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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gazing Into The Abyss: The Ugly Truth About Violent Video Games

Which makes more sense to you? That violent video games are responsible for the violence in our culture? Or that violent video games are a reflection of our violent culture? It’s a tough question to ask, probably even tougher to answer, but it’s still an important question to ask if we truly want to open up meaningful discussions about video game violence and its connection with real-world violence.

 A recent article over at Polygon written by Brian Crecente titled Video Games don’t create violence in society, they reflect it argues that violent video games aren’t a catalyst of real-world violence but a byproduct. In a society that hypes up violent themes in everything from books and magazines to movies, television shows, even major news and media outlets, wouldn’t it only make sense that video games follow suit?

The article quotes pop culture aficionado and Gamesutra editor Leigh Alexander when she says "Media always has something to say about our society….We can always take the pulse of our times in popular media, and in light of that I think violent games can never be 'just for fun,' meaningless or existing in some context-less vacuum."

Ms. Alexander’s quote was in response to the overwhelming backlash that has been aimed at violent video games by organizations such as the N.R.A. which recently made a public statement proclaiming the video game industry to be a "callous, corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people." Bold words, but what the N.R.A. fails to realize is that now is not the time to be pointing fingers.

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, violence has become an ingrained aspect of human nature and we can’t be blaming movie makers or authors or, yes, even video game makers for giving us more of what we want. No, I’m not saying every single human being has a secret violence fetish, but when the top-grossing movies, games, books, and t.v. shows all happen to have violence woven into their narrative, wouldn’t you agree that *other* movie and game makers might pick up on that detail?

What I have trouble understanding is this crusade that many organizations, such as the N.R.A., seem to be on, the end goal being to blur the line between fictional violence and real-world violence. There appears to be this sort of clash between people who want more “realistic” violence in fictional media and people who want to shame that very same media for giving people what they want. 

Crecente’s Polygon article also quotes Kate Edwards, the president of the International Game Developers Association (I.G.D.A.): "The role of violence in storytelling is as old as human history, and it has long served a purpose in conveying values of honesty, courage, confidence and perseverance. If games were the first medium to have a compelling influence over society, I could understand the obsession with imbuing them with powerful qualities of changing human behavior at a fundamental level, but this is not the case.”

Edwards explains that game developers are very aware and cognizant of the role violence serves within their games and that the reason violent video games are so popular is because violence is a medium that many gamers of our generation are instantly familiar with. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does put more pressure on both game developers and the games themselves. It’s easy to find a connection between a real-life killer and a violent video game they happened to play and say “case closed” but at the end of the day that doesn’t really solve anything.

Were the Ancient Romans “wrong” for glorifying gladiatorial bloodsports? Were Medieval Nobles “wrong” for upholding chivalry, a code that often necessitated participating in brutally violent tourneys and wars? Not at all, they were, as Ms. Alexander and Mr. Crecente put it, reflecting the ideology of their times. Working to understand *why* we have such a fascination with violence would be a much more noble endeavor than just blaming video games *for* violence, wouldn’t you agree?

My one hope as we move into a new year is that the ratio of blame vs. understanding will at least start to weigh more in the latter’s favor. I like to think that the understanding human beings have about their own nature is an ever-evolving entity and the temptation to suffocate that understanding under a blanket of blame is something we have to constantly struggle against. Finding meaningful answers is never an easy process and we shouldn’t cheapen that struggle for the sake of our own agendas or the sake of our own peace of mind.

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

1 comment:

  1. A very insightful look into the current state of affairs, with violence in video games being looked at by the US government. Have subscribed, as your writing style is awesome, and you have some very unique and interesting perspectives. Thank you for writing this.