The Blame Game: Video Games & Violence
My name is Andrew John Wallace; I am a 23 year old college student and an avid gamer. For those of you who don’t know, a gamer is classified as someone who spends most of his or her leisure time playing video games of some sort. My age puts my birth in the year 1985; coincidently, this is the same year that the “Nintendo Entertainment System”, or NES for short, was released, and what many believe to be the birth of modern day gaming. Throughout the years, video games have come under great scrutiny from several different factions. Many have claimed that there is a direct correlation between violent video games and real world violence and aggression. To make this correlation is not only illogical, but also irresponsible.
Supporters of the video game industry have argued for years that there has never been any substantial proof linking violence in video games to the cause of real world violence. They argue that real world violence is the result of a variety of complex motivating factors, and that no mentally healthy children could ever become violent killers through playing video games. "Gang members don't commit drive-by shootings simply because they played a video game, nor do school kids shoot others simply because they played a video game," write Robert Richards and Clay Calvert, professors of communications and law at Pennsylvania State University.
“Critics, however, argue that young people can easily become desensitized to violence by playing games in which they are encouraged to kill and brutally harm others. The increasing realism of video-game graphics is also cause for alarm,” as “First-person shooters literally place gamers in the eyes of a killer. The result is a far more visceral and potentially, a far more dangerous gaming experience than that provided by older video games”. Critics of violent video games insist that such games are dangerous killing simulators that are teaching are youths that extreme violence is a beneficial and acceptable way of life. "Kids are being rewarded for pulling the trigger and killing people," says David Hiller, the national vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police organization in the world. Many of the violent video games popular with our society reward players for killing specific characters or inflicting great amounts of devastation upon a certain area with points or currency of some sort. The critics suggest that these violent games are essentially training our children to commit murder in order to be rewarded. It is true that most of the individuals who have committed school shootings in America have been gamers, but according to the newest federal crime statistics juvenile violence in United States is currently at a 30-year low. It also reveals that the majority of prisoners serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media than the average person in the general public. “Young people in general are likely to be gamers with 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls playing video games”. The overwhelming risk factor for school shootings has been revealed to be mental instability and the quality or lack thereof of one’s home life. The moral panic that has engulfed the culture of violent video games is even doubly harmful, leading adult authorities to be overly suspicious and hostile towards children who already feel exiled from normal society. With the amount of energy being misdirected from the true cause of youth violence the actual problem continues to further fester and boil.
There are many fallacies surrounding the video game culture; for example, many people have the false conception that gamers are an anti-social people or are socially isolated, yet studies have proven that almost 60 percent of gamers play with friends, Thirty percent play with siblings, and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. With these numbers in mind along with the introduction of online capability for the home console, developers are specifically designing games with multi-player capabilities and co-operative game play to better cater to the growing community of socialized gaming.
Former attorney Jack Thompson, who was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for allegations of professional misconduct, is an avid critic of violence in video games and has argued that many of the video games sold to the general public are violent killing simulators. With some of the world’s most popular video games originally being developed by the military for use in sniper training, Thompson believes that these games are having a suppressing effect on our inhibition to kill. The Department of Defense has set up the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California to create what he words as “virtual reality killing simulators” or what we more commonly refer to as video games. The Department of Defense then frees the video game industry to sell these “Killing Simulators” or video games as I like to think of them to the open civilian market. The most recent example of this is Full Spectrum Warrior made by Pandemic studios for the Department of Defense, which is now a top selling video game across the country. David Grossman, a former psychologist and moral reformer for the military, believes that because the military is using video games in their habituation and training of soldiers, that the generations of youths who play similar games are being conditioned for aggressive behavior in their everyday social lives. However Grossman’s theory only works in a context where players are unable to question what they are being presented and show no resistance to what they are being taught, as the military uses games as a specific part of their curriculum where students have an actual need for the information being taught and where there are real life consequences for not mastering these skills.
Much like other forms of entertainment, video games have a rating system set up by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB for short. The ESRB was created after a congressional hearing on the subject of violence in video games was held. During the hearing, representatives from many different video-game companies faced questioning from senators regarding the violent content within their games. Following the hearing, Congress said that unless the video-game industry could develop a content-rating system within one year, the federal government would be forced to step in and regulate video-game content. In July 1994, an industry-funded organization, the ESRB, received approval from Congress to award ratings to video games based on their content.
