Commentary

Target Video Game Industry to Prevent Future Parklands

By LARRY CHALK | Feb 06, 2019

Last year I wrote a piece on how to manage the carnage that has occurred too many times in our schools. My conclusion was that there are preventive things we can do, like tightening up background checks and effectively enforcing gun sales rules. There are also on-site reactive solutions, like having armed guards patrolling school hallways and using metal detectors.

I recently came across a column written by a retired Florida lawyer who has been an activist against the marketing and sale of adult video games to minors. He intensified his efforts after he represented the parents of three schoolgirls shot and killed by a 13-year-old gamer in Kentucky. He also quotes a teacher who wrote of the Parkland school killer of 17, Nikolas Cruz, that “I do not feel that he understands the difference between his violent video games and reality.”

The Miami Herald reported that Cruz played hyper-violent video games “up to 15 hours a day.” This is strangely similar to the hours Sandy Hook’s killer of 26 trained on “Doom,” “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Cruz’s mother partly attributed his violence to his video games and withdrew them as temporary punishment.

“In Call of Duty you can utilize smoke canisters to hide from your virtual reality targets – something Cruz did in reality. So, video games don’t just increase the appetite to kill; they train teens to kill efficiently,” says Jack Thompson, author of the original column.

In its final report on the Parkland massacre, the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal School Safety Commission stated that there is a correlation between Cruz’s video game play and the massacre. Last June, the World Health Organization formally concluded that video game addiction is a mental disorder that is treatable. What is the medical basis for such a conclusion?

Indiana and Harvard universities did MRI brain scans showing that teens process video games in the midbrain, which is the impulsive part of the brain, whereas adults process them in the pre-frontal cortex, which intercepts emotion-driven copycat behaviors. This neurobiological age-based differential is why the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the juvenile death penalty. Just last month the National Institutes of Health reported that digital entertainment alters the structures of young brains.

Here’s a possible fix to help prevent school massacres by teen video game addicts. Over 40 state attorneys general have entered into consent decrees with retailers who agree that selling age-restricted products like alcohol and tobacco to underage kids is a “fraudulent, unfair and deceptive trade practice.” Why? Because the retailers have represented to the public that they do not engage in sales to kids when they did. That’s fraud!

The entire video game industry assures parents they do not sell mature-rated video games to anyone under 17. It’s a complete lie. The majority of video games, 19 years after gamers Klebold and Harris initiated the Columbine massacre, are sold to individuals whose ages are not verified. This is rampant fraud by an entire industry, the consequences of which are horrors like Parkland.

This dangerous fraud can be stopped if states and the national government would apply deceptive trade practice laws, which are already on the books, to video game sales. This approach is simple, legal and effective.

I still believe that on-site, armed adults are the solution because response time is the critical factor, but as one more arrow in the quill of school massacre prevention tools, we should all attempt to influence our legislators to adopt this relatively easy solution.

Larry Chalk lives in Fort Myers, Fla., and Haven Beach.

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