Violence in Video Games

With the influx of insanity and political crusading that been leveraged against violence in video games in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, I’ve felt more and more compelled to weigh in on the subject, if only to allow for a personal sense of catharsis. But before I begin, I do want to say that my heart goes out to the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, as well as their family, friends, classmates and coworkers. My thoughts and sympathies are with you, for what little that is worth. I do not wish to demean or cheapen the scope of your loss by talking about this subject, in fact I’ve avoided writing this for so long because that fear has always stopped me. But now, I do feel like I need to weigh in.

My thoughts on this are clear, blaming violence within video games simply is not the answer.

I’ve been spending the time to think critically about this, trying to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of “Video Games are Not Responsible” that the industry has come to assume in recent years. We’ve developed that reaction almost as a reflex, so frequently does our industry come under fire these days. For years, this has been my default reaction as well, to wave off claims of video games causing real-world violence as the media simply needed a scapegoat. But now, I wanted to dig in a little deeper, and look at the landscape of the debate as a whole.

From one side of things, I do see the logic involved in attributing these violent tendencies to playing violent video games. The content you will find in many M rated games, combined with the interactivity that does not appear in any other medium, as well as some standard “gamification” techniques(ex. being ‘rewarded’ for ‘kills’) can easily be interpreted as encouraging violent behaviour. But such a viewpoint doesn’t even disturb the surface of the issue, and I can’t help but feel like the true point has been lost behind all of the debate.

Though, to be frank, many of our counter-arguments aren’t great either.

One argument that seems to be thrown around in the face of controversy is the (relatively) recent Supreme Court ruling that video games are protected speech, effectively stating that they cannot be banned or regulated by the government. Though this was an important ruling as far as protecting the industries right to artistic freedom and expression, in the wake of accusations as to the violent nature of video games, this argument doesn’t help. All it will ever appear to be is the industry shouting back “You can’t stop us!” when violent content in video games is questioned.

Video games are commonly touted as sowing the seeds of violence in children at their most impressionable stage, to which the common defense is the ESRB system. “Video games with such content aren’t meant for kids!” we say. Now, this argument has more merit, but is still far too easy to poke holes in. It’s true that such games aren’t meant for children, and its even more true that kids are not the primary target for video games anymore, the average gamer being closer to 30 these days. So yes, kids should not be playing M rated games, but it’s also hard to deny that they play them anyway. Whether its through friends, older siblings, parental ignorance about video games or any combination of those, the causes are too many to point fingers at. So the ESRB system, while useful, is not a magic shield we can hide behind.

Honestly, I have no issues with the arguments that push for keeping violent video games away from kids. I share the opinion that an eleven year old should not be playing Call of Duty. What I take issue with is the situation wherin an individual commits an atrocity, then is seen to have played a video game at some point in his life. It’s only a matter of time from that point until the media announces its “Aha! It all makes sense now” moment.

It’s just wrong, and its demeaning to everyone involved.

It’s a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. Or in this instance, a case of missing the forest for a solitary shrubbery. The trend is certainly there that as violent video game sales have increased(dramatically) over the past ten years, actual gun or violent crime has decreased. Though we all know correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it’s still an interesting tidbit. For me, what it all comes down to is that any person who would commit such an atrocity has deep rooted issues and mental problems, that are far more than a surface love of video games. Even if video games are a contributing factor, they are a drop of water in a very large bucket.

When the media chooses to blame video games, to label them as the cause of such tragedies, it’s demeaning to everyone. To state that were in not for a video game, this tragedy would never have occurred? Were it not for a video game, the offender would have been a normal, functional human being?

I think we can all see the flaw in that argument.

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