The topic I chose to write about for this blog post is about whether or not violent video games can lead to violent tendencies in the people who play them. The reason I find this topic to be so compelling is because I’ve done research on this topic before in other classes and have found some very interesting things. I’ll just come right out and say it now, I don’t believe that violent video games cause violent tendencies in individuals. However, the topics I’ll be discussing will refer to the commonly used arguments by critics of video game violence. In regards to violence, I’ll be talking primarily about how it’s assumed that the games are to blame, how the game is perceived as reality, and how our primal instincts are inherently bad. So without further ado, let’s get into this!
The Game is to Blame
The first claim that most critics seem to have about video game violence is that the game is to blame for the violence exacerbated by individuals in recent media. Critics seem to believe that the video games themselves are violent, and the individuals who are playing them are not. That all sounds fine, however they go on to say that these violent video games persuade nonviolent people to become and act out in violent ways. An academic journal written by Jeroen Jansz about the emotional appeal of violent video games is quoted saying “The popularity of violent video games proves that adolescent gamers are not thwarted by the responsibility for committing violent acts in the virtual world of the game. These games apparently exert a strong appeal on their audience that supersedes moral reservations”. This simply means that when a person plays a violent video game, all of their morals go flying out the window.
Many critics of violent video games often reference the very popular title Grand Theft Auto (GTA) as one of the premier violent video games on the market; I couldn’t possibly disagree with that. GTA is a game where you can do almost anything you can think of involving violence. GTA is referred to by some critics as a perfect example of a violent medium that encourages players to commit heinous acts for no reason
other than to fill some kind of emotional gap the player may be feeling. Although I can’t disagree that the game allows the player to commit these acts of violence, it doesn’t necessarily force it upon the player. For example, the game will not stop you from driving a car onto the pedestrian sidewalk, resulting in the slaughter of hundreds of people as you carelessly drive to your destination. However, the player can just as easily decide to stay on the road and drive their car safely to their destination. In some cases, the player has full control over whether or not they decide to commit the acts of violence, not the game.
The Game is Reality
Another claim that I’ve found many violent video game critics have is that the video game literally becomes the player’s reality. Now this is true to some extent. I will admit that I have been immersed so deeply into a game to the point where I will move my body in conjunction with my character. This is a phenomena known as telepresence, which perpetuates a sense of “being there” on the player. It’s not untrue that many times players will be sucked into a game and have a sense of being there. Speaking from personal experience though, I have not once become so disoriented and influenced by a violent video game that I would transfer the emotions of my character to my own self; no matter what kind of game I was playing I always knew that there was a screen separating myself from that particular character.
Scott McCloud wrote a journal called The Vocabulary of Comics where he explains that because animations are typically less in depth recreations of the human face, it’s easy to find basic character traits that you associate with yourself, and thus, you begin to see yourself as that character. Critics tend to believe that once a player is telepresent, they will become the
character that they are playing and begin to enjoy committing whatever violent acts they choose to do. In the game GTA for example, you typically play as a tough mobster who doesn’t care about anyone or anything. Critics will argue that when people play these games, they begin to feel more masculine and tough; they will lose all sense of morals and fear. The problem with this critique is that it is exaggerated to the point where after the game is finished being played, the player will transfer those emotions from the game to real life. My argument against this is simple; it’s just a game and everyone who is playing knows that.
Our Primal Instincts are Inherently “Bad”
The final claim that I believe a lot of violent video game critics tend to subscribe to is that our primal instincts are inherently bad and that we should avoid those feelings and emotions. We all have violent thoughts and tendencies; why is it so wrong to express them in some way? Suggesting that fulfilling our primal instincts through mediums, such as video games, are evil and violent is a ridiculous theory to subscribe to. What are these primal instincts I’m referring to? I believe every human has the primal belief that only the strong survive and that they will do anything to survive. I also believe every human has the primal desire to be the best and to be like or to supersede God. All throughout history we’ve seen examples of this; although I won’t argue that most of them don’t involve corrupt and violent people. Critics argue that it is emotionally pleasing to play violent video games and to be violent in some way or another because it meets some kind of insecurities or requirements that we feel we should meet in real life. However, I don’t think that’s true at all. I believe the real reason we play these violent video games and enjoy doing whatever morally right or wrong thing that happens in them is simply because we have a primal desire to be the very best, to be like or transcend God himself, and to do whatever it takes to survive. We all have our vices that we use to cope with everyday life and frustrations; as long as you’re not hurting anybody, what’s wrong with it?
