With the recent tragedy of yet another mass shooting, all sorts of voices are rising, many trying to label the biggest roots of this continued problem in the US.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of my favorite video games ever.

    Two republican congressmen, Brian Mast & Matt Bevin (the latter endorsed by the NRA,) saying that the problem isn’t guns, it’s “the culture of violence… hollywood movies… video game market… look at Call of Duty, look at movies like John Wick.” (Mast, NPR) “You look at the culture of death… there are video games that, yes, are marked for mature audiences, but kids play them and everybody knows that and there’s nothing to prevent a child from playing them. It celebrates the slaughtering…” (Bevin, iHeartRadio)

   I’ll be up front here- I’m tired. Tired of children being gunned down, of unstable and vile people having easy access to dangerous weapons; of politicians blaming anything and everything to brush the broken, poorly-legislated industry of firearms under the rug because that’s who’s lining their pockets. Today though, let’s talk about why I’m so tired of the “video games make people violent” argument.

    First and foremost, I will respectfully address congressman Mast’s concerns; the congressman notes that entertainment media such as his two examples are violent; why would I disagree? Call of Duty is literally a franchise built off of war and it’s by no means alone. First, let’s acknowledge that this series is still a work of fiction, historical and somewhat realistic fiction, but all the same fiction. Though I have not played it longer than 10 minutes in my entire life, don’t consider it my taste whatsoever, and I find Activision to be cynical for a few reasons, I don’t honestly believe these games are made to glorify war. I watched a sequence from Call of Duty WW2 that depicted the  storming of Normandy beach on D-Day 1944. True to history and alongside many entertainment industry recreations of this event, the soldiers are gunned down, blown to bits, and left lying dead in the sand, drenched by saltwater and blood. Yes, this is violence, no matter how historically accurate or realistic. However, when games like this depict war, it very rarely suggests war is a good thing.

Call of Duty: WWII

Most often, in both movies and games, more realistic war is recreated showing fearful men trying to hold themselves together in the face of their very possible last moments of life lest they end countless others first. And in truth, that is my perception and I personally believe that was the intention of the developers. War is a horrible thing, but it’s compelling to people. We wouldn’t have so many different movies, books, shows, and games about it if it wasn’t! So yes, that’s the aspect of Brian Mast’s argument that holds water.

    I have studied the rating system of video games in the United States thoroughly; consequently, that research leaves me even more frustrated by this sort of example because, to be perfectly honest, there are far worse games that perpetuate violence. I love video games; they have the potential to be vibrant, heart-gripping, ingenious interactive experiences, absolute pieces of art in their own right. 

Manhunt (2003) the less graphic depiction of murder, suffocation, as opposed to taking a hacksaw to the cranium.

However, I won’t deny that there are games that fit the narrative these politicians push, but they’re so tightly regulated that they can’t have a whole lot of impact on people. Manhunt (2003), for example, was at the center of a great deal of controversy for its extremely realistic depictions of violence. Unlike the aforementioned sequence in Call of Duty WW2, the player’s character is a death row subject who has to execute gang members and receives ratings for their performance; the worst part of this is how realistic the murders can be, such as the ability to suffocate a man with a plastic bag. If you’re going to argue against video game violence, I’d say that’s the best example- one where a player could essentially be taught how to kill a real person with frighteningly simple methods.

     Congressman Bevin, however, makes the argument more clearly- the concern is that these games perpetuate violence and young children are playing them. He’s half right. Children are playing games like Call of Duty despite mature labels, even Activision knows that. The trouble with saying there’s nothing stopping children from playing these games is that any video game rated M and above cannot be purchased unless someone is over 18. These children get their hands on these games because, very often, their parents don’t know. My aunt wouldn’t allow her 13-year-old to play Assassin’s Creed 4, a game where blood effects can be turned off, death is required to advance the story, but taught to the protagonists as sometimes a mistake and something not to be celebrated. Simultaneously, her 10-year-old was telling me about playing Mortal Kombat X, a game so graphically violent despite being fictional and hyperbolic that I get nauseated just looking at, at a friend’s house.

Mortal Kombat X, Mileena Fatality scene. (related images in my search for this actually made me nauseous. It’s pretty rough.)

     A parent should be responsible for their children being exposed to excessive violence, even if they can’t necessarily stop them from finding work-arounds like so. As a kid I played Sims a lot and my mom felt I was too young to be watching stylized simulated humans having sex or making out. I found it silly, but her argument was “I don’t want you to make Sims do things you aren’t old enough to do.” The principle is a bit different with violent content, but at its core it’s the same: you need to be able to differentiate what’s appropriate in real life from what you see in entertainment. Additionally, you need to be aware of how entertainment can be an influence; children will imitate cartoons, I was certainly one of those kids screaming in the streets pretending to go super saiyan, as an adult I recognize content I grew up with generates positive emotion towards similar productions because of nostalgia, and it definitely cultivated my sense of humor. It’s important to be self-aware.

