“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock n’ roll.”
So this old complaint against games has reared its ugly head again in the wake of yet another horrific and evil mass shooting, and it seems to have caught the attention of the general public coming off the lips of some talking heads and political talking heads. I am of course referring to the suggestion by some that violence in video games has some part in leading to inflicting violence in real life by those who consume those video games. Despite the fact that one of the express purposes of this site is to encourage discussion, even through civil disagreement where necessary, I originally thought I’d avoid writing about the return of this complaint against video games as this time it’s become politically charged in the extreme. I eventually realized that this could be a good opportunity for a variety of people to share their thoughts, weigh in on why they believe what they believe.
I imagine that many of you reading this will have strong feelings toward the assertion that video games lead to violent actions, and you may have reasons formulated as to why that is or why that isn’t (though I’m guessing the majority of our readers lean toward denying the assertion). My interest then is why? Why do you believe that video games either cause or do not cause violence, whatever that relationship may or may not be?
I’m inviting you to share your thoughts, your studies, your polls, your statistics, your data, and your voices in this discussion as gaming has suddenly come under unexpected attack. There’s no push for identifying with some political ideology of any kind here. Rather, I’m interested in hearing why it is that you’ve reached your conclusion in this matter. The result of a collaboration of so many voices means that eventually we’ll have a community-wide body of resources in the form of blog posts, links, and comments, so while you might believe that this is a settled issue, the risk remains that there may be some out there who are not convinced on the matter either way and could benefit from such a broader, multi-faceted, collective take on the question at hand. If not, then at least we’ve attempted to have a decent discussion on a controversial issue, which in today’s day and age is something to be greatly valued.
You can participate in answering this big, cultural question either in a comment below or in a completely separate blog post where you have the space to compile all the data and research you wish to substantiate your conclusions! Just ensure you link back here so we can see you answer. Sounds at least more exciting than saying “yes” or “no”, right? I’ll only suggest that you formulate your answer in a clear and polite way since nobody is convinced by name-calling (however eloquent or accurate) or shouting matches and condescension. You’re free of course to reply however you like, though. Even in CAPS LOCK.
For my own part, and I’ll be brief here because I especially don’t want to color potential answers to this question with my own opinion, but I’ll also be serious. I think that people may have real concerns but be really misguided at the same time (if not flat out incorrect); I avoided picking a caricature for a header image for this post because I’m not interested in sullying the clarity of the conversation with maligning personalities or demonizing those I disagree with. There’s quite enough of that in our social interactions without having to invite that into talk about games.
That said, I don’t believe that there is a tangible connection between playing violent video games and inflicting real world violence. A couple things I’d like to unpack in that statement.
One, I stress the significance of the phrase “violent video games”. Certainly we should be able to demonstrate that not all video games are violent or even depict violence in the same sense. Some video games are as violent as WWII, some are as violent as a Scorcese movie, some video games are as violent as your typical anime fight scene, some are as violent as Looney Tunes cartoons, and some are as violent as a stroll through a meadow or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I mean it’d be silly to call Tetris any more violent than solving a Rubik’s Cube. The importance of this emphasis is in demonstrating that not all video games depict the same levels of violence, and some aren’t violent at all. Many players avoid the more violent stuff anyways and parents and ratings play a large role in limiting the amount of extreme or gratuitous violence that children witness (a separate issue from adult gaming).
Two, many video games do more than depict, they glamorize violence. While I don’t see a connection with these games causing people to be violent, I don’t think I could let some games “get off the hook” in the sense of depicting violence in such a way as to make it “hyper-cool”. Applauding and parading the attributes and attitudes of violence, indulging in it, to me is a negative attribute but it doesn’t make these games culpable in mass shootings, neither is the glamorization of violence unique to games as an art form. That’s been present throughout our creative works since paintings of war, to poetry championing great heroes of old, to the ancients carving stone into the figures of warriors.
Three, the direct causal element of the argument which posits that a person plays a violent video game and then goes out and copies that action in real life may be a kind of strawman. I don’t know whether people really believe that happens or not, but I would hope that at least the more sensible ones who believe that such a connection exists don’t believe in a direct causal relationship but an indirect, influential one.
Four, finally, there’s my own personal impression of violence, which I somewhat already touched on with the above point on glamorization. Personally, I dislike hyper-violent games. They’re a turn off to me. This is not me grandstanding or doing some kind of quasi-moral, self-righteous gesturing in the wake of a tragedy and a controversial complaint arising. Look back at the games I’ve reviewed in the course of two full years and you’ll see what sort of games I typically play. I approach games as symbols of joy and fun, which a lot of them are, and for some reason I like to reserve the more violent, self-serious depictions for film where I have a chance to passively experience it in a shorter duration of time than it takes to finish a game, then think about it and move on, rather than interact with it.
One of my main personal… “complaints” isn’t the right word but I can’t think of another one… one of the reasons I disliked The Last of Us was that a lot of it wasn’t and couldn’t be entertainment to me. I’m not entertained by the deaths of children. I’m repulsed by it. While that occurs in a film I like such as Grave of the Fireflies, the tonality of those two works are different and again there is the matter of time-spent and interactivity (note, again, I am not singling out The Last of Us as being complicit in real world crimes). So while that game is in many ways very well presented and put together, of high quality, it’s that subjective preference for not thinking about horrible things for hours and hours and hours which turned me off of it.
I hope you can appreciate that distinction I’m trying to make. Especially as a father, I don’t want to think about dead kids or the molestation of minors in my entertainment (which games are; no amount of latching onto the medium as an art form eradicates that). I’m not entertained by extreme violence, nor do I personally want my thoughts to be dominated by so much hopelessness and bleakness for great lengths of time, which does not equate to me not wanting to think about the ugly side of life. I’ve already explained my personal approach to games as distinct from film, and I could say as distinct from literature as well.
You may have noticed how far beyond the actual question that this all goes, but I felt it was something worth mentioning, at least. And besides, nobody can take away my preferences. Similarly, I’m not incriminating anyone who enjoyed that game (but I’m guessing you didn’t enjoy it primarily or solely on the basis of dead children or molestation, anyhow).
So that’s that! Respond as you like, in comments or posts, I welcome you! Don’t forget to link back to this post so we all can benefit from your voice.
Again I think a lot of people may have some very strong opinions on this. I’m anticipating getting the response at least once “Why are we even talking about this?!”, just as we did when we asked if games are art, but I think I’ve made it clear that the value isn’t just in answering the question itself, but compiling those answers for the curious. Most importantly… the value is in having the discussion itself.
I repeat: The value is in having the discussion itself. If there’s one attribute and attitude I am willing to champion, it’s free, civil, decent discussion between people with a diverse range of thoughts and opinions. In other words, the spine of Western civilization.
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a community of authors with paid contributors, a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing! See our Patreon page for more info!
Categories: Asking Big Questions