Editorial: Violence in Video Games; The Media Storm

Hey guys, Fully Avenged here. Today I wanted to discuss a topic that I’ve followed very closely for the past couple of months/years. Its a pretty sensitive topic and something that I’m well aware is a very difficult thing to write about, but please keep in mind the opinions expressed inside are entirely that of my own.

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Whenever I think about video game violence and the media attention it has managed to grasp in recent years, I can’t help but think back to the first time I personally came into contact with a video game that may have been deemed “violent”. For me growing up, most of the big video games at the times were akin to Crash Bandicoot or Spyro, the sort of game that took stabs at violence, but in the cutest and most ridiculous manner possible. For me, violence never really jumped out because it never really existed on that level.

My first encounter of true – and I use that word loosely – video game violence, then, would have been Rockstar’s 1997 classic Grand Theft Auto. At the time, I struggled to see anything in it rather than over-the-top humor and general comical value. For those a bit too young to have played this gem; it was top down, and everything was essentially a square. You were basically a square blowing up/running over/shooting other squares.

This was the grand-daddy of “computer game violence” when I was growing up. (Source: Rockstar Games via Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Theft Auto isn’t the only Rockstar game to drum up significant controversy either; in 2003, Manhunt became infamous for causing shockwaves throughout the world, with several countries deeming the game much too violent to be played by its citizens. A mixture of stealth-based game-play and brutality, even to this day Manhunt is often nodded to when the topic of video game violence is brought up by the press.

Let us take a step back, though, to consider something first; in the 90s, running over people and leaving bloody smears on the floor may have been considered a little “close to the bone” for certain audiences. Even as recent as 2005, video games like Manhunt are contemplated as being far too grotesque in its violence for any person to possibly want to play. However, despite this, many of the biggest AAA titles released relatively recently have their main theme seated in violence and, more specifically, the brutality of war.

Gears of War, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield – these are the obvious games that everyone points to whenever the topic of violence is brought up. However, there are far more titles than this which incorporate violence in their game-play today; in fact, I don’t think I can list a game without any violence in it that I’ve played in my recent back catalog. While violence may be considered “taboo” today, it seems that now, more than ever, every single game wants a slice of the action; quite literally.

So what exactly am I getting at with this blatant display of violence throughout the years of video games? The point I’m trying to make is that just because violence is more prominent in video games these days, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been there.  I am a stern believer in the fact that in recent years, video games have become a scapegoat for violence throughout the world. In the 80’s and 90’s, it was music (for those who don’t know, listening to rock and metal music definitely meant you were Satan in disguise and therefore must be purged), while in the 2000’s, that responsibility has shifted to video games.

The problem stems, partially, at least, from the fact that video games are such a massive part of culture these days. While video games used to be a pass-time for specific people, where it was typically associated with adolescents living in their mother’s basements, these days video games are a much more accessible part of society. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles can all get involved with their Wii and their Nintendo DS, and one of my favourite games of the moment, League of Legends, frequently breaks five million concurrent players. While this is fantastic news for the developers, it also means its far too easy to begin pointing fingers when the brown stuff hits the fan;

“This young man attacked another young man and he played Call of Duty, therefore this must be the root of the issue”.

Its truly a sad time when you can say that this is a “common” excuse for violence.

Excessive? Yes. Gory? You betcha. Realistic enough to be used in a court-case? Apparently so.

Back in April, I read a story that was featured on Kotaku that was perhaps one of the most convoluted and ridiculous blame-games I’ve ever seen in my entire life. In a shocking story, a 14-year-old teenager attacked a fellow teenager, slashing his throat so deep it exposed his windpipe. Coincidentally, the two boys met online in 2011, when they played Gears of War 3 together. Supposedly a “sour relationship” built, and when the teenager lashed out, Gears of War was the fall guy for everything that proceeded. Admittedly, two teenagers of this age should not be playing a rated 18 game and this raises moral issues, but we’d be stupid to believe that nobody under the age of 18 actively plays these games or that a simple connection of “meeting over a game” can be blamed for such a inhumane attack.

This, then, leads me to an inevitable conclusion; violence in video games may not always be a good thing regardless of how much it may bring to the impact of the game itself, but to believe that simply playing a video game like Call of Duty can trigger such a reaction in one person that they would go so far as to kill a human being without motivation is a complete leap of imagination that I think too many media outlets are allowed to get away with these days. Regardless of whether a murderer played Mario, Call of Duty or Pokemon, there is almost always something deeply rooted in the human psyche that causes this behavior; sadly these people just happen to be gamers too.

Does this mean that video games are the root of all evil as some media outlets claim, and the violence perpetuates a reaction that is frequently dangerous and unpredictable? Possibly. But I know one thing for sure – there’s no smoke without fire.

So please, next time you read some jumped-up article regarding how violent someone was made by a video game, just consider one caveat; in the first week of sales, Black Ops 2, the latest in the Call of Duty franchise, sold well over 11 million units. How many of those people do you think turn out to be violent, and how many continue to live a happy, normal life free of the senseless violence you so often hear about in these stories?

Many thanks for reading, and please keep in mind that, as previously stated, this blog is entirely my own opinion. I welcome any and all comments.

– FA.

[Source: Kotaku, Throat-Slashing Blamed on a Gears of War Relationship Gone Bad]

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5 thoughts on “Editorial: Violence in Video Games; The Media Storm

  1. This is 100% spot on – I have a few discussions with peoples parents as they seem to blame behaviour on violent computer games – I can’t stand it! i have always, always tried to put my point across that how can people blame games for another persons actions? yeah okay there are violent games out there rated 18+ and if kids below that age play it – well it’s purely down their parents allowing it. We all play games – and we all know people who do play games who would never even think to go slashing someone’s throat because that’s what they do on the games ? yeah – there definitely is some kind of screw loose in someone’s mind for these sort of games to trigger those actions as you said. I completely agree with this and it’s what I have been trying to express to many adults.

    • Part of the problem stems from the fact that many people play games when they are under the official ratings set by the government. While this is beneficial for the people playing the games, it does give the governments and the media more ammunition and fuel for the fire when cases such as the one used as an example in my article come up. Personally I think that age ratings should be a guideline; I know from personal experience that at the age of 15 I was mature enough to understand that the violence that occurred in 18+ games was purely make-believe and typically nonsense, therefore I deemed myself able to play those sorts of games. On the other side of the coin, however, there are still people in that age bracket that are incapable of separating what happens in these video games from reality. Its those people that are typically picked up on when articles like this hit the press.

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