     Moral of the story is, there’s plenty of violent entertainment, but the line between fiction and reality is clearly marked, it’s parents’ responsibility to teach their children how to recognize that, and I’m not about to go stab up a local park just because I like to murder demons in Dragon Age Inquisition. If anything, I’ll be much calmer after some good virtual demon murder.

18 COMMENTS

  1. People don’t become sociopaths who don’t value human life from playing violent video games. People play violent video games because they are already sociopaths who don’t value human life.

  2. I’m curious how people on this site would feel about sexism in video games and if it has adverse effects. I have a feeling contributors on this site would believe that video game violence doesn’t correlate to real violence but at the same time may watch something like Feminist Frequency and say video games promote a misogynistic culture.

    I personally don’t believe in any of these kinds of studies on video games because their studies mostly involve a small selection of people and usually the people doing the studies influence the results with their own personal bias.

    Anyways, everybody should play Puyo Puyo Tetris. It’s fun, non-violent and has a strong female lead. Everybody wins.

  3. Two points that you touched on that deserve more airtime:
    1. Millions of kids play violent video games every day around the world; only a statistically insignificant percentage of those become violent in real life. Looked at from a statistical perspective, there is really no discernable relationship between violent video games and real-life violence.
    2. Emerging research seems to be indicating that violent video games provide an outlet for violent thoughts and fantasies for many people (not just kids). We may discover that violent game actually prevent more shootings.

  4. All the talk of personal responsibility and “it’s not _______ fault” are reasons we continue to have these problems. The real solutions will involve accepting responsibility for a wide range of things we are constitutionally entitled to. Yes, we can buy guns, but maybe we have to collectively limit some of that right. Yes, we can buy violent video games, but maybe we have to acknowledge that they glorify the act of killing other humans. And maybe we can acknowledge that our society as a whole has less means to recognize and help the killers in our midst. We have more alone time, less civic engagement, less political participation, less religious participation, and greater polarization on every topic. We’re breading an ever angrier, less adjusted population with fewer avenues for anger. For all our modern enlightenment, we still have kids and adults who feel a callous disregard for human life and are exposed to the tools, tactics, and inspiration for committing mass murder. It has to be acknowledged that people grow up seeing machine guns used in movies and TV shows (both fiction and non-fiction), that the 24 hour news cycle gives every gory detail of the tactics used by these killers to motivate the next, that online portals and social media allow these killers to plot and to learn, that incredibly dangerous guns can be bought or traded with little oversight, and that a broken system of security checks makes the whole process even easier. We cannot say “It’s not MY fault.” You’re right. It’s OUR fault our neighbors and our kids are still killing people.

  5. Looking at the comments, how did Feminist Frequency get involved in this? I don’t think the Freq wanted any part of this discussion.

    Americans buy a lot more violent video games than any other country by an almost logarithmic scale. We’re a violent country that loves violence. We make violent TV shows and movies; we glorify violent rappers; we buy guns by the tons. Outlawing the games won’t change America’s love affair with guns.

  6. “People play violent video games because they are already sociopaths who don’t value human life.”

    Video game characters aren’t alive. They don’t care if you murder them.

  7. “Can art have a positive effect on the human mind and heart? Then it can have a negative effect as well.”

    Wow that’s deep, bro. Who needs research when we have banalities.

  8. “we glorify violent rappers”

    What is it with white dudes blaming rap? Pete Townshend smashed guitars. Ozzy bit the head off a bat. Kurt Cobain sang about killing and burying his girlfriend and then killed himself in real life. Fix your violent rock heroes, bro.

  9. “Fix your violent rock heroes, bro.”

    Us “white dude’s” rock heroes are all old or dead now. Try again “bro.”

  10. “Who needs research when we have banalities.”

    Banalities need to be repeated when people people insist on not understanding them. Such as…

    “there’s plenty of violent entertainment, but the line between fiction and reality is clearly marked,”

    Mike

  11. “Us “white dude’s” rock heroes are all old or dead now.”

    So what? Your violent white music is alive and well. If you care so much about violent lyrics, denounce your own heroes.

  12. And yet all these mass shootings happened after they invented the Matrix. Funny how no one seem to remention that.

  13. “A parent should be responsible for their children being exposed to excessive violence, even if they can’t necessarily stop them from finding work-arounds like so.”

    Exactly. It’s up to parents to decide what’s appropriate for their kids. Everyone else should shut the hell up.

    Dunno how this turned into a rappers vs. white rockers debate, but they’ve ALL recorded sleazy material. I’m not inclined to defend rappers or rockers … or R&B singers like alleged child rapist R. Kelly.

  14. “All these mass shootings happened after they invented the Matrix.”

    All these mass shootings happened after they invented 10 Things I Hate About You. Look, it has HATE in the title. Obviously we must ban all romcoms now.

    Mass shootings happened before Columbine, smart guy.

  15. I agree with this tweet by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz:

    “There was a moment there, after the Las Vegas massacre, when I thought we’d moved past blaming this kind of thing on videogames, movies and other pop culture. But no, we’re back to that. It’s the guns, people.”

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