Critics of the ESRB state that the current system is simply not effective enough in preventing children from purchasing inappropriate games, citing a Federal Trade Commission study conducted in 2003 which found that 69% of children between the ages of 13 and 16 who wanted to purchase M-rated games were easily able to do so, and a 2004 study, conducted by the New York City Council, which determined that 16-year-olds living in New York had a nearly 90% success rate in purchasing games intended for adults aged 17 and up. These critics also insist that these violent video games are of a harmful nature and that the content should “logically make them subject to obscenity laws. Children cannot legally purchase pornography, critics argue; therefore, they should also be legally barred from purchasing games that contain sexual content and graphic violence.” They further insist that violent video games are having a negative effect on our children’s health, and that like alcohol or tobacco, violent video games rated mature should be forbidden to sell to minors. Critics are demanding that a governmentally regulated system be instigated to ensure that our youths are not obtaining violent video games. “They argue that the video-game industry's rating system needs to be enforced far more firmly than it is now, with mandatory penalties for retailers who fail to comply with the age requirements established by the ESRB”.
Supporters of the ESRB disagree with the notion that video-game sales need to be more closely monitored and regulated by any federal or state government. In fact “The Federal Trade Commission has found that 83 percent of game purchases for underage consumers are made by parents or by parents and children together”. Proponents of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board point to the Motion Picture Association of America, another self regulating entity that has been praised over the years for its successfulness without any outside intervention from federal or state authorities. “Like the motion-picture industry, the video-game industry should be allowed to police itself, supporters maintain”. The supporters of the video-game industry are quick to point out that every attempt made by federal, state, or local authorities to implement stricter regulations on the industry has so far failed, with almost every attempt being dismissed as unconstitutional. For example, an Illinois state law that would have restricted the sale of games determined to be too realistic in depicting human on human violence. What exactly does the term realistic mean anyway, and who determines the level of realism. When a vague term like realistic is implemented, it can have a catastrophic effect on freedom of speech and furthermore lead to unnecessary government intervention in the video-game rating system to the point of censorship.
There is also a large misconception that most gamers are youths or teenagers where, according to a May 2006 study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer in the U.S. is 33 years old. Less than a third of all gamers are 18 years of age or younger, with 62 percent of the console market and 66 percent of the personal computer market falling into the range of ages 18 and older. Surprisingly, a quarter of the overall gaming population falls into the category of being 50 years of age or older, a staggering revelation to those even within the gaming community.
Supporters of the video game industry argue that video games are actually beneficial to the healthy development of the young mind, as they require players to construct hypotheses, solve problems, develop strategies, and learn the rules of the in-game world through trial and error. Gamers must also be able to juggle several different tasks, evaluate risks and making quick decisions. Playing games is, thus, an ideal form of preparation for the workplace of the 21st century. Supporters are also quick to point out that the national crime rate has been cut nearly in half since the year 1993, “the same year that Mortal Kombat was released and video games started to become bloodier and more violent”. These statistics would indicate that there is no actual link between violence in video games and real life violence. Some proponents have even gone as far as to argue that the decrease in violent crime is directly linked to violent video games as people now have the ability to unleash their baser impulses threw violent video games.
Finally, many video-game supporters say that the controversy over video-game violence is completely overblown, and is the result of a lack of understanding between age groups. The controversy fits into an age-old narrative, proponents say: A new form of entertainment seizes the imagination of a country's youth, yet their elders look for reasons to criticize that new form. Video-game advocates point out that in the past, rock and roll, jazz, comic books, movies, novels and even dancing the waltz were condemned by adults at one point. Each of those forms has since been accepted, video-game supporters argue that it is a matter of time before video games are recognized as an ultimately benign form of entertainment. With the rise of the video game industry surpassing every other form of entertainment in regards to income, it will undoubtedly continue to come under scrutiny from the misinformed and disingenuous. But for those who support such a great cause like video games stay steady in the fact that this amazing technology will further educate and enhance us as a people.