Monday, May 9, 2011

Buck Discusses the Horrible, Horrible Violence in Video Games

According to what a large number of researchers have determined, I should be one of the worst human beings to ever be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Why? In my life, I have seen an immeasurable amount of violence. I have seen just about every action film from the 1980s and 1990s, I watched professional wrestling for roughly 20 years week after week, I have seen a vast number of “slasher” horror films, many that feature “buckets of blood,” and I try to watch every mixed martial arts event that I can. However, worse of all, I also play video games. I have been playing video games since I was around five years old. My friends, family, and I have played just about every game that has come out, many of them violent in nature. I have played games where the goal is to rip the limbs from opponents, games where the player drives souped-up death machines and gets bonus points for running over innocent humans, and games where the player is an assassin and has to kill a large number of targets. To the uninitiated, that sounds like a perfect recipe for a mass murderer. There are a large number of “experts” out there who would have the public believe that video game violence leads to real world violence. Although there are many opponents of video games who believe that violent games are more popular, that they should have a government or federally regulated ratings system, and that violent games breed violent gamers, these statements simply are not true.

One of the most widely-believed sentiments is that violent video games are more popular than those that are not. The article Video Games and Violence states “Critics say that the increased level of violence in video games is a particularly disturbing trend because gamers seem to enjoy violent video games more than nonviolent ones” (“Video Games and Violence” par. 33). Games such as Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty are criticized due to their focus on violent acts that the player has full control over. It is true that action oriented games do quite well in regards to sales numbers. What critics fail to mention, though, is how well other game genres do. Also in Video Games and Violence, “Roughly 15% of all games sold in 2005 were rated ‘M,’ or ‘Mature’” (“Video Games and Violence” par. 4). Last year, the number one selling game was “The New Super Mario Brothers Wii,” and it sold almost 15 million copies worldwide. According to Nintendo Co., Ltd’s “Financial Results Briefing” for the year 2010, the largest selling console game of all time, “Wii Sports”, has sold over 76 million units, beating every other game ever made by roughly 35 million units or more (“Financial Results Briefing” pg. 5). To say that violent video games are more popular than their non-violent counter parts is to simply ignore the sales numbers. While video games that feature violence do well, they will never do as well as family-friendly games.

With the current popularity of video games, and the opposition of the violent games, politicians have begun to question the authenticity of the current video game ratings system, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Some politicians believe that children have easy access to buying M-rated games, and that there should be government involvement. According to Video Games and Violence, opponents also believe that it should be illegal for children to purchase M-rated video games, just as it is illegal for them to buy cigarettes and alcohol (“Video Games and Violence” par. 35). However, in many cities and states that had passed bills banning sales of violent games, judges have recently ruled that banning those sales were violating the First Amendment rights of the gamers, retailers, and game companies (“Video Games and Violence” par. 24). Most government officials are not well versed when it comes to video games, so to allow them to regulate what is or is not offensive or obscene would be disastrous. Since the ESRB deals strictly with video games, has done so for years, and is more than satisfactory in doing so, there is no reason to allow the government to form their own ratings board. It should also be noted that in most major retailers, the consumer must be 17 years or older to purchase an M-rated game. If the consumer is not old enough, their parent must buy it for them. If parents would stop buying their children the M-rated games, then I believe this would not be as big of an issue as it currently is.

Finally, and most importantly, is the claim that playing violent video games is a catalyst of real life violent behavior. In his article Video Games Foster Violent Behavior, David Bickham states that over time, playing violent video games can cause the player to become more aggressive, desensitize them to violence, and lead to them believe violence solves problems (Bickham par. 10). Take, for instance, the Columbine shootings. The shooters were believed to be fans of the computer game “Doom,” in which the player ran around, shooting demons and monsters. After receiving that information, the game was immediately blamed for inspiring the shooters to attack their classmates. With this information in mind, along with the fact that in recent years, video games have enjoyed a massive increase in popularity, it would be easy to assume that the youth of today are out, raising all sorts of trouble and causing the crime rate to sky-rocket. In all actuality, as Christopher Ferguson states in his article Video Games Have Become a Scapegoat for Violent Behavior, “Violent crime rates in the United States have gone down significantly since 1994 while video games have gotten more popular and more violent” (Ferguson par. 7). There are some that believe that because so many young adults are playing video games, they are using them to filter out whatever violent urges they may have. Violent behavior cannot be blamed solely on a form of media. There are too many factors to consider when trying to figure out what makes violent people behave that way to try to place the burden on a single source.

