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Kill Pixels, Not People
Eleanor Lang, 24 Aug 07
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If you're a US politician who wants to improve your family values score, it' s not necessary to take a complicated stand on abortion. Just go after the violent video game boogeyman. While proposals that would make violent games harder for minors to get than a bottle of hard liquor have been overturned in six states and a number of municipalities, that doesn't stop even liberal politicians from trying to pick up easy points by supporting such proposals.

We're not comfortable with games that cover uncomfortable subjects, like teen-on-teen violence. Games are "supposed" to be fun. But while we might not be ready for games that have something to say, the games themselves are talking, and sometimes it's worth listening.

"In a violent video game," you say, "you enact the violence and that's different from just seeing it." This is true. But while there are people who can't distinguish reality from fantasy, it's a small percentage of the population -- and as far as I can tell, people who play (or design) games are not more likely to have greater problems in this area.

When my kids were little, I'd bring them to the office after school, which they loved: we had a LAN so they got to play Quake. "Don't you think that's bad for them?" other parents would ask.

Actually, I encouraged them to play, because I noticed that when they killed each other in the game, they seemed to have less inclination to wail on each other at home. Although the girls were just five and eight years old, I had no doubt that they could tell the difference between a game and "real life." When I was a kid, we heard that cartoons were violent and harmful -- but I knew that dropping an anvil out a window was a really bad idea.

There is a relationship between an increase in video games and crime, but it might surprise you: juvenile crime has steadily decreased at the same time video game consumption has increased as measured in hours of play.

There's another group of people who continually and repeatedly enact violence and mayhem; sometimes they even pretend to be serial killers or con artists. We call them actors, and we do not revile them; rather, we revere them.

Have you ever watched a Shakespearean play? Night after night, people pretend to maim each other, kill their spouses, and stab their rivals, and yet I've never heard that actors are particularly likely to commit crimes off the stage. It's true that in other eras, actors had a social status only marginally better than gypsies and petty thieves, but all nascent art forms tend to be initially distrusted -- think about jazz, comics and novels.

Opponents of violent video games are right about this: games are immersive, and the player can easily develop a visceral understanding or identification with a character. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, because in games as in life, actions have consequences. Fail to take care of your Neopet and it will die. If you start a war in Civilization, your popularity will plummet and your cities will fall into disarray. And play mass murderers Dylan Kiebold and Eric Harris, the real-life killers who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, in the role-playing game Super Columbine Massacre, and it's nearly impossible not to be filled with revulsion.

Super Columbine Massacre earned both supporters and detractors within the games industry, and mostly detractors outside of it. (It was eloquently defended by my boss, Greg Costikyan.) Had the designer (who in fact attended Columbine High School), chosen to make a documentary or write a book or create a painting about the same subject, from the same viewpoint, the work might have been criticized. But its' very right to exist would not have been questioned.

Yes, some games are grotesquely violent. But there's violence in the world, and lots of it. It's not possible to make a game about Iraq or about tragedy at a high school without depicting bloodshed. If violent games did nothing except provide a socially acceptable outlet for everyday anger, that would be a worthwhile thing; I'd rather have my kids kill each other online and be sweet to each other off, or have people express their road rage in Grand Theft Auto rather than on the Long Island Expressway.

But if people walk away from a game with the certainty that shooting up a school is gross, not glamorous, or that car bombings are horrifying, not exciting, that's got world-changing potential.

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Ellie--A really fine rebuttal to the present-day Fredric Werthams.

Posted by: Robert Legault on 25 Aug 07

Quoting Eleanor, "Yes, some games are grotesquely violent. But there's violence in the world, and lots of it." -- Words of someone who has accepted violence in their life.
I am a son of Vietnam Vet and am reminded daily of the detrimental post traumatic effects of extreme violence, that is War. When I decided to no longer accept violence in humanity, I stopped watching movies and playing games that glorified violence (and I also became vegan). I'm not getting on a moral high horse here, just letting you know I am living proof that you do not have to accept violence.
Peace to all, for all time.

