Violence and Video Games

As people have probably noticed I have become addicted to video games.  I have an X-Box 360.  I belong to X-Box Live.  I post on the Bioware Social Network.  I’ve written a Mass Effect fanfic story.  And I ended up in an interesting debate/discussion with two couples at a dinner party last week.  These are folks I know from the barn.  We are all roughly the same age, and level of education.  The couple hosting the dinner party were teachers at an elite school in Connecticut.  The other couple are both psychiatrists.  Very bright people, very thoughtful people, very well educated people.  I, however, am the weird geek in the mix — the novelist, screenwriter, the gamer, etc.  Craig asked me if I thought video games were making out culture more violent and if they had an effect on people.  (By extension violent movies were included in this.)  I said no.  I did say I thought perhaps the lack of consequence in many of the games might be coarsening people, but I didn’t believe we could blame levels of gun violence on games and movies.

The two psychiatrists disagreed.  Firmly, profoundly.  These are people I respect.  They deal with mental illness so that had me questioning my position.  Was it just a knee jerk reaction because I love these games so much, and because I write movies and television?  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this since that dinner party.  Then I came across an article that talks about the fact that video games are ubiquitous in Japan, and that many of the Japanese games are far more violent, sexual and downright odd then the American games.  Yet this is a culture with an extremely low rate of violence.  So, I begin to think this goes far deeper then the games we play or the movies we watch.  This is baked into the culture.  We’re a relatively young country, stitching together a culture out of very disperate fabrics.  We’re not a homogeneous population.  We have the stain of slavery.  We have a celebration of the “rugged individual” because we had a frontier that didn’t exist in Japan or Europe.

I do think there should be more consequences to the choices you make when gaming.  In Dragon Age: Origins, if you play as a right bastard you are going to end up at that final battle with virtually no companions.  I know because  a friend of mine tried it.  She took every ugly, mean spirited choice just to see what would happen.  She had virtually no one with her for the final battle.  And that’s how it should be.  Unethical and evil choices should come with a cost.  These games should be about more than just racking up experience points by killing things and collecting shit.  Perhaps they can model behavior without being preachy.  Dragon Age certainly succeeded in that.

Entertainment that preaches or stands on a soapbox is no longer entertainment, but there are ways to subtly suggest that being an morally bankrupt person maybe isn’t the best approach to life.  We all want to be the hero of the story.  Maybe we should have to earn that.

4 Responses to Violence and Video Games

  • Georgino says:

    I am constantly amazed that rational people still demonize video games and movies for the behavior of people who have other mental issues or who go on violent crime sprees. These are the same people that would no doubt say that listening to Rap or Heavy Metal music leads to deviant behavior.
    I always find myself asking people who don’t want any sort of gun regulations or see any attempts at regulation to be an attack on their rights the question what would you suggest we do about stopping these crimes. If the answer I get is I don’t know I respond with “then why can’t we try this”.

    I have two kids and when I get married I will have 5. I guide the games and movies they can see. I’m careful to judge my kids and the movies they want to see or the games they want to play in relation to who my kids are and if it’s ok for them. My daughter loves murder mystery books. disney movies, the musical rent, and horror films that are really action films. not once have I thought to myself that these are bad for her or that somehow she’s being mentally diminished or negatively influenced by what she see and reads. She has been introducing her 7th grade friends to the Original Grimm’s Fairy Tales. by modern standards most of these stories are not fit for kids. Anyone who speaks about banning books these days is called out and attack by both sides of the political spectrum. Yet there is more violence in classic literature than in many questionable game.
    Lack of morality in our society is not the problem. Violence committed by the criminal or the mentally ill is not the problem. Our problem is the political process and the fact that it has stopped being a process.

  • Steve Halter says:

    People want easy answers. Even smart people like psychiatrists. Just looking at the List of countries by intentional homicide rate (homicide/100000 people ) on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate) and sorting by rate, it looks quite clear that video game playing is not the #1 correlation by a long shot. Offhand, it looks like poverty and general societal unrest play a much larger role.
    Then, if you look at the murder rate by year for the US (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate_by_decade), the rate in the US in 2011 was 4.7 while in 1970 it was 7.9. If you like at the US rate across the last 100 years, there is a clear trend downwards in the last decade. If any correlation between video games and homicide rates could apply at all (doubtful) a first look at the data would suggest that video games are helpful.

  • Rebecca Hewett says:

    I think this, like most things in life is complex and multifaceted and it would behove us all to try and look at multiple angles and ask hard questions rather than knee-jerk, simple, and possibly nothing but feel-good reactions.

    That being said, let me just poke at another facet. It is part of the parental responsibility to try and teach morals and that actions have a consequences. Up to a certain point in life, a parent *can* control what kids watch and play with and are the most influential force in their lives.

    As a ticket monkey at a theater, I saw lots of responsible parents preview movies before they let their children do see them (at any rating.) I also had parents who were just along for the ride without thinking or investigating what they were taking their kids to. Two examples are the father who was so selfish about wanting to see Spiderman, he wouldn’t take his about 5 year old son out of the theater when his son literally begged him to because he was scared. The other was the mother who was blithely taking her 8 or 9 year old to Sin City cause it was just a comic book. After several heavy handed hints from me she said that she didn’t care about the graphic violence as long as there wasn’t any sex. (Wish I hadn’t told her about the naked women.)

    At a certain point you can’t lay the blame for bad behaviour at the parent’s feet, but such apathetic/uncaring parenting just horrifies me and I can’t help but feel that that too does play, in some instances, a role.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    These are all super points, guys. Thanks for weighing in. Yes, parents take an interest and pay attention to what their kids are watching/reading/playing.

    And I made the point to the psychiatrists that if you look at even reasonably industrialized countries we are living in the safest era in human history. You’re chance of meeting a violent death, or being badly injured was really high prior to the 20th century.

    I think one thing that makes this so disturbing is the sheer fire power of these weapons. The speed at which they fire and the carnage they create. Put that carnage on the body of a 6 year old and people are going to have a reaction. And I agree with Vice-President Biden. If you have to go hunting with a 30 round magazine you must be a really lousy shot. And if you hit the deer with that many rounds you won’t have much left to eat.

    Anyway, thanks all for your input. When I discuss this with them again I’m going to bring all of this up.

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