The Effect of Violent Games

I think that the mainstream media’s depiction of modern gamers as socially inept, bereft of confidence and prone to acts of stupidity or violence due to their over-reliance on the fantasy world is a large part of what is, in reality, a very small problem. I also think that in chasing their perceived demon – video games – they let the real problem go unchecked.

I believe that there probably are very occasional cases in which a particularly vulnerable and susceptible individual has been influenced by scenes they’ve seen or played through in a video game but I would be surprised if those cases outnumber or even equal cases of individuals being influenced by movies, music or literature. The fact that people are influenced by their surroundings, by the creative works they experience, is hardly a revelation. In fact, it is precisely that influence which has led to the proliferation of creativity around the world – in all directions and in many different fields.

The simple fact is that humans, like all animals, learn from their surroundings. If those surroundings include video games then they are bound to be influenced. So at what point does the casual influence that we are all subjected to, regardless of the medium, become an unhealthy fascination and why? That is a question which is truly worth studying.

Rather than the numerous studies we see concerned with the affect of video games on individuals (which merely emulate similar studies done surrounding “video nasties” in the 1980s, sexual liberty in the 1970’s and Rock&Roll music and psychedelia in the 1950s and ’60s) wouldn’t it be a much more productive focus to target what triggers the loss of moral compass, regardless of the stimulant?

Games being primarily interactive is often a rallying call for the lobby to have them censored but I believe that their interactivity better serves to indicate the moral and emotional accountability of performing certain acts. I don’t know anyone who has spoken of guilt after seeing a driver run down a pedestrian in a movie but I know several who felt guilt when they steered Niko Bellic into a pedestrian in GTA IV. They felt, albeit in a very tiny way, the repercussions of their actions. This, I would argue, is something which is impossible to convey with any other medium and surely goes some way to simulating the real guilt that those with a strong set of morals would feel if that situation were replicated in the physical world.

So, games would seem, anecdotally, to be more likely to demonstrate emotional repercussions. Surely that makes them less likely to imply that morally reprehensible acts can be perpetrated without consequence?

The issue, for me, is that the mainstream media seems so keen to continue the vilification of video games rather than address the actual root of the problem: what causes these individuals to be so vulnerable to suggestion in the first place?

If I was pressed on the subject, and I would point out that this is merely my opinion which is based on conjecture – I’m no psychologist – I would say that poor parenting, peer pressure and a lack of suitable role models play a much grander role in the vulnerability to external suggestion that a few individuals have suffered. So why do we rarely see the mainstream media pick up on that?

Again, this is conjecture but I believe it’s because it is a great deal easier to blame something you have no control over than it would be to actually roll your sleeves up and try to do something about the problem. For most of the people who talk about video games in a negative way this would mean accepting their responsibility as a parent and a role model and joining with other parents to make a concerted effort to instil in their children a strong moral compass and a defined sense of right and wrong. If parents can show their children what it means to be a responsible citizen, a responsible human being, then maybe their children will be able to see potentially disturbing scenes and still know that performing those acts in reality is wrong.

I would start by enforcing the clear and recognisable age ratings at home in the same way as they are strictly enforced at retail but I wouldn’t stop there. It might be mutually beneficial if parents were to actually spend time and communicate with their children in order to find out about their interests and pastimes. Engage with the next generation or, regardless of how loudly you shout, you will become forever silent to them.

The only alternative is to detach ourselves from peer- and parental-responsibility and concede defeat to ambiguous moral censorship. That route has only ever led to the stifling of human endeavour and a large-scale cessation of creativity. I’d rather live in a largely free and colourful world and I think I’d be willing to put in some effort towards that goal. Wouldn’t we all?