We can’t ignore pervasive video game violence

As the nation continues to search for reasons why mass shootings are so commonplace in our society, it’s hard to ignore the role of an entertainment culture steeped in violence.

Movies and television shows seem to always be pushing the violence thresholds higher and higher. Most disturbing of all are the video games that take violence to new levels with shotgun blasts to the face of a villain or lingerie-clad assassins disguised as nuns gunned down by the “hero” in the game.

Video games that started so innocuously years ago with crude graphics and consoles have morphed into high-tech murder marathons where the graphics and delivery systems are so sophisticated, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred beyond belief.

As long as the video game manufacturers can tap into markets to sell their violent products, they’ll keep churning them out, shielded by the First Amendment right of free speech.

Supporters of an unrestricted gaming industry claim there are no causal links between video game violence and real-world violence. They’re assuming everyone playing the games is capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Really? Does that include Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, who, like many 20-year-old men liked to play a variety of video games, including the bloody “Call of Duty” franchise.

A public still reeling from the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murders can’t help but wonder if video games played a role in his murderous intentions, nurturing it like an aggressive cancer.

Maybe at least a partial answer to the potential link between video game violence and horrific shootings lies in proposed legislation by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., The bill calls on the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study to determine if exposure to violent games, movies and television shows leads to more aggressive behavior in children. The study has merit, and Congress should task the academy with the assignment.

In the meantime, parents remain the best barrier between children and violence in the entertainment industry. Ratings for shows and video games aren’t enough – they’re easy to skirt and ignore. It’s up to families to monitor and restrict as best they can what shows their children see, and what video games they play.

However, this is not an adequate response. The gaming industry must step up to the responsibility of flushing some of the gratuitous violence out of the games they produce. The violence can’t keep escalating without society paying a huge price in morally confused, desensitized adolescents who are approaching the age when they, too, have easy access to real weapons.