Former FBI profiler says games do not cause violence

Mary Ellen O'Toole says video games are just one risk variable for those who may act out violently; Parents Television Council president calls for better ratings systems.


Former Federal Bureau of Investigation senior profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole does not believe video games cause violence. Speaking on Face The Nation (run by GameSpot parent company CBS), O'Toole said games are just one variable in a much wider spectrum of risk factors for those who may act out violently.

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"It's my experience that video games do not cause violence," O'Toole said. "However, it is one of the risk variables when we do a threat assessment for the risk to act out violently. And my experience has been [that] individuals who are already contemplating acting out in a violent way, if they are also emerged 24/7 in violent videos, to the exclusion of other activities, and they're isolated, and they're actually using these videos as planning or collateral evidence in terms of how to do it better, what equipment to buy, how to select the victims, how to approach the crime scene. If their use is educational materials for the offender to do the crime better, that's what we take into consideration."

"But again, it's important that I point out as a threat assessment and as a former FBI profiler, we don't see these as the cause of violence; we see them as sources of fueling ideation that's already there," she added.

""It's my experience that video games do not cause violence. However, it is one of the risk variables when we do a threat assessment for the risk to act out violently. "--O'Toole

Also speaking on the matter was Parents Television Council president Tim Winter, who agreed that video games do not--by themselves--cause violence. However, he argued the topic is especially important to address today, when media has become a 24/7 activity for children.

"This isn't an all-or-nothing; it's not zero percent, it's not 100 percent. But it is a percent of the problem, and we have to address it," Winter said. "The parents are grandparents that are watching this show today understand in their hearts already that this stuff is harmful to children. And it's even more harmful now that you have 24/7 digital media hitting children through multiple platforms."

Winter also called on ratings groups and the industry itself to do a better job helping parents to understand the content of a given game. He pointed to a game in which players can kill, urinate on, and set ablaze a police officer, though it's unclear which title he was referring to.

"It's not just a parent's obligation. I think the industry has to have a responsibility," he said. "When you have a video game that allows a player to shoot a police officer, walk up to that police officer and urinate on him, douse him with gasoline and set him on fire, and listen to him scream as he burns to death. What kind of sticker do you put on the box to warn a parent about that?"

President Obama recently announced a $500 million, 23-point plan that directs the Centers for Disease Control to conduct further research into the relationship between virtual violence and real-world violence. Separately, Utah representative Jim Matheson has introduced a bill to Congress that would make Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings legally enforceable.

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