Gamed: Don’t trust Jay Rockefeller (yes, of those Rockefellers)

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In this week’s edition of “How many people can I piss off,” it’s time to talk politics.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

In July of 2013, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), of the “yes, those Rockefellers,” introduced S.134 aka the Violent Content Research Act of 2013, a bill that would task the National Academy of Science with studying the effects of violent video games and violent programming on children. Once the study began, it would then have 15 months to turn in its findings. S.134 has been approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which not coincidentally Rockefeller chairs, and it is currently waiting to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

The legislation sounds reasonable enough, but there is a reason Activision Blizzard, the Entertainment Consumers Association, and the Entertainment Software Association have all decided to get involved.

Politicians have this thing when it comes to introducing bills. When they tie their name to a piece of legislation, it sticks with them like an anchor. That legislation can be used as a platform for re-election, or a weapon against them depending on how the bill is received. A bill may say that it wants to feed a thousand puppies. Who doesn’t want to save puppies, right? The politician that introduced the bill may have a kid in the puppy food business making it a corrupt bill, but if someone votes against it, then you can expect an ad come election time with a deep, ominous voice saying something like “Senator Throatwobbler Mangrove voted against puppies. … Are your children next?” It’s like a game, just with stakes that kind of define our lives.

Take the horrible/hilarious (horriblearious?) case of Senator David Vetter (R-LA), the target of a bill so fantastically spiteful, and yet so easy for the people that introduced it to defend, that its dickishness borders on genius.

"And then my hand just went crazy and started dialing that Madam on its own!" Senator Vitter claimed.
“And then my hand just went crazy and started dialing that Madam on its own!” Senator Vitter may have said.

Vitter has been a longtime opponent of Obamacare, and recently attempted to attach an unrelated rider to an energy efficiency bill that would prohibit federal funds for lawmakers to help with their personal healthcare costs. In retaliation, Democrats introduced legislation of their own that would block lawmakers from access to healthcare if there is “probable cause to determine [that person] has engaged in the solicitation of prostitution.” Vitter, you see, had a wee prostitution scandal back in 2007, when his phone number was found in a book of client names for a D.C. Madam.

That leaves the GOP in the odd position of being forced to argue against a bill that only effects Johns. It’s sort of like they are tacitly endorsing prostitution by fighting it – at least that’s what their opponents will say. That deserves a slow clap. It’s like being a prick became a team sport.

With S.134, the bill itself is innocuous for the most part, but the cracks between the words hide a few problems. The bill calls for all new research. This research will take place over a 15 month period – less when you consider the time for pragmatic things like writing the paper, determining research methods, etc. It will ignore the mountains of research that already exist, including the most current and relevant info that was recently presented to the Supreme Court during the Brown v. the Entertainment Merchants Association case. The new study would ignore years of research in favor of what is essentially a short term study.

Since this would be the first real government research dedicated to the subject of violent gaming’s effect on kids, it also means that any future legislation would rely on it primarily. The Federal Government loves to justify its expenses. There have been dozens of major research projects dedicated to the effects of gaming on people, but none of them will matter. The fate of a multibillion dollar industry may come down to one single study.

A possible monster
A possible monster

The National Academy of Science has a reputation for impartiality, but Rockefeller himself has repeatedly shown a bias against video games. Following the Sandy Hook shootings, while the nation was mourning and the topic of gun control raged, Rockefeller blamed violent video games. He didn’t suggest that there may be a correlation, he flat out blamed violent media and seemed to think it was obvious to everyone. “As parents, research confirms what we already know – these violent images have a negative impact on our children’s wellbeing,” he stated without pointing to any specific evidence.

He then attempted to introduce a version of S.134, but it didn’t go anywhere at the time. Following the Supreme Court case in 2011, he also claimed that the Courts were flat out wrong, even it spent after months reading studies, something Rockefeller doesn’t seem to have done.

“Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it,” Rockefeller claimed. “They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better.”

This is the guy championing the research into whether or not violent media can effect behavior. He’s not looking for a scientific study to determine an answer, he’s looking for a justification for his beliefs – scientifically unconfirmed and frequently disputed beliefs. Rockefeller is so certain that violent games and programming cause violent tendencies, that this study is, to him, just a formality. 

The point of the bill, to research violent video games and violent programming’s effects on behavior, is understandable. For as certain as Rockefeller is of what the study will conclude, there are those on the other side that welcome the discussion and think there will be no correlation found. Just like all the other studies on the subject. It just needs a more impartial sponsor.

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