Posted by: Gus McLauchlan on 26 Aug 07

Video games do not deserve the blame for all of society's problems; in fact TV deserves some blame even the news. There are good and bad things going on around the world, schools opening where there never was one before, famine relief, and people helping others. But rarely is that seen, I was taking a Vietnam History course last year and a the point was brought up that you had to watch 7 bad reports before getting to one that was good,, if there were any.
Not to get anyone riled up, but wasn't it a newspaper editor that said "You supply the photographs and I'll supply the war." I think that we need to take a good, hard look at the way journalists portray things. There was another person that said "There are three types of lies; lies, damn lies and Statistics." What that means is that anything can be twisted to read the way that you want plausibly. For example, 70% of Americans preform activity A. Then it can be manipulated to mean that 30% of Americans preform activity B. That dear people is one way to twist things. Another is a small sample size, for example "8 out of 10 doctors reccomend Brand X." But how many did they ask? 10? 100? 1,000? see how it fools you? Another way is to not include the exact percentage on pie charts. If there is one area double the size of the other, that must mean it is double the size. That is wrong! We are being misled by the media into thinking that video games take all the blame; that is a definite no. TV, books, newspapers, and any form of communication can cause a person to snap and commit an act of violence. Heck, even a slice of toast coming out of the toaster burnt can cause problems.

The biggest thing that we need is respect, the old mannerisms need to come back. Holding doors for people,saying good morning and returning the greeting, saying please and thank you, respecting life and the rights of all especially those that cannot defend themselves. The writing on the Statue of Liberty says give me your poor and huddled masses; not give me your money. When I was younger in 1990, everyone would respect the Flag, soldiers,police and firemen,clergy and the older generation. Now it is a sad case of events. Everyone has forgotten who they are, citizens of a respective country, soldiers are reviled, police get no respect in some geographical areas, firemen; excuse me firepeople get an honorable mention in newscasts, clergy are the subject of sex scandals; its wrong but no need to shout it from the mountain tops, the older generation is tolerated, when they should be learnt from.

This is an apocalyptic society, where the guy playing sports gets more than the teacher. Eventually, no one is going to know anything and we will begin to backslide in regards to technology. Religion and everything has a purpose, LEARN!

Posted by: William Santos II on 26 Aug 07

I grew up with the first generations of video games and I played them, and enjoyed them. I'm totally in agreement with everyone who points out that playing violent video games doesn't necessarily lead to one violently acting out, and offer myself as yet another bit of anecdotal evidence to that statement.

The part that I've become concerned about, though, is the conscious and unconscious acceptance of violence that I think violent games (and violence in other media) promote. Biologically speaking, violent imagery and sounds cause measurable changes in our nervous and endocrine systems, and those systems both affect our thinking. Sometimes I think that can be a good thing - playing a video game may give someone some measure of centeredness, power, and control in an otherwise out-of-control life. However, I think that the dozens and hundreds of hours of practice at killing and destroying are ultimately creating a predisposition to tolerate and accept violence.

I want to stop using violence as a way to solve conflicts, and I want everyone else to do so as well. It's a big project. I think part of that process is to stop consuming violence along with promoting and accepting violence, and to find other ways to entertain, learn, grow, and connect. (BTW, I don't think legislation is the answer, what I'm talking about here is a personal and cultural shift).

I'm a massage therapist, and I regularly help clients who are healing from violent trauma - attacks, abuse, rape, and war. I'd love to just work on sore hips from carrying toddlers, sore backs from digging in the garden, sore legs from too much dancing, and have nobody anywhere have to heal from violence.

Posted by: Jonathan Drummey on 28 Aug 07

Wonderfully thought-through! Excellent piece; I hope those advocating government legislation to interfere in the entertainment industry read this.

Posted by: Chris McKitterick on 29 Aug 07

Wonderfully thought-through! Excellent piece; I hope those advocating legislation to interfere in the entertainment industry read this.

Posted by: Chris McKitterick on 29 Aug 07

Danny attended a HS in the area, not Columbine HS itself, but the principle remains.

Posted by: Patrick on 12 Sep 07



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