I don’t so much believe that violent video games are to blame for the problems our society is facing, as I’ve discussed above. I also believe it’s relevant to mention that the outside world, as well as friends and family, have a huge impact on how a person thinks and behaves in the real world. Video games are being blamed for the violence that is happening in the world right now because they have some kind of apparent effect on the people who watch or play this medium. I won’t lie, I think that they very well could have an effect on people’s violent tendencies, but only if it’s all they know. For example, if you take two children five years of age who are exactly the same in every way and you put one of them into a room where they are only exposed to violent video games for the next ten years of their life and nothing else, and then take the other child and put them in a loving home with authoritative parents who teach them morals and the differences between right and wrong, yet still allow the child to play violent video games for the next ten years of their life, there will be huge differences between the children. One child will be completely insane and know nothing other than violence and hatred, while the other child will likely be normal and able to function properly in society. Although it’s a very extreme example, the role of parents, as well as other friends and family, will have a huge impact on the outcome of the child’s violent tendencies.
If people did honestly believe they were in a violent video game and they actually transferred those same violent feelings and emotions to their actual self, then people would have absolutely no problem with the thought or sight of death. A woman by the name of Barbie Zelizer is known for writing on the importance of about-to-die photos and why the media should show the public these images. The images that Zelizer refers to are candid photos that people are fortunate enough to capture of other people who are about to die in some way. These photos have been proven time and time again to have a tremendous effects on people. When photos of people jumping out of the world trade center during 9/11 were printed in newspapers and other forms of media it outraged and disgusted the populace and they demand for them to be removed. Why is that? Why are people so scared and disgusted by images of people who are about to die? The answer is simple, it’s real life and those are real people. Imagine now if in video games, such as Grand Theft Auto, after you kill a person the game freezes and an image of a real person who died in the same matter as the way you killed them appeared and stayed on the screen for five seconds. People would be mortified and would most likely turn of their console and throw the game away. There’s a huge difference between reality and virtual reality.
That being said, there is a huge gap right now between reality and virtual reality; or at least there used to be. When researching this topic, all of the information I found referred only to video games played on two-dimensional systems. Because of that, this research will all have to be redone and reexamined in the years to come. By that point I will probably change my opinion on the matter completely. The only thing that I have going for my argument now is that I believe video game violence is not yet real enough to actually have extreme psychological effects on people. Once extremely realistic 3D technology hits the gaming world, game designers will have to be very careful about how they go about presenting their content. All I’m saying is that ten years down the road, this may be a real problem.
In the end, this is what it comes down to. You should play whatever games you want to play. If you enjoy playing video games that offer nothing but mindless violence, then go for it, friend! The problem with our society today is that it tries to assign blame to something for every problem that is present in the world. Although we should be seeking the answers and causes of these problems, we are missing the big picture. Every problem has multiple facets that need to be addressed. When it comes to video game violence, there may be a small effect on a person’s psyche; but you will never convince me that a video game was the sole cause of the corruption of a person.
Bogost, Ian. “Persuasive Games.” Persuasive Games: 12-45. Web.
Jansz, Jeroen. “The Emotional Appeal of Violent Video Games for Adolescent Males.” Commun Theory Communication Theory 15.3 (2005): 219-41. Web.
King, Laura A. Experience Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.
McCloud, Scott. “The Vocabulary of Comics.” The Vocabulary of Comics: 195+. Web.
Zelizer, Barbie. “The Voice of the Visual in Memory.” The Voice of the Visual in Memory (2002). Web.