In the relatively short time I have spent on this planet, I have seen some horrific images and played graphically violent games, but that does not make me a potential killer. Using violent video games, or violent media in general, is not an effective means to figure out violent behavior. No matter how popular graphic games get, how much the government thinks it needs to regulate them, and despite that politicians think the games will make young adults murderous monsters, when thought about logically, video games will be revealed to be nothing more than just another distraction for those of us with a little spare time and money to burn.

Works Cited
Bickham, David S. “Video Games Foster Violent Behavior.” Media Violence 2009: n. pag. Print.
Ferguson, Christopher J. “Video Games Have Become a Scapegoat for Violent Behavior.” Chronicle of Higher Education 53 (2007): B20. Print.
“Financial Results Briefing.” Nintendo Company, Ltd. N.p., 28 Jan. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. <‌ir/‌pdf/‌2011/‌110128e.pdf#page=5>.
“Video Games and Violence.” Issues and Controversies. Issues and Controversies on File, 6 July 2007. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.


  1. I agree with you 100% as a big fan of console games myself i have also hacked shot and dismembered many a foe in the cyber world however funnily enough i have never had the urge to do the same in the real world. Why? Because video games ARE GAMES!! i don't play monopoly then run around the local streets trying to collect £200 for passing go. I don't see a donkey in a field and immediately rush over to it and start loading it up with random shite in the hope it will buckaroo. In the end games are games and that's all they are regardless of content. The same arguments (or at least very similar ones) have been made since the invention of the television. has TV led to anarchy on the streets? No. Did the video nasties of the 70's and 80's cause society to collapse? No. Will computer games cause us to to run around shooting each other before looking skyward for our power up crates? No. Because people can tell the difference between reality and fiction that's why. as for those who choose to kill their fellow man well they are just evil bastards pure and simple and if they think blaming TV, the Internet, computer games and videos will get them a reduced sentence then they will scream blue murder about how them there puter games twisted up their melons, when the simple fact is they were crazier then a bag of hammers to begin with.

  2. This is a link to a lecture by Steven Pinker titled "A History of Violence". This TED link is a shortened version of an hour long speech Pinker gives that I had the chance to see a few weeks ago at MU. Very interesting stuff and if I remember right it's more or less a summary of the book he's currently working on.

    There is a critical point he makes in his lecture (and I'm not sure if he goes into this point with much detail during this shortened version) that relates to your essay. Namely that, this idea that violence has increased in movies, video games, news programs, etc. and that this is somehow contributing to an escalation in violence in society is a strange inversion of reality based on confirmation bias.

    Essentially, because violence has decreased greatly over the course of human history we become hyper-sensitive to ANY violence we encounter; even to an absurd degree. And because we live in an age where we are constantly exposed to events from all over the world it seems like violence gets more and more pervasive when in reality it very much isn't.

    It was best explained during the Q&A session afterward, when members of the audience (that apparently didn't listen to a damn thing he said) were accusing him of disregarding the "violence done to nature" or "the economic violence done to the poor". He had to explain to them that his entire talk was with regard to ACTUAL violence - physically assaulting and injuring other human beings. He said, and I'm summarizing a bit here, "I don't feel taking the head off of a mountain is morally equivalent to taking the head off of a person. In the same vein, the fact that Bill Gates makes more money than someone doesn't physically injure them. The notion that we are concerned with these things in this day and age is a testament to the fact that 200 years ago no one would have even thought twice about the environment or the poor, let lone used a word like 'violence' to describe our actions towards them, because entire races were enslaved and beaten everyday and heretics were literally being burned at the stake."

    Basically, the level of violence at the time was much higher compared to now, so it was easy to overlook the mild or metaphorical violence simply as a matter of degree. And he wasn't by any means criticizing this new hyper-sensitivity -- in fact, I got the opinion that he agreed with the issues that were brought up in many respects or at least that there were morally important reasons to worry about them -- but he was pointing out how our society arrived at this point and that massive progress has been made despite our common misconceptions.