Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Video Game Violence

The subject of media violence has been a long debated subject. Many people hold the belief that media violence spurs violent behavior especially in children. In light of a recent article, I will be writing on this topic with a specific focus on video games. The article believes that video games will give rise to a new generation which will be better at problem solving and visually adept than the current generation. However, the topic of violence is never brought up in the article either.

Video games are something I have held as a hobby probably since I was able to hold a controller. My sister who was 8 years older than me had an Atari and a Nintendo soon followed. Naturally, I played my fair share of video games as a child. When thinking about whether or not video games and media violence has made me prone to more violent behavior, I would argue that it hasn’t. However, there have been some examples, especially in the past 5 years which would prove otherwise. And although I have been (what some might say) an avid gamer for the vast majority of my lifetime, I still find it difficult to maintain a position on video game violence. My initial reaction is to look inward, saying that in terms of violent behavior, video games have not influenced me. At the same time, I thought that if I were to raise a young (say, 5 year old) child, I would not allow them to play a violent video game. This is because children are susceptible to the content in media. Video games, and I suppose I could include cartoon violence, are in the realm of fantasy. People that commit crimes and say they based their crime on some movie or game is simply making a scapegoat of media. These people most likely have other problems in their lives. Video games may have played some role, but I would regard their impact as minor. The bullying which takes place in school shootings, or perhaps family situations in suicide cases are disregarded when someone says “I copied what I saw in Grand Theft Auto”. All of a sudden the games are to blame and not the classmates for their incessant teasing or the parents who were never home. What is worse is somehow we try not to blame the kid himself, but to find other people to blame. The one who pulled the trigger is not wrong, but the guy developing the media is. People who carry out crimes because of video game violence probably have something wrong with themselves.

The problem with video game violence is children being exposed to it when they are not ready to make decisions on the content being presented to them. That is, when playing a video game, a player should be able to realize the difference between the game and real life. In “Media & Society”, Arthur Asa Berger presents research which shows that “Media violence is especially damaging to young children (under the age of eight)… Violent images in television and in movies may seem real to young children, and they can be traumatized by viewing these images” (162). Children may be under the impression that shooting someone in a game is like shooting someone in real life, or that there is no consequence to one’s actions. For years now, I have heard that parents should monitor their children’s behavior and the content they are receiving from media. However, problems continue to arise with parents constantly busy with work, it is difficult to monitor what a child is doing.

I just read through an article from


from June ’07. It made me think about the progression of video games and the portrayal of violence in the past 10 years. The years when South Park raised huge controversy and Mortal Kombat’s blood sparked outrage among parents of young children playing the game. The Mortal Kombat outrage made the developers change the blood to “sweat”, and include a button code to change the sweat into blood again. The Super Nintendo version was shipped with red blood and it was a strange pleasure to play with blood instead of the watered down Sega Genesis version. In general, the progression of violence in video games is probably just business for some of these development companies. The coverage of video games with excessive violence seem to attract more people to ultimately buy the game. I believe that was the success of Mortal Kombat, and continues to be the reason for success for a lot of games (i.e. Manhunt 2 which has been banned from a number of countries for its excessive violence or Grand Theft Auto another game which has brought on heavy controversy). Having excessive violence has become a marketing ploy. After all, some news coverage is better than no news coverage.

and my response to JD and America's Army coming soon...

ok, so while video games and becoming more realistic, I think that America's Army is going too far in this. A look at their website should show that they are pushing the reality of it. As the 18-24 demographic represents a large majority of gamers (surprisingly to some), America’s Army is a great for hitting the target audience. In fact, the game is rated “T for teens”, meaning 13 and up according to the ESRB (the association which rates the content in video games). The age rating means that people at as young as 13 may be exposed to this Army simulation. For people at this age, there still may be some misperceptions about the Army. I don't think that people will join the game solely because they are good or like the game. It is foolish to think that people will join the Army based on this, but this is the angle the Army marketing is working apparently. The game is not going to be like reality no matter how hard they try. However, they are going ahead and presenting it like it is real. While it may not succeed in its purpose, the sheer idea of having it used as a recruitment tool is what makes me the most annoyed.

Although it's 2 days later, I can't help but to add this story I stumbled upon on Kotaku. Bascially, someone who had gone through medical training in America's Army (and had no other previous medical training) was able to help 2 people at the scene of a highway accident. Wow, video games can teach us things too!

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