What's Up, Doc?

CAROUSEL - Cancer-free for two years, 11-year-old Jamarielle Ransom-Marks leads construction workers in a dance at the building site of the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. From the CBS Evening News, Dec. 9, 2010.
Dr. Jerald Block, a practicing physician and CEO of SMARTguard Software, spent some additional time with GameCore to discuss violence in gaming and the recent Grand Theft Auto upheaval.

SMARTguard Software is the company behind programs like WallFly, which is designed to help parents oversee the gaming content and time used gaming on family computers.

As far as the lawmakers are concerned, why do you think some of them are pushing for video game legislation? Do you think it's the government's job to regulate what people and are exposed to?

I believe the lawmakers are reacting to pressure from some families, testimony from wildly overstated "experts", and from misguided attempts to address recent school shootings.

While I believe it is the government's job to regulate dangerous products, I think we are nowhere near being able to say that about computer games. We need loads and loads of more research. For example - look at the recent Kaiser study on media. It was a terrific study, really very well designed and on an important topic. However, when it came to computer use, I think it had some flaws. Specifically, (1) the data was self-reported and not actually measured by the investigators and (2) the diaries that participants filled out stopped at 12 midnight. What sort of gamer stops at 12 midnight? Finally, (3) the data under sampled the weekend use by participants.

I believe gaming is a binge-like behavior that may peak on weekends. Anyway, this was one of the best studies out there and it has some important flaws. We need research, research, and more research. Until then, any government response is premature and based on inadequate data.

You've mentioned that there isn't nearly enough research that's been done to link violence in video games to acts of aggression in the real world, do you hope to change that?

Frankly, I am not too impressed by the link between violence and computer use. Clearly, drugs, bad parenting, and poverty are much larger variables that need attention. If games cause violence, why have the number of violent crimes by children and adolescents decreased in the past 10 years?

Also, even if there is a relationship between gaming and aggression, why do we assume that is bad? Might some degree of increased aggression be something desirable, as a society? Speaking as a psychoanalyst, I'd like to point out that aggression gets a bad rap; it is a fundamental drive that can lead to all sorts of productivity and achievement.

Aggressive impulses, when well managed, are an essential component of leadership. My greater concern is excessive computer use - that some people seem to have trouble setting limits. With this issue, I think we need to look at adults - children have a lot more disposable time than adults.

How can a parent fit in 30 hours of MMORPG on top of their 40 hr / wk job and still have fulfilling real-world relationships? Or, maybe we no longer need such relationships? I don't think we have all the answers, just yet. I hope that we can use tools like WallFly to better describe actual game and computer usage.

Take 2 sat on addressing the issue for about a month. This is in contrast to, for example, the SimCopter game that had the hugging males Easter Egg...which resulted in a product callback and firing.

Most analysts believe Take Two sold the great majority of the disks they WOULD have sold, in that month, so sales were not really hurt. Indeed, they will probably sell more of the game due to the press.

The inventory wasted is costly, however, as will be the lawsuits and Congressional/FTC hearings. I would estimate there are around 20 million sold before the ESRB rating change and cease sales order took effect. See the most recent Take Two Annual Report and the numbers are there.

The largest remaining issue is the ESRB's statement on the PC gaming industry. They seem to suggest that companies will be held responsible for the actions of modders, even if the content was not written by the game producer.

They warn that the producer needs to make unauthorized mods more difficult to make. I believe this will have a chilling effect on the mod community and is a misstep by the ESRB. The rule should be simple: You are responsible for what you write to the disk no more and no less.

By William Vitka