can put their creative heads together to address the violence issue and in the process help lift our spirits and the culture up.