October 22, 2020
Video Games & Violence

Violence. It’s a word that can inspire plenty of terrible imagery.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had moderately violent tendencies as a child. My brother would be the second since he was a target of my abuse from the moment he was born until the age he figured out how to fight back. But why? What was it that encouraged these occasional surges of aggression? Little Bunny Foo-Foo.

Little Bunny Foo-Foo hoppin’ through the forest, scoopin’ up the field mice and BOPPIN’ them on the head~

It was one of my favorite songs as a kid, so of course, Mom played it all the time.  She would have me dress up and dance around to it while videotaping me, during which I’d re-enact the lyrics by smashing my stuffed animals into the carpet with a dollar store magic wand. I can’t recall whether Mom laughed and called it cute or told me to stop, but either way, I was getting the positive reinforcement I wanted: I was getting attention.

This is what some people say video games do. They grant us feelings of accomplishment and rewards for aggression and/or violent behavior! They expose our innocent youth to mature content! Rally your pitchforks and wave your signs, concerned parents of America! Video games are definitely the only things causing our kids to shoot people, right?

Video games like Grand Theft Auto are notorious for gameplay that revolves around disobeying the law, whether you’re running from the cops in a high-speed chase or beating hookers with a golf club. Then there are the plethora of first-person shooters that put you in the shoes of respectable, tough heroes that make their points with blood splattering bullets, the gory hack n’ slashers like God Of War, the bone-crunching horror genres like Dead Space 2 with its infamous ‘Your Mom Hates This’ campaign.

Are game designers purposefully adding over-the-top violence to their games on purpose? Yes, of course they are. It’s a goal of design. When they brainstorm ideas for a game, one of their many creative statements has to be something along the lines of ‘The game will punctuate its action sequences with excessive gore to emphasize the death of enemies.’ Yes, your Mom may hate this game because of it, but I’m quite sure that’s why there’s a mature rated sticker on the front of the box.

What drives me up the wall is that parents can’t be bothered to filter what their kids are exposed to nowadays. A lot of people use the ‘we’re too busy’ excuse, which to me always translated to ‘we’re too lazy.’

I will argue the opposite side of this debate in defense of the parents in a bit, but for now let me pull from experience as a previous employee of everyone’s favorite love-to-hate retail store, GameStop. I was employed seasonally at a local GameStop from October to January in 2010, during which my manager repeatedly reminded us that selling M-rated games to minors would cost us our jobs. There were (apparently) frequent visits of secret shoppers from the company that would pose as young teens or children with parents that would bring an M-rated game to the counter. If you forgot to warn the parent of the content or sold the game to the underage customer, you would be fired on the spot. It happened to one of the employees that had worked there a bit before me, apparently. It was a little nerve-wracking, but easy for me personally to bring up before purchases went through. I don’t know, maybe I just enjoyed proverbially cockblocking teeny boppers from their weekly dose of bloodshed.

‘This game contains gore, sexual content, and strong language as is rated M for Mature. The recommended age level for this game is 17 and up. Is that all right?’

Eight out of ten times, the father or mother would shrug and hand over the money as their eleven-year-old grinned from below the countertop. There were a few occasions, however, where the mother’s eyes would widen and ask me what sort of strong language, and then yank the game out of my hands while the kid cried and glared daggers at me. And oh, I would just smile so sweetly and go ‘Have a pleasant day!’ because I am evil.

Now, does every game store enforce their mature content policies like mine did? Of course not! They certainly should, but that still wouldn’t stop the kid from coming back with their older sibling to get their grubby paws on it. Or, you know, borrow it from or play it at their friend’s house.

As much as I grumble about parents actively censoring the content their kids are exposed to, I know it’s absolutely impossible to do so at all time. Little Betty could go over to Susie’s house and play Mortal Kombat all day, and her mother wouldn’t be any wiser. Does this mean that her mom fails as a parent? Not at all. Does this mean Betty is going to grow up tormenting animals and eventually eat her firstborn child? I certainly hope not.

Video games are not the sole cause of aggression or violent behaviors in today’s youth. Sure, there are factors in video games that contribute to it. Sure, they also have (until the big boom of motion gaming like the Wii, Kinect, and PS Move) a tendency to encourage a sedentary lifestyle and can ruin your eyesight.

In a perfect world, kids would be content to read books and play outside all the damn time — but this isn’t a perfect world. You can’t always go outside. You don’t always feel like reading a book. And if your parents don’t kick your butts into weekly nature walks or jogs or story time throughout the first couple years of your childhood, you’re not going to grow particularly fond of either right off the bat.

Let’s hear it again, parents! You’re busy. You work hard. You spend time with the kids, but you also need time for yourselves. So when the kids are acting bratty or want to run around, you turn on the TV to distract them because you’re just so darned exhausted. And you have every right to be!

But once the kids grow up, the cute cartoons on Disney and Nickelodeon aren’t going to stimulate and entertain their brains anymore. They flip channels; they find grown-up movies and shows that have been glorifying violence and sex since way before video games even existed. Then, when they see that neato shooter game in the window that gives them the ability to do that grown up stuff themselves — ‘well, darn, they want it! It’s not like they’re actually hurting anyone. They can’t get in trouble for it. It’s perfect!

