Violent Children Won’t Be the End of Video Game Publishers

by Adam Benjamin | August 26, 2013 2:49 pm

Violent Children Won’t Be the End of Video Game Publishers

Last Friday, an 87-year-old woman was fatally shot by an 8-year-old boy, according to police reports[1].

While the police did not report a motive, they did state that the boy had been playing Grand Theft Auto IV shortly before the shooting — a detail that has caused a stir of discussion about violent video games, and whether they affect real-world behavior, especially in adolescents.

Needless to say, that has a few people wondering about the fallout for companies like Take-Two Interactive (TTWO[2]), the publisher behind the GTA series. But there’s not much to wonder — it probably won’t be much.

Violence in video games (and its connection to real-life violence) has been extensively studied — and more studies could be coming via Washington legislation[3] — but the results have been far from conclusive.

The topic is particularly difficult because it’s nearly impossible to prove causation (i.e. “violent video games cause aggressive behavior”) as opposed to correlation (e.g. “people who display aggressive behavior tend to enjoy violent video games”). Then there’s the problem of trying to quantify aggression and violence in both the video games and the research subjects, all of which has led to conflicting results.

Recent studies like this one[4], featured in Time, suggest that violent video games do not make a person significantly less likely to perform an act of caring — in the experiment’s case, helping a person pick up dropped pens. Other studies, like the meta-analysis described here[5], suggest that violent video games increase aggressive behavior. (Although, it’s worth noting that helping someone and displaying violent behavior aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Others, like the study in Grand Theft Childhood[6], have more nuanced results.

Until researchers release a truly conclusive study, though — which seems unlikely to happen — video game publishers will face some level of pressure to stop producing violent video games. The focus on triggers for violence has been particularly high in the past couple years, following widely covered shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Sandy Hook Elementary. (On the flip side, there are stories like the girl who, in 2008, rescued her family out of a flipped car[7] based on information she’d learned in the very same Grand Theft Auto series.)

So what will that mean for companies like Take-Two? Ultimately, not much.

These companies are driven by the bottom line, and the bottom line is that franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Activision’s (ATVI[8]) Call of Duty series have sold more than 100 million copies[9]. So unless the Supreme Court radically reverses its 2011 decision that video games are protected under free speech[10], it’s unlikely that publishers will stop producing video games that rely heavily on shooting and physical combat.

Which brings us back to the 8-year-old boy in the news. The incident is startling and unsettling, but I’ve been surprised to see how much of the reaction has been about supervision rather than the video game he was playing.

And that’s the appropriate response here.

The important question is not whether the video game influenced the boy’s actions, but how an 8-year-old child gained access to a loaded firearm. Or the game, for that matter — one that’s rated “Mature” and is intended for players 17 and older.

The best way to makes sure video games or other media don’t negatively affect your children is to monitor the content they’re consuming.

The publishers aren’t the ones responsible for making sure that gamers only play “appropriate” games — that responsibility falls on the child’s parents or guardians. And as long as people agree that parental responsibility outweighs the need to censor publishers, even headlines as alarming as these won’t have much of an effect on Take-Two’s bottom line.

Except, hopefully, a few more parents being more selective about the video games they buy for their kids.

Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor of InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

Endnotes:
  1. according to police reports: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/24/20161358-boy-8-accused-of-intentionally-killing-87-year-old-woman-in-louisiana
  2. TTWO: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=TTWO
  3. via Washington legislation: http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/314429-senate-panel-votes-to-study-video-game-violence
  4. like this one: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/08/violent-video-games-dont-make-us-less-caring/
  5. meta-analysis described here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-changing-culture/201212/yes-violent-video-games-do-cause-aggression
  6. Grand Theft Childhood: http://www.grandtheftchildhood.com/GTC/Summary.html
  7. rescued her family out of a flipped car: http://kotaku.com/5044866/grand-theft-auto-helps-preteen-rescue-family-from-crashed-car
  8. ATVI: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=ATVI
  9. more than 100 million copies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_video_game_franchises
  10. video games are protected under free speech: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf

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