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West Virginia Sen. Rockefeller introduces bill for study of violent video games' effects (update)

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Jay Rockefeller, a Democratic Senator from West Virginia, is introducing legislation in Congress that would direct the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of "violent video games and other content" on children, his office announced today.

The bill comes less than one week after the shooting at a grade school in Sandy Hook, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults at the school dead, in addition to the alleged killer and his mother.

"At times like this, we need to take a comprehensive look at all the ways we can keep our kids safe," said Sen. Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "I have long expressed concern about the impact of the violent content our kids see and interact with every day."

The bill would commission "a comprehensive study and investigation of the connection between violent video games and violent video programming and harmful effects on children" from the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit institute that serves in an advisory capacity to the federal government. In particular, the Academy would be tasked with investigating whether violent games and programming "cause kids to act aggressively or otherwise hurt their wellbeing" and whether any effects caused by video games differ markedly from those in other media, as well as investigating any long-term impact that violent content may have on kids.

If the bill passes, it would require the agency to submit a report of its findings within 18 months to Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Sen. Rockefeller is also calling for the FCC and FTC to "take a fresh look" at related issues, such as the ESRB's video game ratings system and violent programming on television.

"At times like this, we need to take a comprehensive look at all the ways we can keep our kids safe"

Sen. Rockefeller is expecting that these investigations will prove his existing hypothesis regarding the impact of violent video games. "Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it," he said. "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." Sen. Rockefeller is likely referring to, among other cases, the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which declared in 2011 that video games are protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

Sen. Rockfeller's fellow West Virginia legislator, the Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, also called for congressional action after the shooting. While his initial comments focused on the availability of high-powered assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, on Monday he advocated a wider discussion:

We've reached out to the Entertainment Software Association, an organization that lobbies on behalf of the video game industry and runs E3, for comment on Sen. Rockefeller's bill.

Update: The ESA provided Polygon with the following comment:

The Entertainment Software Association, and the entire industry it represents, mourns the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones, and to the entire community of Newtown.

The search for meaningful solutions must consider the broad range of actual factors that may have contributed to this tragedy. Any such study needs to include the years of extensive research that has shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence.

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