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Sunday, January 6, 2013

It’s Official: Video Games Are Witchcraft

At least as far as an organization in Southington, Connecticut is concerned. According to a recent article by Polygon contributor Brian Crecente, a small group known as the SouthingtonSOS, based in the small Southington community roughly 30 miles from where the Newton Sandy Hook Massacre took place, is holding an event that they have dubbed the “Violent Video Games Return Program”  on January 12th.

 The program will allow attendees to trade in their violent video games (movies and music will also be accepted) for gift certificates redeemable at local merchants and venues. Once turned in, the game discs will be broken, thrown out, and later incinerated according to Joe Erardi, the superintendent for Southington schools who is helping to organize the event.

"There are youngsters who appear to be consumed with violent video games, I'm not certain if that's a good thing. If this encourages one courageous conversation with a parent and their child, then it's a success.”

While I sympathize with Erardi’s desire to facilitate communication between parents and children, I fail to see how amassing and burning a large quantity of video games (a rather wasteful and environmentally-unfriendly act) would help to do so. Erardi explained in the interview with Polygon that:

"The group's action is not intended to be construed as statement declaring that violent video games were the cause of the shocking violence in Newtown on December 14th.  Rather, SouthingtonSOS is saying is that there is ample evidence that violent video games, along with violent media of all kinds, including TV and Movies portraying story after story showing a continuous stream of violence and killing, has contributed to increasing aggressiveness, fear, anxiety and is desensitizing our children to acts of violence including bullying.”

And yet, when questioned about whether he believed violent video games played a part in the Newton shootings, Erardi plead ignorance and deflected the question:

"I don't have the expertise to share an opinion on that. There is never anything wrong with parents having a courageous conversation with their children. And when you're stepping into the domain of your child, it's always a courageous conversation."

Again, I fail to see the valid connection between having a conversation with a child about violent video games and hosting a glorified witch-hunt for all forms of violent media. Is destroying and burning these games supposed to inspire people? Get them to question the influence of violent media in their household? Cause I can think of several better ways to do so, none of which involve a pile of burning CD’s.

Apparently so can Chris Ferguson, the chair of the Texas A&M International University's department of psychology and communication. In a letter he wrote and sent to both SouthingtonSOS and Polygon, Ferguson explained that, by buying into the notion that violent media plays a large part in teen violence (an unfounded and untrue claim according to Ferguson and several other leading scientists and psychology professors), the SouthingtonSOS is doing more harm than good for their cause and I couldn’t agree more:

"I'm very appreciative of the sincerity of your group, but at the same time I've been concerned about some of your public statements linking video games to bullying and youth aggression which do not accurately reflect the science. I've done a number of peer-reviewed articles myself on the topic, and have found no evidence linking video game violence to bullying or any other forms of youth aggression or violence.”

Actions speak much louder than words and no matter how much Erardi and the rest of the SouthingtonSOS may *say* they’re not blaming violent video games for the Newton shootings, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d have a little trouble believing them if they said it as they were shoving a bag full of broken game discs into an incinerator.

Ferguson goes on to say that the SouthingtonSOS’s focus on destroying violent media may in itself be a bad thing:

"I do worry this is going to represent a step backwards in our understanding of youth violence, rather than a step forward. It's going to do kind of what Columbine did. It kind of distracted us from real issues and didn’t do anything helpful."

Like Ferguson, I don’t necessarily think that what SouthingtonSOS is doing is *wrong*, I think *misguided* would be a better term. Even though many parents may not like to admit it, violent media is not only very prevalent in today’s world, it is also easily accessible, even to teens and young adults. As hard as it may be, parents should be more focused not on trying to shield their children from violent media but on having healthy and clear discussions about it.

SouthingtonSOS may have the right ideas and end goals in mind but I hope that they seriously re-evaluate the ways in which they are trying to reach those goals. Destroying and burning CD’s doesn’t help anyone, having a clear line of communication with your child about how exposure to violent media affects them does.

For more information be sure to read Brian Crecente’s original article about the event as well as his follow-up with Chris Ferguson.

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

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