Violence is Here to Stay
Jonathan | On 07, Mar 2013
The topic of violence in video games is certainly the heart of any anti-video game advocate’s playbook when it comes to demonizing the gaming industry and pointing a finger of blame when tragedy strikes. Recent events like the Sandy Hook massacre or the Batman movie shooting always somehow get connected to a violent video game; the same way someone who goes carjacking can blame the influence of Grand Theft Auto.
It’s been the go-to argument for disinterested politicians and news media since the events in Columbine in 1999. The shooters played Doom and listened to Marilyn Manson, so clearly they’re the devil incarnate, right? Vilifying two notorious things with one sentence? That’s easy controversy and makes for great TV. In-depth analysis by media figureheads often call for outlawing violent video games but is violence in games really even that big of a problem?
As animals, fighting is in our nature. The more I think about it, the harder it is to even come up with a popular video game that isn’t violent. Super Mario Brothers? Nope, it’s got stomping on docile creatures who get in your path. Sonic the Hedgehog? Nope, that involves stomping on woodland creatures that were turned into robots. Skylanders? Nope, animated cartoon violence as mythical animals beat each other up to retrieve stolen pieces of their machines.
But wait, these are franchises aimed at children! Aside from Pinball games, a majority of things we play have some degree of violence within them. The truth is, no matter how peaceful we’d like to be, it’s inescapable. Go take a toy away from a two year old, see what happens. There’s a pretty good chance the kid is going to scream and immediately come after you scratching, clawing, possibly even biting to get that toy back. Violence starts early and it’s typically involuntary impulses that cause that form of violence in the first place. You could argue that a child can be taught not to hit, but if you can teach a child not to hit, why can’t you teach them that video game violence is exaggerated fantasy meant to be amusing and should never be duplicated in the real world?
Video games suffer the same scrutiny that professional wrestling did when I was kid. I’d watch “Macho Man” Randy Savage do a flying elbow drop off the top turnbuckle onto a downed opponent, then I’d immediately climb my dresser and jump onto a stuffed animal on my bed. Why? Because it looked awesome and I wanted to emulate. Eventually I learned that these things were meant to be done by professionals with disciplined training but that didn’t stop me from wanting to try it. Here’s where the line is drawn: I was an impressionable kid, maybe six or seven years old – I wasn’t seventeen. Video game violence isn’t a thing that’s going to go away and I feel like the best way to approach a sensitive subject like this is to ensure it’s understood and treated in equal capacity. It might seem comical explaining to your six-year-old why it’s OK for Mario to stomp on the turtles but that they should never try to jump on someone or harm an animal. But it might be necessary.
Laugh if you want but there really is no interpretive difference between watching an animated plumber stomp a rabbit thing with no ears to death and watching Tommy Vercetti dismember a prostitute with a Samurai sword.
Violence is violence, no matter how severe. The trick is explaining it in ways that impressionable minds can understand it and knowing when they are able to interpret it correctly. As an involved gamer parent, you wouldn’t let your 10-year-old see the horrific, gruesome, extremely graphic dismemberment contained in Mortal Kombat’s fatality system, so why would you let them watch you gun down an airport full of civilians in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Educate yourself so that you can educate your children and introduce them to things as they’re ready to process it.
In our house, I first introduced the kids to fighting games by playing Small Arms on Xbox Live Arcade. Exposure to that made them hostile, so I introduced them to Burnout Paradise instead. Once they were able to play Burnout without any problems, I introduced them to Skylanders and a few other games with cartoony fighting and silliness. Now that they’re getting older, I’ve introduced them to Awesomenauts – which is a lot like Small Arms but online (teaching him how to deal with online gameplay in the process) and with a more adult tone. Eventually they’ll be able to play anything I’d play but not until they’re able to handle vivid imagery with the mindset that what they see is not only fictitious but meant to be kept inside the Xbox.
Like it or not, violence isn’t going anywhere. Kids will fight, people will fight, murders will happen. Animals kill each other routinely, mostly to hunt but sometimes just because they can. Violent video games sell copies because it gives some individuals a way to deal with things in a controlled, fictitious environment. When people are stressed out, sometimes coming home and brutally destroying something in a fictitious video game world is just what the doctor ordered. When you can’t take a baseball bat to a copy machine like in Office Space, you can come home to your Xbox and dismantle zombies in Dead Island.
Let’s stop pointing the finger at violence in video games. That’s just fishing for a scapegoat because no one has any real answers.
Let people enjoy their entertainment in the privacy of their own home. Let’s use education to hopefully circumvent tragic events. There’s a wealth of knowledge available for any title released on the ESRB’s website. Make educated decisions on the games you bring home and more importantly make sure there’s nothing questionable in it if you’re going let your child play…or watch.