(Coincidentally, I started writing this just as I was being informed about the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon. Right now, everything seems very surreal. It's very weird for me to think that my wife and I were just in Boston a few short weeks ago celebrating our belated honeymoon at PAX East. My thoughts and prayers immediately go out to all the people we met and anyone affected by this horrific act.)
I've written about videogame violence before. Recently, in fact. It was just after the tragedy in Sandy Hook when I saw Senator Joseph Lieberman on television blaming the shootings on violent videogames (and I'll be referring back to that previous article in this one several times). It's something that I've always felt very strongly about. It fires me up when I see someone with no knowledge of the medium passing it off as filth. Bottom line: Games don't kill people. I like to say "I've been killing people my entire life and I've never killed anybody." It's true, my brother and I received the original Mortal Kombat as a Christmas gift back when I was 7 years old. I was totally mesmerized by the digitized blood. The day we found the combinations for all the fatalities was like a national day of celebration for us. We were finally going to perform Sub-Zero's ESRB-creating head rip fatality (to Johnny Cage, because Johnny Cage sucks).
I hate you, Johnny Cage
Violence in videogames has been around for a lot longer than most non-gamers realize. Do they know that in the original Super Mario Bros., every time you break a block, you're murdering a former inhabitant of the Mushroom Kingdom? Read the instruction booklet if you don't believe me. I grew up playing the aforementioned Mortal Kombat games, as well as games like Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, etc. Games haven't gotten any more violent over the years than television has. Remember the late 90s era of professional wrestling? The WWE (then WWF) and WCW were competing so hard to get ahead in the ratings that they would do almost anything to get fans talking and have them change the channel over to their programming. Both companies were groundbreaking in their vulgarity, and I believe are one of the biggest contributing factors to why shows like The Walking Dead get away with the type of violence they do. I say that not only as a lifelong wrestling fan, but as someone who has been a professional wrestler for the past 9 years (see video below). Gone was the wholesomeness of Hulk Hogan telling kids to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, and in it's place was the beer-chugging, middle-finger-flipping "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, rebelling against all authority.
Politicians in the 80s blamed violence on heavy metal. In the early 90s it was Mortal Kombat and Beavis and Butt-Head. The late 90s, Marilyn Manson and professional wrestling. And now, another violent act, another accusatory finger at Call of Duty. Another school shooting, and it's torches and pitchforks at Rockstar Games' headquarters. Videogames don't kill people. Horrible people kill people. We don't need censorship, we need supervision. I'm only one person, but if I can sit here and tell you that I grew up (and still am) a heavy metal-listening, Simpsons-loving, violent videogame-playing professional wrestler, and then also tell you that my wife and I are youth pastors at our church, then your accusations hold no weight. My wife and I are excellent role models for the kids in our youth group, and we spend most nights sitting on our couch playing Borderlands 2 together, and that game is so over-the-top with it's violence that it implodes on itself and you don't even realize how violent it is while you're playing. As a matter of fact, my wife and I will both tell you that the original Borderlands was probably the biggest reason we became so close and got married in the first place.You can read that story here.
Don't be fooled, we hit them when no one is looking.
Violent games are much more violent than they used to be, but they aren't evolving any faster than film or television. With that being said, I do need to be somewhat hypocritical here. I've already explained about my childhood with Mortal Kombat, but I have a nephew around the same age that I originally played it and I couldn't imagine letting him play the 2011 reboot of the series. My parents were always mindful of the type of media I consumed, but there was a lot less to be mindful of back then. I was born in 1985, so when I was a small child, the heavy metal wasn't as heavy, professional wrestling was more clear-cut with its heroes and villains, and extreme violence in videogames was still over a half-decade away. Games are changing with the times, just like all media is. Shows like The Walking Dead, CSI, and Bones never would have been allowed to make it on the air at that time.
We don't need to censor the games, we need supervision. I've worked in videogame retail before, and whenever a parent is needed in order to sell a mature rated game to their child, none of them ever ask why the game is rated the way it is. I kid you not, I once worked at a Blockbuster Video and a child wanted to rent Playboy: The Mansion, and the mother allowed it! She returned less than an hour later wanting a refund because she didn't realize what kind of content was in the game. Really? What type of game could you possibly have expected other than the one you got? More times than not, when asked if it's okay to sell the game to their child, the parents' response is "Yeah, I don't care." I've even had one woman answer by saying "Yeah, if it'll shut 'em up." It's amazing how many parents use videogames as babysitters. In all my years in game retail, I've only had one success story: a child, who could not have been older than 6, wanted to buy Grand Theft Auto IV, and when I informed his grandfather of the type of content that was in the game, he put it back immediately. I don't care who you are, if you think it's okay for a 6-year-old to be playing something like GTAIV, you need lessons on how to not be a bad person.
Are politicians and anti-videogame advocates so naive as to believe that if we got rid of videogames entirely that children wouldn't be consuming violent content? Watch the news, it's 28 minutes of rape, murder, and armed robberies and 2 minutes of a puppy getting rescued at the end to leave you with a pleasant aftertaste. Read the Bible. Even I, as a youth pastor, can't deny that it's pretty violent at times. Go watch Gladiator or Braveheart, both of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in their respective years, both of which are considered great works of film, and both contain extremely brutal content.
Borderlands 2: Censored for pansies.
I'm not saying anything that everyone who reads this doesn't already know. I can't say that I've ever thought a game was too violent, however, I will say that some are unnecessarily violent. Did they really need to show Kratos slowly ripping off the head of Helios in God of War III to the point that you actually see his flesh separating? Probably not. The only two times I've ever felt uncomfortable with a game's violence is when Ethan cuts his finger off in Heavy Rain, and the first time I broke a genome soldier's neck in Metal Gear Solid, but that's because I have a weird phobia of broken bones (and yes, I've seen the Louisville basketball player's injury, now let us never speak of it again). If we're going to censor one thing, then we have to censor everything. Violence in games isn't going away. Are they too violent? Maybe, I don't personally think so (depending on the game and the gamer), but it's not my decision to make. That's why we have the ESRB, and if they thought a game's violence was too much, they would slap it with the dreaded Adults Only rating. If it weren't for an extremely violent videogame, my wife and I wouldn't have bonded the way that we did. Perhaps we still would have wound up married, as she and I do have a lot of similar interests, but if we hadn't spent every night together on Pandora blasting skags, I don't know how well we would have clicked, as gaming together is our number one hobby. Because of violence, I'm a much happier man.