Please note: There are graphic images in this post, though not without merit. With that said, those easily disturbed should skip this post.
Every month or so comes a criticism of games, or rather: The effects of repeated, simulated violence upon the human psyche. Then comes a wave of backlash, shouting and screaming it down. Yet these criticisms are right: Anyone who really believes that the games we play every day aren’t having any effect are either not looking at it objectively, or they have already gone off the cliff, so to speak.
Now, of course, sometimes these criticisms are then used to try to justify arguments or legislation to restrict and regulate games and their violent content – the purpose of this is to not debate any of that. I am simply looking at the reaction of us, gamers, and the vitriol we spew, how we foam at the mouth at anyone who has anything bad at all to say about our pastime with such knee-jerkery.
I am not arguing that games make everyone into murders. I am not arguing that games should be banned. But to act as though our hobby is the only perfect activity out there, with no downside or side effects (especially among children): This is a point that needs to be argued.
I want to cite studies showing the links between violence and violent behavior, but none of them will be read, or they’ll be quickly dismissed. I can foretell it’s a moot point. Instead, let’s approach it logically: Being exposed to something repeatedly numbs the effect it has, no matter what it is (excluding a punch to the face). Now of course, this is not to say that simulated violence desensitizes individuals to actual violence – this, I think, can be disputed. However, simulated violence, in my opinion, desensitizes individuals to the idea of violence, what we think violence actually is.
When we (yes, I am generalizing here) think of someone getting shot, we don’t think of how people really get shot, unless we’ve seen it first hand: We think of what it looks like, what we have been exposed to, in movies and games. What happens to someone when they’re hit in the head with a .50 caliber bullet from a sniper rifle? In Call of Duty, they fall to the ground and disappear.
It sort of cracks it open like an egg shell. Notice how the force of impact pulled and bent the curvature of his eye socket. Very nice.
This touches back to my point though, which sort of defends games: In many, this image provokes a cringing response. Video games do not desensitize people to actual violence.
But the idea of violence, I would say definitely. We can only imagine what we know, and constant exposure to such fallacies are bound to influence how we view things, especially in real world applications. This, again, is not to argue that everyone will suddenly inflict violence on the drop of a hat. But to, though not limited to, more unstable elements, it of course has an effect (of which children might as well be the definition of unstable). How could anyone even argue otherwise?
No, video games weren't around when Hitler was alive. But he did fight in World War I, and saw some of the most gruesome shit imaginable on a daily basis for years. No wonder he didn't have a problem gassing a couple million people.
M.I.A. made a comment a while back about video games, positing that they tend to misinform children about violence and make violence easier to commit, especially when they grow up and are perhaps shipped off to war:
"They feel like they know the violence when they don't. Not having a proper understanding of violence, especially what it's like on the receiving end of it, just makes you interpret it wrong and makes inflicting violence easier."
A shitstorm ensued. Why? Is this notion so entirely disagreeable? Even on Destructoid, I saw vile rage in response. Is our hobby really perfect? Is there no detriment whatsoever? Are we really that perfect? I know I’ll get some sarcastic comments, but honestly: This is delusional thinking.
Then, like clockwork, the ESA, the Entertainment Software Association, comes right out with some official statement that every game site and magazine quotes as a counter-point to whatever criticism arises as a defender of gaming and the average gamer.
Folks: I hate to break it to you, but the ESA is not your friend. They’re like the NRA: They are salesmen, lobbyists, paid to represent game companies and secure for them an atmosphere that allows them to profit at whatever cost. Every time a politician tries to pass a law that prohibits retailers from selling Gears of War to an 8 year old (the nerve!), the ESA has a comment right away railing against it as an assault to not only the existence of video games, but your very freedoms as an American and a human being.
Yet where are the ESA when we hear of poor working conditions and 100+ hour work weeks at Rockstar, EA, and Team Bondi? Where are our good friends at when these abuses come to light?
They’re cashing their fucking paychecks from Rockstar, EA, and Team Bondi. Go ahead, try to google some statements from them – I had no luck whatsoever, but am willing to see what anyone else can find. They are not looking out for you, or even the people who spend their lives making games. They’re looking out for the people that pay them, the people who sell games. Do you pay them? No. I’m sure the people at the ESA are very nice, they do a decent job with E3 every year, and I don’t think any of them would go out of their way to inflict ill intent upon anyone at all.
But they’re not your friend. They’re not looking out for you. They’re out for your wallet. And I wish we would kick them out as some sort of legitimate viewpoint, because they simply are not an unbiased participant.
The moment that formed my opinion on this subject was when I heard about a kid being doused in rubbing alcohol and set afire over a monetary dispute. Four 15 year olds and a 13 year old set fire to another 15 year old as he sat by a pool and left him to die.
…How does a child even dream of that on their own, without some sort of prior exposure to it? That’s not to say that every child exposed to someone being burned is going to automatically burn their cousins, but is there no link whatsoever? Is there not even a little blame, a little responsibility, to go around?
Are we really that perfect?
Yes, parents also need to not be shitty. Parents really share the most blame for any of these tragic stories. But must we also spit forth a rage when someone suggests that perhaps the little pricks shouldn't have been flamethrowing civilians in GTA for hours on end? That's really what I'm focusing on: Our reaction. Must we be so indignant?
I grew up on violent games and violent movies I shouldn’t have seen. I turned out relatively fine, besides that killing spree I went on in the 10th grade (sophomore year was a challenging time for me). A lot of people I know are the same way. But I can’t honestly say it had no effect on me. Perhaps I would have been better off not being exposed to those things until a later age. It’s too late now, but it is something I wonder about.
Because when I read news reports about someone being gunned down in some far off, pointless conflict, despite the fact that I’ve seen that image above at least a dozen times, I still think of this:
Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m simply a horrible person.