Video Game Violence Is All Your Fault

Updated Wed, Jan 30, 2013 by Shayalyn

Don't Read This!: Mind Candy for the Hungry Gamer

Welcome to the first installment of Don't Read This. In this regular feature, Karen "Shayalyn" Hertzberg will delve into the mind of the average gamer, plumbing the unfathomable depths of his subcon- .... Eh, who are we kidding. Twice a month, we're going to talk about hot button issues that'll make you think, and may or may not piss you off. Enjoy!

Video Game Violence is All Your Fault

You'd forget your head if it wasn't attach-... Oh. Never mind.

I’ve never thought of myself as a violent person. Occasionally bitchy? Yes. Sarcastic? Yup. But violent? No, not really. While one person might watch a violent movie with a gleam in his eye, I’m more likely to be the person with her face buried in her hands, saying, “Tell me when it’s over.” I’ve learned to avoid ultra-violent movies and other media simply because I know that my tolerance for that sort of thing has its limits, and the threshold is fairly low.

But then again, I might have blown my record as a relative pacifist at a content team meeting a while back when Ten Ton Hammer’s editor-in-chief, Reuben “Sardu” Waters, asked what sorts of aspects of gaming we editors specialized in. He mentioned crafting as a specialty, admitting that he almost always ended up inadvertently drawn to it in MMOs. (Ah, crafting--such a placid pastime!) What was my special area of interest?

“I like to beat shit up,” I said. “I’m not sure we can parlay that into a specialty...”

“Well, sure we can,” Reuben said, “You specialize in combat.”

Combat. Yes. But not really. Not that specifically, at least. There are all sorts of gamers who specialize in MMO combat, from the numbers people with the DPS parsers who are trying to figure out how to pummel bad guys into submission with great efficiency to the ones who intimately analyze combat mechanics as a means to informing the development community on how to make MMO gaming more active and fun for players. I’m not one of those so much as...well, I really like to kill things. For me, it’s not a good MMO unless I’m motivated to get out there, kick the bad guys in the nads, and take away their stuff. (We need an MMO with a groin kick skill, complete with awesome animation. But I digress.) [UPDATE: My formerly SWTOR-addicted friends inform me that the Smuggler class does indeed have a groin kick skill, and that it is enjoyable. I stand corrected.]

I’m not a violent person by nature, and there are certain types of gratuitous violence in movies and even video games that I’ll turn away from, and yet violently thrashing my enemies in an MMO happens to be my favorite thing. I was, at first, put off by the proposed “heads will roll” violence in Age of Conan...until I played it and found myself cackling with wicked delight as my Herald of Xotli decapitated her first victim. What does that say about me? What does that say about any of us?

It’s in Every One of Us

Every so often (and far more often than we’d like to think), some unspeakable act of mass violence reignites talk of how the violence we’re exposed to affects our natures (or doesn’t, depending on which study you read). Just last week, President Barack Obama urged Congress to support a bill studying the effects of violence in media. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence,” he said. “Congress should fund research into the effects violent video games have on young minds.”

Work with me, kid! At least stop looking like a full-fledged vidiot.

When we see news reports of mass violence, we experience natural shock and horror. We mourn first, and then we immediately look for something to blame. Some of us blame guns. Some of us blame a failed mental healthcare system. Some of us blame media violence and Halo 3. And we’re probably all right to do so, to some degree, but there’s one thing we consistently fail to blame: ourselves.

We’re not violent because video games are; video games are violent because we are. The Muppets once sang, “It’s in every one of us / to be wise...” but it’s also in every one of us to be a dick, or even to be homicidal. We’re quick to insist that little Timmy is out there throwing rocks at stray cats because he’s been exposed to his older brother shooting cops and killing hookers in Grand Theft Auto, but we fail to consider that Timmy might just be a mean little shit, and that he would be one with or without help from GTA. Maybe he’s been bullied in school, and he’s taking out his frustrations with an act of aggression that makes him feel powerful instead of powerless. Maybe he’s seen his parents behave violently. The seeds of aggression lay dormant until they’re given the right conditions in which to grow, and each of us provides a differently fertile soil based on our genetic predisposition, environment, and social factors.

Let’s face it--violence has lived with us for as long as we’ve lived. Our ancient myths are rife with tales of violent conquest. Violence exists in the stories of today’s religion, where divine creators destroy with fire, flood, famine and plagues; brothers slay brothers; and holy wars are considered righteous. From the moment the first early human bludgeoned another as a final means to settling a disagreement, we’ve lived in a violent world of our own creation. Violence in media didn’t just magically appear--we created it. We’re human: flawed and aggressive.

The Angry German Kid might be more flawed and aggressive than most.

Violence Begets Violence?

But, say the anti-media-violence types, exposure to violence in games, television, music and movies feeds our inherently violent natures!

