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voex avatar 11:07 AM on 04.23.2013  (server time)
Violence: The Blame Game

"Are videogames too violent?"

Whenever this gets brought up in a discussion on violence in videogames, I roll my eyes. Too violent for who, for what? For society? To be accepted as an art form? Too violent for parents, who are worried their children's minds might be warped by the violent content of games they shouldn't even be playing? Or perhaps people (well, politicians) who need something to pin the blame for acts of real-life violence on.

So I've decided to tackle the question of violence in videogames by looking at how I think games are unfairly blamed for violence in real-life society.

I always ask the question about other media; who's complaining that films are too violent? Well, some people obviously do, but people seem to gravitate towards games when the finger-pointing starts. I think a cause of this is the relative youth of videogames as a medium; film, books, theatre etc. have all built up a substantial pedigree to allow violent content to be acceptable. It seems to be a case of the "little guy" being picked on, since his older, larger cousins can't be touched.

Now of course games are different in that they involve interactivity; you are in the shoes of an avatar existing in a virtual world. When it comes to games featuring heavy violence, you are more often than not controlling the perpetrator of violent acts.

This interactivity is a large part of what causes the distrust of videogames. They are sometimes called "simulators" in which already violent-minded individuals can practice their "killing-skills". To anyone who has never played a videogame, this makes sense because, well, why not? It sounds reasonable, until you think about it.

I've played first-person-shooters a lot and I have a fascination with weaponry; when I was younger I used to make pistols out of construction blocks and I thought my first Airsoft gun was the coolest thing ever. The one part I dislike about them is, ironically, the fact that they are used to kill things. I know that if I was ever handed a real loaded rifle I would be terrified of pointing it at anything other than the ground for fear of it going off.

But suppose someone who would be williing to shoot a human target picked up a gun. I can't imagine any amount of time spent with a shooting game would train them to shoot; it is still a far-cry from holding a gamepad and watching a screen.

Using myself as an example may not be that suitable I admit. I'm probably one of the least violent people, I hate it in fact. I wouldn't hurt a fly (unless it pissed me off too much). That being said, I've played violent games most of my life and never been inclined to translate my actions performed in a game into real-life. I played Pokémon when I was at more impressionable age and I have never thought it a good idea to throw a mouse at a caterpillar ordering it to "use tackle!". Pokémon's pretty violent when you think about it...

Anyway, back to the more serious comparison: playing a game in which you use a weapon, a gun for example, does not teach you to use a gun.

In wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke out against "really violent videogames," saying that "they "enable the (would-be mass murderers) to become much more familiar with that depiction of death and blood,".

It's this kind of knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the killer played videogames in some capacity that I find dismaying. It's understandable to want something to accuse out of fear and anger, but the way in which some people act as though games are the cause of all evil is laughable.

I also dismiss the view that violent media desensitises (normal) people to violence; I recently saw a photo taken at the Boston marathon bombings, which showed a street covered in patches of blood, the mere aftermath of the attacks, and started feeling ill. By contrast, I can witness Leon's head getting torn off by Dr. Salvador's chainsaw or even innocent people being mown down by gunfire in No Russian over and over, but they wouldn't invoke the same reactions in me. To me at least, the rift between real-life and pixelated violence is very large.

I'm also inclined to recite this common rebuttal; If, hypothetically, violent games are fueling people with already unbalanced temperaments to turn to killing, then is the answer to ban them? Should the majority be punished for the acts of a few? If a person's mind wanders towards thoughts such as "hey, maybe I should kill people", that person was probably already messed up. Something went wrong in their head long before they played a videogame and it's likely they'd have found another stimulus if not them.

As for the many ways violence is used in games, whether it be to evoke emotions, to shock, to tell a story, to enhance realism, or merely for visual feedback, each of these reasons are as valid to be used in videogames as they are in any other form of entertainment media.

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