Violence, whether by gun or other means, is a horrible event, but it is something that unfortunately occurs on a regular basis in today’s society. But is the continued sale of violent videogames truly a factor, or is it just a convenient scapegoat for America’s problems? With media, issues at home and school, and troublesome parenting, it is clear there are other concerns regarding this violence within our country and it is time we be responsible and address them.
With the influx of gun violence over the past several years society has been looking for answers as to why it has become so prevalent, are today’s young adults more aggressive? Are there problems with gun laws? Or is it just due to those violent videogames that are so popular among kids these days? The majority of the older generation, those within the government or in charge of organizations, have chosen the latter. Of course the violent imagery is to blame, that is the only outcome that makes any sense they cry! But of course that is a slight jump in logic as well as a little hasty. While violent games do have the potential of adjusting a young developing mind, there are far more important issues within our everyday lives that can slowly mold and drive someone towards committing such a horrible violent act as gunning down strangers.
First, let’s address the most prominent claim for those against videogames, the violence. Those against gaming proclaim that allowing a young child or teen to experience the violence within a game is allowing them to open Pandora’s Box and welcome in an agent of change; a form of entertainment that will alter their mindset and make them numb to the violence on display. Researchers and psychologists have been studying the effects of gaming since the 80’s and the effects of media in general as far back as the 50’s. While some studies proclaim that young males are more excited and can be ruder after a session of gaming, most researchers agree that there is no definitive proof that increased exposure from a single form of entertainment can lead to heavier acts of violence, all forms of media should be considered together, not isolated. Craig A. Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University agrees that games cannot be held solely responsible for the extreme violence in today’s world, but that it can be one symptom of a bigger problem. In the article “Shooting in the Dark” Anderson states “None of these extreme acts, like a school shooting, occur because of only one risk factor; there are many factors, including feeling socially isolated, being bullied, and so on. But if you look at the literature, I think it’s clear that violent media is one factor; it’s not the largest, but it’s also not the smallest.” This statement shows that while Anderson acknowledges that gaming can lead to higher blood pressure and excitement, it cannot, by itself, lead to such horrible acts we are witnessing now.
While gaming is still fairly young and easy to pawn the blame of today’s violence onto, media and entertainment in general should be looked upon and scrutinized as just one aspect of today’s troubles. While some games today weave tales that are darker and more adult oriented, and many claim this is the root of our violence, darker adult themes are not restricted to gaming. Darker and more realistic tones have been on the rise and prevalent in all forms of entertainment over the last ten years, particularly in film and television, and it is here that our first cause of concern arises.
Horror may be a staple in Hollywood, but the intensity and visuals have been upped quite a bit in recent years. While zombies and vampires were projected in black and white onto old theater screens in the early days, today horror is much more horrific and unstable. Films such as Saw and Hostel upped the ante for the genre and now there is a new horror film almost every other month hitting theaters, theaters that are quite easily accessible to young children and teenagers. There is no challenge for kids to see an R rated film. If tickets cannot be purchased due to age then kids simply buy a ticket for an animated film and then walk into the theater of that which is rated R. It’s that simple. The Saw franchise, which spawned seven films, is so violent and disturbing that the industry gave it the name of “Torture Porn,” a term that has stuck and been given to other franchises as well. Horror films these days do not shy away from displaying images of breaking bones, the cutting of flesh, the gauging of eyes, or any other horrific scenario one can come up with for the human body to endure. Hollywood is allowed to display such horrifying acts, with incredible detail, to moviegoers in theaters and at home, but yet a videogame cannot feature a gun being fired on a computer generated enemy?
This swerve into adult subject matter is not limited to feature films either, television programming has been increasing in both production value and themes in recent years. Shows such as CSI, NCIS, and Bones may be very basic in nature and story but that does not stop them from showing their victims deaths in surprising detail. If you move on from the basic cable channels you can find shows such as True Blood, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, all of which feature very adult subject matter such as violence and sex. The Walking Dead is particularly gruesome with its depiction of humans beheading and cutting up zombies in various ways. All of these examples are very highly rated programming, they are both a hit with critics and viewers and are accessible in almost everyone’s home, and if not, then easily found on the internet. Oh, and besides the heavy violence, films and television are getting away with more and more sexual themes as well, such as fairly graphic scenes of rape, yet if a game features a very quick and very held back depiction of lovemaking it is put to the torch. You either judge all equally or none at all.
Videogames are restricted to relatively basic technology and budgets, even if they are improving, developers can only dream of reaching the production values and realism of Hollywood. Videogames do not look like real life but these films and shows sure do and children of all ages are watching them, most likely with their parent’s right there beside them, not a care in the world. But while these forms of entertainment are violent and edgy and ultimately not real, the constant stream of News outlets on television sure are. At any time during the day anyone can turn on CNN or browse on MSN.com and witness the horrible events that are taking place at any time all around us. From bombs going off at peaceful events to a completely random and horrible act of theft that lead to murder, the world we live in is violent and awful. Do we really have to worry about fake violence in a fake world, or should we be worried about the violence in the real world and how that can affect our children’s minds and perceptions?
While various forms of media are unquestionably violent and can potentially have an impact on a developing mind, a bigger concern and another area that worried adults should consider is the everyday stresses both children and young adults must contend with. As I mentioned earlier violence permeates every area of the world, whether it’s being broadcast on television news or not. This is the world that today’s teenagers must grow and develop in, the world they walk to school through and the one that they party and drink in. It must be remembered that forms of entertainment are meant to entertain, they are meant to allow one to escape the realities of life for a bit and just enjoy a nice distraction. We need distractions such as games, movies, books, or music to not only make us smile, but to help us cope with the harsh realities of the world. Sometimes these forms of entertainment also give people a manner in which to cope or even vent their frustrations, a statistical graph from the “Bureau of Justice Statistics,” a .gov that specializes in graphing and organizing information on crime, shows that youth violence has in fact gone down while sales of games have gone up since 1996. A coincidence? Perhaps, or perhaps not.
