Sound Off Vol. 1: A Logical View of Violence & Gaming

March 4, 2005

Oftentimes when the idea that violence is somehow related to video games comes up in the media, our initial reaction is a defensive one. We get irritated that someone would blame an inanimate object (albeit an interactive one) for a crime perpetrated by a whack job. I admit that I am up there on the frontlines hurling insults at people who love to pass the buck. What I want to do is approach the idea that video games somehow contribute to the problem as an outsider, as someone who didn’t grow up in this industry. I know it will be a tad difficult, and I expect it to be a little controversial-but hey, that is what we are here for, right?

To start off, I want to note that there has never been a successful study that has directly linked violent behavior to violence in video games. A recent [i]Boston Globe[/i] [url=]article[/url] about the effects of gaming noted:

[quote]Murray, a visiting scholar at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston, uses MRI technology to map the brains of children as they experience violent media images. He found that though children consciously know they’re being entertained, their brains store those violent images in the area reserved for significant events, the same place where events that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorders are stored.[/quote]

In a nutshell, running over a hooker in the newest [i]GTA[/i] game has a similar effect on our brain that actually running over a hooker might. Obviously, this is my speculation, and I am totally not a doctor, but that does raise some interesting questions. Does video game violence desensitize kids to violence? I will wholeheartedly concede that point because I honestly think it does. You can’t argue that seeing lifelike interactive death on a regular basis doesn’t make the shock value wear off. Likewise, you could say that learning positive principles through gaming would have an effect that was that much greater compared to a different form of learning.

My overall take on kids that bust out guns and then point the finger at video games is this: Certain people are going to have a predisposition to violence. People have predispositions to alcohol addition, gambling, etc., so it would be a safe assumption to say that violence would fit into that same mold. Just about anything can be applied to that line of thinking. Saying I have a predisposition to being a programmer would be a true statement, while Pickle or Pretzel would definitely not share that same trait. With that being said, exposing someone who is already prone to violent behavior to something that, as far as the brain is concerned, is a traumatic violent event just might be the catalyst that they need to invoke a psychotic fit. Does this excuse the behavior? Hell no. Does this mean the video game industry in any way is responsible for what this person did? I think not. All that it means is that the parents of this child or person, in general, need to take a proactive role in preventing their own exposure to this kind of experience. Obviously, that is an ideal situation because you will never know who is predisposed to violence and who isn’t.

Where does that leave us? As a new parent, I can safely say that the burden is on the parents and guardians. If you are an adult and you kill someone, you will stand trial and probably go to jail. Americans have set a nasty precedence that they can blame big businesses for their actions, and that is a problem with the American legal system and so we just have to deal with it. When I see parents, however, that don’t bother to regulate the games their kids play, the movies they watch, or the activities they engage in, I wonder why the parents wouldn’t blame the media forms? After all, parents like that are hiring a babysitter in digital form, right?

I firmly believe that there will probably never be a direct link between video games and behavior, but to think it doesn’t at least mildly influence someone is asinine. The ESRB has recently introduced a new E10+ rating in an effort to help parents know which games are appropriate for their kids. The retailers are also going out of their way to check IDs for games carrying the M rating, but all too often parents are willing to buy whatever game it is without even looking at it. Then they wonder why their nine-year-old son thinks it is funny that someone got run over by a car on the news. Mix in paying a little attention to your kids, guys. You had them, now it’s time to raise them.

In closing, I can’t even begin to know what I would do if I were to get a phone call that my son committed a heinous crime like we have seen in recent years. My first reaction might even be to blame anyone and everyone else. The bottom line is that as parents it is our job to regulate what our children are exposed to, and if I see another seven-year-old playing [i]GTA[/i] , then I just might bust a vein. My son is currently just shy of one year old, and the future holds a rocky path for us, but you can bet that as a parent and an avid gamer, I will only allow him to play the games of which I approve. For all you parents out there that have taken that step to get educated on the rating system and following what your kids play, I applaud you. Keep up the good work.