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Curing the country of gun violence requires research into video games too

Gun violence is so pervasive, so deadly an issue in America that it should be treated and researched as a contagious disease, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And that's why video games needs to be part of the research that goes into curing this bullet-fueled epidemic. Video games have become so deeply ingrained in modern society, that ignoring their impact would be akin to ignoring the effects of movies, of music or of the daily news on society. And all of those forms of media play an important role in any complete, holistic approach to solving the problem of American gun violence.

In tackling this disease — which has injured or killed 105,000 people in 2010 alone — the CDC is setting out to identify the epidemiologic triangle of gun violence: the agent (or the weapon or shooter), the host (or the victim) and the environment (the conditions of the shooting).

Once identified, the CDC believes, it can more clearly figure out a way to "interrupt the connections" within this deadly triangle.

This same approach was used by the CDC to combat tobacco use and reduce motor vehicle injuries and deaths and now gun violence. This most recent study comes not because of some sudden insight or realization but in part because, in mandating a new study, President Barack Obama removed the restriction on government research into gun violence.

Video games shouldn't be demonized, but they can't be ignored

This public health-driven approach brings with it an eclectic mix of research. The CDC hopes to look into everything from the use of voice-recognition smartguns and weapons that can't fire at children to research into the socioeconomic backgrounds of shooters and their victims, to the impact of watching news about a shooting or playing violent video games.

While a relatively trivial part of what is shaping up to be the study into gun violence in America, researching video games might derail the project.

After all video games have, over the preceding decades, become the proverbial wolf to the country's many violent, public acts. The tenuous direct, casual connection between violence and video games has become so studied, so overwrought with politics and scapegoat finger pointing that it's becoming white noise.

It was video games, purely video games, that the NRA blamed for the Newtown shooting. It was video games that became Columbine's distraction.

Video games as agents for inducing violence is so steeped in hyperbole, so absurd a notion to today's public (about half of which now play these very games) that some point to it as an example of why such broad studies shouldn't take place.

But dismissing even the possibility that games could have a negative impact on society dismisses too the notion that they could have a positive one.

Games, like movies, like music and books, do effect change. Game developers know this. And I think game players do too.

We know it when a game inspires us to work out, or teaches us about history, or gets us to think about the underpinnings of deeply held beliefs.

Video games are a powerful form of expression and communication; they shouldn't be demonized, but they can't be ignored.

Researching video games, once more, as part of this broader examination of a gun-sickened nation, brings with it the chance to create a singular work of research that can be used to start healing the country.

If it can be done free of politics, free of the heavy-hand of gun-manufacturers, gun lobbyists — but also video game makers and their own significant lobby — then perhaps the questions that seem to raise their head with every shooting, can finally be put to rest. And gamers shouldn't fear research that finally strives to insert their hobby into the national context in which it belongs.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and their bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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