ALGONQUIN – The owners of No Limit Arcade watched recently as a kid playing a first-person shooting game pointed the plastic arcade gun at a friend.
“Bam, you’re dead,” co-owner Mark Battaglia recalled one kid saying to the other.
“Bam you’re dead,” replied the other as he pretended to shoot his friend.
With the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Conn., fresh in their minds, Battaglia and co-owner Kevin Slota decided to eliminate arcade games that involved shooting other humans from their business at 2719 W. Algonquin Road.
Psychologists and activists are split as to whether there is a correlation between video games and violence. Some argue that playing violent games leads to aggressive behavior and increases one’s propensity for violence. Others believe video games are used as scapegoats without addressing the real causes of violent behavior.
Battaglia and Slota don’t claim to know the answer, but felt it was important to make their arcade more family-friendly.
They played every game in their arcade and settled on 12 games they felt were too violent for young children, including “Revolution X,” “Crisis Zone” and “The House of the Dead.” The games are unplugged and moved to the side of the store. They will be sold.
Battaglia knows that removing overly violent games won’t stop gun violence, but he believes his arcade should be sending a better message.
“We just thought we’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem,” he said.
The debate on video games
The “problem,” as Battaglia sees it, is the increase in mass shootings in the United States. There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982, 25 of which have occurred since 2006, according to a study done by Mother Jones. Vice President Joe Biden met last week with representatives from the video game industry as he drafts the Obama administration’s response to the Sandy Hook shootings, which is expected to be released this week.
Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University, believes video games have nothing to do with real-world violence.
“There’s no evidence to link video games and violence,” Ferguson said. “There’s a moral panic after something like Sandy Hook. People are desperate for answers. It’s a natural reaction.”
Ferguson points to studies in journals such as Computers in Human Behavior, Applied Cognitive Psychology, and his own study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, that found that video game use is not an indicator of violent behavior.
He said research done by ChildStats.gov shows violent crimes committed by youth ages 12-17 is at a 40-year low, while the popularity of violent video games has risen. And he compared the United States with the Netherlands and South Korea, both of which have higher video game use per capita yet have lower violent crime rates.
“People want a boogie man, someone to blame,” he said. “The country gets distracted by the wrong issue. It’s a bad direction for the national conversation.”
Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education at the Parent Television Council, disagreed with Ferguson’s findings and commended No Limit Arcade.
“I applaud them,” she said. “Young children should not have such easy access to violent media.”
In an awareness campaign in California, the Parent Television Council, an organization that provides information to parents about potentially harmful media, presented research from psychologists who found that video games could be a contributing factor to violent behavior.
“The same areas of the brain are stimulated, whether it’s from real violence or video game violence,” she said, citing evidence from Ohio State psychology professor Brad Bushman, whose study found that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal such as increased heart rate, and aggressive behavior.
“Playing violent video games causes more violent behavior,” Bushman said. “It doesn’t mean you will be a school shooter, but it can predict if you are more likely to get into fights.”
Returning to roots
Part of the reason Battaglia and Slota removed the games had to do with their clientele, which is mostly dads and young kids – not the high school and young adult crowd they expected when the arcade opened.
“With ‘The House of the Dead,’ the graphics have lots of blood and guts. It was a little too much,” Battaglia said. “If you’ve got some 5-year-old that’s scared of the dark to begin with, and you’ve got something coming at you swinging knives and blowing his brains up, that’s a little too much.”
No Limit began as an 1980s arcade with games such as “Pac-Man,” “Frogger” and “Donkey Kong” but added the more violent games as the years passed. With the removal of those games, the store is going back to its roots – and sending the right message to kids, Battaglia said.
“[Violent games] start desensitizing them,” Battaglia said. “When I see the little kid with the glare in his eye and he’s shooting, then turns to his buddy and says, ‘You’re dead, you’re dead,’ God forbid he goes home still filled with that adrenaline and accidentally comes across daddy’s gun … and picks it up and actually shoots it.”
Diane Warden, co-owner of Arcade Adventures in Crystal Lake, doesn’t believe violent games cause violent behavior.
“I don’t feel that’s an issue,” she said. “When people play video games, they understand they’re not real.”
Warden, whose shop buys and sells vintage arcade games, said it’s up to the parents to decide what material is too inappropriate for their children.
“If I don’t want my child playing violent games, he won’t play violent games. He’s going to play ‘Pac-Man’ instead,” she said.
No Limit Arcade hasn’t eliminated shooting games. It still has “Buck Hunter,” an animal hunting game, and “Police Trainer,” which shoots at targets.
Battaglia said the customer reaction so far has been mostly positive, and parents have thanked them for making it a more family-oriented environment.
“When [parents] are thinking of family and fun, they’re not thinking of something that’s going to affect their child forever. We didn’t want that image.”