In defense of video games

Hendrich, C

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this nation found itself locked once again in the circle of sadness, anger, and confusion that follows mass shootings. Once again, this nation found itself asking itself what could be done to prevent another such shooting from happening again.

Ad

Predictably, solutions began to fall along the traditional gun-rights/gun-control lines. One demanded tighter controls on the sale and possession of guns, and the other explained at length the need to issue more guns to more people as a deterrent.

The National Rifle Association, after its usual declaration that it was too soon after the tragedy to discuss gun control, identified a different culprit: Violent Video Games, amongst other things.

NRA Chairman Wayne LaPierre launched a vicious tirade against games such as Bulletstorm, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto as the root cause of the violence amongst the youth in America. Saying “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games.”

Forgetting for the moment that the NRA recently released its own first person shooter, and has endorsed gun related video games in the past; you may as well assume that anyone who picks up a video game instantly transforms into a crazed murderer.

As a gamer myself  I can tell you that the notion that playing a violent video game inherently makes someone more violent is utterly false. Cause a lot of other problems (such as self-entitlement, addiction, and obesity) definitely, but certainly not violence.

For one thing, there is no correlation (which is not the same thing as causation) between playing video games and violence. A study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime tracked the consumption of video games (that is, how many video games are purchased in a given year) against the number of gun-related murders in those countries. The countries that exhibited the greatest number of video games purchased were the Netherlands and South Korea, both of which have record low numbers of gun related deaths. The United States purchased two-thirds less video games, but has a higher number of gun related deaths than the rest of the other countries studied combined.

The trend actually goes downwards, rather than upwards which indicates that there is no correlation between murdering someone with a gun and playing a video game. If you need more proof, the FBI statistics on violent crime indicates that violent crime has been on the decline since 2005, despite record sales of games like Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Video games are being purchased in record numbers, but violent crime is going down.

I, personally, find the notion that I am incapable from telling fiction from reality insulting. Killing in fiction is a far different scenario that killing in reality. In fiction, there are not any penalties for shooting another player. I know perfectly well that what I just shot is not a living thing, much less another human being. I also know that I myself am not going to be killed by bullets on the screen that other players are firing at me.

The adrenaline rush from the “Fight-or-Flight” instinct that would be there in reality is not present. The fear of a painful death, the relentless need of my body to be alive, and the necessary know-how to fire a gun are also notably absent when I play video games. Holding and using a gun is not, in any way, equivalent to holding a controller or using a mouse to play a game.

All of this, of course, operates under the assumption that video games (and by extension, the media at large) are ultimately responsible for violence. It also pointedly ignores the reason why violence in the media exists in the first place. The reason for that lies squarely in the laps of the American people.

Ad

Media is a reflection of the society that gave birth to it. If a society emphasizes something over another, then media dutifully follows that. In our case, American society is violent. Violence is popular, and violence sells well. Violence is pervasive in our movies, our TV Shows, our books, in sports, and in our news. It is rare for there to be a work of fiction that does not involve violence at all in some form or another. That is what we like to hear because it is exciting for us.

Like it or not, we are a violent culture. If you need proof, just ask someone how they feel about the US Military. Soldiers, at their core, are men and women who are trained to kill other people. That’s a fact, and the perceived purpose of their job (attacking another country to preempt a threat, or defending we the people) is superficial and irrelevant. Soldiers are trained to wage war, which is violence in its purest and most widely accepted form. They have no other purpose to their work.

But you would be hard pressed to find an American who does not appreciate the sacrifice these people make on our behalf. You would be even harder pressed to find someone who openly hates the men and women of our armed services. There are not a whole lot of them, and there is a reason for that. A lot of us are taught, either by family or the people around us, to appreciate the choice of an individual to lay their life on the line for this country. It is a hard influence to avoid.

I’m aware of the problem posed by excessive militarism, and its influence on American violence, but I still respect the military immensely. I am from Colorado Springs, a city that has an enormous military presence, where it is impossible to not find respect for what these people do. I have friends that are actively serving overseas, or who have family that are.

The problem of violence in America has nothing to do with our media; it has nothing to do with people playing video games. Violence occurs because we are violent, and that is what we are going to have to change if we have any hope of preventing mass shootings. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen, if it is possible at all.

Of course, you do not have to take my word for it. If you personally feel that video games would make you more violent, then you are free to abstain from them. As with all forms of media, there is no law mandating that you partake, or other forms of persuasion that indicate that you should. If you do not want to, then you do not have to. That is perfectly fine.

For parents worried about the potential influence of video games on their kids, the solution is even simpler: Don’t let them play them. Believe it or not, this is something that the video game industry takes fairly seriously. After complaints in the early 1990’s about the impact (or potential impact) of violent games like “Mortal Kombat” on children, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board was created. The ESRB then came up with a rating system for games, so that parents can know which games are appropriate for their kids to be playing. These ratings range from E (appropriate for everyone) to AO (Adults Only), the idea being that the rating would discourage parents from allowing inappropriate games to be played by kids.

This is the what my parents did. I was first introduced to video games in the mid 1990’s, and from there on in my experience with them was rigidly controlled and enforced. The most violent game I was allowed to play back then was a Star Wars flight simulator. I was not allowed to play games that my parents felt were inappropriate for me.

I was allowed to play my first “T” rated game when I was 13. I was not allowed to touch games that were rated “M” until I was 17. I did not end up playing first person shooters until I had left home to go to CSU. That’s how the ESRB rating system should work. My parents took the ratings seriously, and did not let me play games that were rated for ages older than I was at the time.

If a parent does not want their kid to be playing “Call of Duty”, then that parent should be exercising their authority and taking the game away from their kid. In the parent-child relationship, the parent has all of the power; not the other way around.

Playing video games does not cause violence. Banning them, or using them as a scapegoat for violence in America is a waste of time, effort, and will not keep children safe.