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Science

Violent video games are 're-wiring' young minds

A top ranking Australian police commissioner says violent video games are "re-wiring" people's brains, making violence acceptable. Andrew Scipione wants a fresh debate.

DW: Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, how big is the problem with violent video games in Australia?

Everyday there are tragedies that unravel in front of us on our television screens, where people have got access to firearms and shot dead 10s or 20s of people at a time. We know that there are issues. And, of course, the one thing that I know has changed is the access that young people particularly have to these violent games, where they live out their fantasies to some extent. And I think that re-wires their brain to point where sometimes they can't differentiate between reality and fantasy. And as I say, it might not necessarily just be young people. But they're exposed to that level of violence through movies, certainly through video games, and some of the music that they listen to.

So what games are we talking about?

There are a number of games. And what I know is that on the last occasion I raised this as an issue within the Australian setting, I can assure you, we believe we saw the increase in the purchase of those particular games. So, I'm not of a mind to actually tell you [the names of the games], but I can tell you some of the behavior that's in some of these games. When somebody glorifies players killing people and blowing things up with bombs, and selling and buying drugs, and robbing people, and sexually assaulting or raping prostitutes - and as a result of that they get rewarded with good health or a budget that they can spend - something's wrong!

Your original comments on this - and this is the second time you've commented on this issue - came soon after three teenagers were apparently stabbed in separate attacks in western Sydney, within a short space of time. Was there any connection there between these stabbings and violent video games?

Nothing that we've been able to establish, but as you can imagine these are very recent matters and they are yet to go before courts and that's when I'm sure we'll get more of the detail about what's actually been the driver here. But, again, it just seems that this level of violence that we're encountering, I think, must be linked to something that's happening in the minds of these young people.

I think a lot of people would find it very difficult to disagree with you on a theoretical level, but you'll probably also agree yourself that from a legal perspective, you would have to back this up with statistics or real connections - say, in a very particular case, you could say that the person had admitted to being influenced by video games. And so my question is: is there any evidence for you to back up your concerns?

Okay, well, certainly we could do that… I think that regardless of what my concerns are, there is no way we can resolve this unless we get the best medical research - and that's what we're talking about. Look, we have got that evidence, but it's not until we actually get some medical linkage that we can unequivocally say, "And that's the reason why."

A screenshot from the video game, Mortal Combat

Scipione: When killing people gets rewarded, something's wrong

So, I think it's for that reason that these discussions need to be had. We need to listen to the medical experts, we need to look at what's happening, and we need to get a really good understanding of how we can prevent it. And most recently, I'm aware of some problems that have been experienced in South Korea, where people are going into these gaming dens almost and losing track of what day it is…

And not feeding their children…

…and not feeding their children!

Yes, we've heard that…

… children dying… you know… walking out to give birth to a child, disposing of the child, then walking back in and playing the games again. The alarms should be ringing!

So, have you consulted with the games industry? What do they say?

Look, I understand the industry is in business. They are looking to sell product. Now, I'm not sure what the classification process is in Europe, but in Australia there are age classifications. So, certain children can't go out and buy certain games until they are able to establish their age. However, it's a bit like alcohol. We do have secondary supply issues, where somebody might buy a game and it's left on a console, or it's left on a computer.

But have you consulted with the industry? What do they say? Have you spoken to them about your concerns?

Well, in our discussions it's been more… I think in prompting the discussion, their view is that this is a nonsense - that perhaps there is no evidence, there is no connection, that there is no damage done, this is purely fantasy and people can let go and move on. So, you know, there are many thousands of people who would share that view. Well, there's also the view that these things are damaging us.

Andrew Scipione is the police commissioner for the Australian state of New South Wales.

Interview: Zulfikar Abbany

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