Then there are the kids who use video games as a form of escapism. I know of a kid in high school who had a rough life at home, so he played a lot of violent games to take out his anger at the world. Did he ever let that slip into real life and inspire him to jack someone’s car and go on a killing spree? I’m sure that at the darkest moments of his life it was pretty tempting — but nope! He has enough self-control to remind himself that video games are fantasy and that fantasy doesn’t transition into the real world very well.

But what is it that makes kids fall from the slippery slope?

One of the points people argue is that, unlike movies, video games are an active experience. You press the button, and your avatar slashes a throat. In movies, you’re watching some guy rip another guy’s intestines out — but it’s not you. Movies and television are passive stories laid out in front of you. Video games, especially in this current generation, are all about the player’s story and how he or she puts all the events into motion.

Again, I acknowledge this line of logic. I can see and understand why people say video games are ‘worse’ in comparison to movies and TV. Not only is your character moving through the plot through aggressive behavior, but it’s glorifying it with achievements and trophies’”bragging rights!

But aren’t contact sports and the military kind of the same thing? No, before everyone jumps on me, I am not anti-military. I’m aware that contact sports don’t require you to kill other teams, and I’m not saying that the military is all about shooting guns. But name me a coach that only tells his players to gently tell the other team to shove off. Name me a mainstream action movie where the military never uses their guns by choice. The images that are implanted in our heads by the media around us build up a certain attitude and expectation of athletes and soldiers — to be strong, competitive, competent, and to do your best to win.

In video games, players take on that expectation of themselves. The game isn’t going to beat itself. You are the center of events. You need to make things happen. You need to be an active force in this virtual world, or time will stand still. It’s actually pretty intense. Non-gamers will probably look at us and say ‘it’s not a big deal, why are you getting so into it?’ because it’s not their thing. If those non-gamers are parents, well, they might start thinking their kid is crazy. If the kid starts acting out, well, they’ve been crazy ever since they started up that Xbox! That’s obviously the problem!

As an aside, I know that it’s easier to pick up a controller than to be on a sports team or join the military and is, therefore, more accessible to youths. Still, the fact that the general attitude is praised in one aspect but demonized in another is contradictive. Plus, as I’ve said, not every gamer turns out to become some sort of deviant. School shooters might have seen a cool killing move in a video game that they want to try out, but what actually pushes them into action are deeper emotional problems that need to be dealt with. Rather than blaming a piece of media (that could easily apply to any form of media), or even blaming the parents, people who campaign against video games should stop wasting time and money pointing fingers and more time figuring out ways to reach out to kids who are potentially harmful to others and themselves.

The worst part of the anti-video-game campaigners are the ones that don’t do their research and therefore do nothing but spread ignorance, which really does some of the worst damage to all parties. There was a news clip of a woman going on about how Mass Effect had a sex scene in it where you manipulated the woman partner. They brought in a Bioware rep who tried to professionally explain that any sex scene lasted no more than 20 seconds and was a pure cutscene, it was an event in the game that wasn’t easily accessed, that the only nudity you saw was the backside of the woman, that ‘manipulating’ meant conversation trees and dialogue choices, and that the game was rated M for Mature anyway, and shouldn’t be played by anyone under seventeen. They never gave him more than a few words per sentence, and dismissed him and trashed the game as if they had played it. The woman leading the crusade hadn’t played it to begin with, which should have discredited her completely from the start.

But I will address one of the points brought up in that particular news clip: Why do video games have to have ultra-violence or sexual content at all? There are perfectly good games out there, and not just the kiddie educational ones, that don’t utilize either aspect. Some great examples are Portal and Katamari Damacy (although Katamari is in a whole other realm in itself, I’ll admit).  So why put violence and sex in it at all?

Well, sure! I’ll be the first to sign the petition to put that law in place! But only if it applies to every form of media. I don’t just mean TV and movies. Books. Music. Advertisements. Who needs sex and violence? As terrible as it sounds, we all do. Remember the times of the Roman Empire, where everyone would run off to see the Gladiators rip each other to shreds? Remember my article on Lollipop Chainsaw that discussed how sex sells?

Attractive people catch your eye. Everyone slows down to stare as they drive past a car accident. Do we really need that respectable main heroine clad in nothing but a floss thong? Nope. But it’ll make you do a double take when you pass it on the shelf. Do we need that trailer where the brute of a hero rips heads off of his enemies? Nope. But chances are a lot of people are going to think that looked flippin’ sweet.

It’s stupid, but really — so is the human race. We’re full of biases and contradictions, our morals are complex and yet easily modified to how we feel.  I’m getting a little deep here, so I’ll stop now — but really, video games are only a tiny little symptom of violence in youth.

And seriously, if you’re afraid your kids are getting a bit too into the latest virtual gore fest–just talk to them! Say you’ll purchase Gut Smasher 3000 for them so long as they recognize that it is fantasy and that violent actions have unhappy consequences in real life. Everything in the world can be helped, if not completely solved, with a little clearer communication. I know you’re busy, parents, but you can do that much at least.

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