Anderson also explains that ethical concerns get in the way of causal studies of aggression, and that a well-designed correlational study can reduce the effect of alternative explanations. Indeed, some of his research does support the connection between videogames and short-term aggression. Anderson himself used this technique in a study that accompanied his noise-blast experiment. His college student subjects filled out questionnaires about their videogame play, their history of violence, their aggressive feelings and several other factors. Then Anderson used statistical techniques to "subtract" the effect of aggressive feelings, anger and other possible causes from the increased aggression shown by the subjects. Still, this evidence can be largely explained as a priming effect, and does not convincingly show that the games had the potential for long-term harm.

By now, two things should be pretty clear: Videogames do have the potential to make people behave more aggressively in the short term, but little evidence shows they affect long-term behavior. Pundits of media violence often argue that nearly all perpetrators of school shootings played violent videogames before committing their crimes - but that tells us nothing, because most boys in America play violent videogames. According to a study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, 94 percent of middle schoolers said they played videogames, and a 2007 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 77 percent of boys in Grades 7 to 12 had played a Grand Theft Auto game.

To get some insight into how the anti-game-violence lobby deals with these criticisms, I went straight to the epicenter: Jack Thompson, the Miami lawyer who represented Columbine victims in lawsuits against videogame companies and has made himself the most visible member of the crusade to regulate games.


Most gamers see Thompson as an overzealous, self-aggrandizing buffoon, and not without reason. His unorthodox, often sensationalist behavior and antagonistic stance toward the videogame industry has made him both a target of mockery from the gaming community and a frequent guest on cable news programs. Recently, he addressed a letter to the mother of Strauss Zelnick, head of GTA IV publisher Take-Two Interactive, comparing her son to Ted Bundy and blaming him for the shooting of three Alabama police.

Surprisingly, I found Thompson to be friendly and open. Even when I disagreed with him, he treated me with respect. Despite much of his public rhetoric, in which he blames the GTA games as the sole cause of certain school shootings, he told me he sees videogames as one of many factors that contribute to violent crime.

"I wouldn't, nor would anybody in their right mind, say that videogames would turn a boy scout into Jeffrey Dahmer," he said, but games can encourage unbalanced people to become aggressive or violent and teach them "methodologies" to hurt people more effectively. He said he respects the First Amendment - since it makes protests like his own possible - but that the danger of videogame violence makes regulation necessary.

"I'm a conservative. I don't want government to have to do anything," he said. "I love the First Amendment."

Unfortunately for Thompson's cause, the courts seem to agree. In 2001 and 2004, appellate courts struck down state laws regulating minors' access to violent videogames. In 2004, a federal court blocked a Washington state law that would have stopped the sale of games that depict violence against police officers.

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