These harsh realities are not taken into consideration when people ask themselves why school shootings or suicides occur; instead they ask if they played games! Everyone on this Earth knows that going through school can be a very stressful experience, we know that jobs can make us feel ill and we know that our families can be very difficult; how come these symptoms are ignored when the media presents a story? The age between thirteen and twenty can be an exceptionally difficult time. Bodies are changing and personalities are developing. It is this point in time that cliques are formed, fads come and go, and friends turn to enemies and enemies into friends.
School life is filled with bullying, tests, homework, and failed relationships. When at the age of a teenager everything seems incredibly important and when things don’t work out the water begins to boil over. While four years of High School is minimal in the grand scheme of things, it can still feel like a lifetime when dealing with such issues and stress. When one is under constant scrutiny from both their peers and their teachers while also dealing with the constant insults and bullying from others, eventually the only solution that makes any sense is to lash out and get back at those who have wronged them. This conclusion isn’t right and far too many are hurt by its use, but to the people who have been pulled to the brink, it seems like the only logical way out.
Even today, at the age of twenty-six, I still have a difficult time dealing with large portions of my life. I am nowhere near where I would like to be and since the age of thirteen I have been intimately familiar with depression, with many times having my thoughts turn to suicide while I was in my teens. Now I have never attempted such a thing, but the thoughts were there, and today I still fall into fits of depression for days or weeks at a time, but not once are these thoughts brought about because I play games. Throughout the course of one day a person can experience a myriad of emotions, have to contend with numerous obstacles and face the fact that they may just fail at what they are aiming to achieve. From issues with family to bullying and a sense of being alone in the world, living life can be a rough experience, but not once were my anxieties due to the act of playing videogames. In fact, many times these feelings have been pushed aside from the enjoyment that games can bring, games have helped me persevere through moments of loss, betrayal, and fear.
Finally we come to perhaps the biggest cause for concern when speaking about videogame violence, the parents. After a shooting occurs and police discover the young man had owned an Xbox, it is off to the races for the news outlets and vocal parents who are concerned about their children’s wellbeing. Let’s forget for a moment, that in today’s society it is in fact odd to find a young man without an Xbox or a PlayStation, and assume that perhaps games did influence the suspects psyche, then who is to blame? Should it be the men and woman who put in their time and hard work creating the game, or should it be the parents who showed such negligence and allowed their child to play the violent games they deem wrong? Tracy Dennis, a child development expert and the associate professor of psychology at Hunter College in New York City agrees and thinks parents should perhaps pay more attention to their children’s habits. If parents truly worry about the impact of violent games on their children then Dennis recommends they use simple common sense. In the article “Teens at Risk” Dennis asks parents to “Limit the amount they’re playing. Don’t sit a kid in front of violent video games for hours at a time,” A very simple suggestion.
Many parents today do not even realize that videogames have a similar ratings system as that of film and television, and it is this system that parents should turn to when deciding if a game is safe for their child. Each title is graded and explained in detail on the back of each box; from an E for everyone to an M for mature, gaming isn’t just for children, in fact, most gamers are over the age of twenty-one. It seems parents today want to blame everyone and everything for their children’s mistakes instead of themselves, the ones that have raised them, or at least, were supposed to. If a parent cannot take the time to understand their child’s hobbies or interests, such as learning about the ratings system for the games they enjoy, then there was already cause for concern.
If violence in entertainment is that much of a problem then one would assume the parents would take it upon themselves to limit and control the material their children receive. If a child is plopped in front of a game or film with no explanation of what is occurring then they are more susceptible to being confused and influenced by it. Instead of shifting blame elsewhere parents should be taking responsibility for their child’s upbringing and sitting down and having long discussions with them on whether or not they understand that a game is make believe, that the scenes they are witnessing are in fact, wrong. The parent should also decide if it is the right time to introduce their child to violent games, or if they should stick with the more family friendly fare, because, believe it or not, there are many videogames that are educational and even works of art. Just as there are films and books that are nonviolent, there are games that push emotion and story over violent acts. Now myself, I have been playing and watching all forms of entertainment since I was a child, always understanding that they are fictional and for the purpose of enjoyment and escapism, but even I would not allow my own kid to see or play scenes of violence until they are much older and ready. Until they are mature enough to understand right and wrong. I am aware that there are other games out there besides the “ultra-violent” ones and I would enjoy them with my children, not just purchase a game for them with no understanding and allow it to babysit my kids.
Nobody denies that violent entertainment can have a negative impact on an individual, but it should be known that it cannot be held solely responsible for the violence in today’s society. Humans are complex creatures with complex emotions, there are hundreds of reasons a person acts the way they do, and the cause for a violent act can never be boiled down to a simple explanation as “they played a videogame.” In today’s ever growing world we are increasingly looking for the easy explanation, we want to feel as if we are in control and that we are safe, we want to feel as if the government can fix our problems by restricting one form of media or taking away one item, but they cannot. The world is too diverse, too massive, and too complex for such an easy solution. There are horrible acts that take place on this planet because there are thousands of variables, the violence within the U.S. is not a simple problem, nor does it have a simple solution, it is the most complex equation in existence. But instead of learning and debating and understanding today’s troubles with a level head, people will continue living with their heads in the sand. A recent poll was taken by Public Policy Polling asking the question “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: Guns or Violent Videogames?” Guns earned 14% of the votes, not sure 19%, and videogames cleaned house with 67% of the vote…games are more dangerous to the world than guns, or even people. Impressive. –Chuck
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