A violent history that predates video games by many thousands of years would suggest otherwise. The Revolutionary War may have been a consequence of civilization, but it wasn’t inspired by Civ V. Albert Fish didn’t need to watch The Silence of the Lambs for pointers on cannibalistic serial killing. Although some studies would suggest that violent video games do correlate with more aggressive behavior, they’re inconclusive and contradictory. Some have decided agendas, with researchers carefully selected to champion a certain cause. Not to mention, testing aggression levels immediately after playing a video game doesn’t necessarily relate to overall aggression. I probably have elevated aggression levels whenever someone cuts me off in traffic, but that doesn’t mean that my aggression is going to linger--it’s a momentary spike that some of us are better equipped to handle emotionally than others.

The answer to aggression and violence isn’t a simple one, and there’s no singular thing to which we can assign blame. What could come of President Obama’s proposed studies should they become reality? If we can draw firm conclusions that exposure to media violence is making our aggressive tendencies worse, then we owe it to our society to do something about it. Somehow, though, I don’t think we’ll be ready for that until we’re ready to accept our primal human nature and begin taking responsibility for ourselves, rather than seeking out a scapegoat.

so, what if these studies do prove not only correlation but causation? Does that mean we ban violent video games? Or you have to get a license to have them? Pass a background check? I know you're ultimately saying that we have to be responsible for our flawed human nature first, but I'm just saying what if. This crap always scares me--government funded studies on the affects of this or that. Feels like a witch hunt to me. So, you get rid of violent video games and...then what? How are you going to stop exposing kids to the violence they see on the nightly news or on the streets or in their own backyards?

I can say with certainty that I have been exposed to more horrific violence watching the evening news than in the entirety of my experiences with gaming combined.

Here is the thing though: even if the bill passes and a study is conducted, the government won't take action based on the results unless doing so won't have a negative impact on the economy. If anything, they need to evaluate the effectiveness of the ratings systems we use to inform consumers about the content found in film, games, television, and music.

For example, saying a game is rated M and thus cannot be purchased by minors does not really address the reason why that particular game should not be played by minors. All it means is you either have to be a little creative to acquire a copy, or have your parents buy it for you. The midnight launch of GTA IV is a perfect example: of the 100 people in line at my local game store, over half of them were parents buying a copy for their children.

The ESRB gave the game an M rating, so it's not their responsibility.

The publisher complied to the ESRB review board requirements, and clearly labeled the game with the assigned rating, so it's not their responsibility.

The GameStop employees technically sold the game to an adult, so it's not their responsibility.

As Karen suggests here, the responsibility is ours, and ours alone. If I buy a violent game for my nephew it is my responsibility, just like it would be if I knowingly served him rancid fish that made him sick.

Stay tuned. Parental responsibility (such a dry-sounding topic, but I promise I'll make it entertaining) is the next thing I intend to grumble about in this column.

Well, since you're going to rely on studies... (Damn, I don't have time for ths, but still I'll have a go at trying to stay coherent)
There are certain, well established facts that do point in the direction that violent behavior is based on mimicry (e.g. the bobo doll experiments). Most Studies concerning video game violence are correlational designs which don't give evidence for causal effects (thats not entirely true, if you have enough data an use path models or cross-legged designs but I won't go there now since I'm not really the expert on that matter^^). Another Issue is the operationalization of "violence" and "video game violence", or in normalspeak: how these things are measured. In some studies you might find that "video game violence" means Doom 3, in another it's Tetris (ok, a wee bit exaggerated but you get the draft). Apart from these Problems there seems to be no easy "A explains B" solution to the data that's gathered until now. Both might be the case with a slight tendency to "video games -> violence" in the last years, but well... it certainly is an argument that the news show more violence than the average game. Its a complex matter thats broken down to sizeable bits for headlines and 2-minute-newscasts. I guess parental responsibility would indeed be a larger factor in explaining the childs aggressiveness (In adults the causes should lie elsewhere anyhow).

Just my two cents. Cheers!

It do has some bad effect, so protect children is more important. But to some adult, it is a good entertainment.

I agree with you. I remember clearly,d uring the Vietnam War, on TV, without a warning, they showed a soldier pointing a gun at a man's head and pulling the trigger. There was no delay on TV then (and that is why we have it now). No delay, so we saw it all.

It really messed me up, emotionally. Loss of innocence or something. I never looked at the world the same after that. I knew it was real. In video games, it is basically bottomline a cartoon.

I think that they are blaming the surface of the problem: they need to look further into prescription meds withdrawal and/or bad interactions; poor follow up with medication; poor follow up with psychological professionals, home environment, and physical and emotional illnesses.

We have found that the increase rates of violence especially in kids are just because of video games and other sources. There are several types of video games such as racing games; sports (cricket; football; tennis) those are quite applicable for kids. But a war and other action packed games are completely responsible for increasing violence among kids. We should watch our kid activities in order to protect their mentality. In case you need any suggestion and have any type of question regarding video games just go through here.

News from around the 'Net