The infamous GTA hot coffee hack has turned video games into a medium which is “destroying the nation.” Hillary Clinton thinks so, and Florida attorney Jack Thompson will stop at nothing to dismantle the ESRB. He already won the fight over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but now Thompson aims to slap an Adults Only rating on The Sims 2 and Killer 7. For veteran gamers, this sudden outburst is “yet another” in an ongoing battle to keep soccer moms happy and violent video games out of reach of overprotected children.
“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock and roll.”
– Shigeru Miyamoto
In 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Al Acorn created Pong, one of the first video games. The medium didn’t actually become mainstream until a decade later, however. Twenty years is relatively short compared to other media. Video games are still young. Older people don’t understand them and therefore find it easier to blame all our social problems on this strange and baffling form of entertainment.
Any article about Grand Theft Auto will say something like, “Where killing cops earns you points.” This shows a lack of any attempt to actually know what the game is about. GTA is not about killing cops, and points are not awarded for doing so. In fact, if memory serves me correct, running over bystanders can get the police to chase you and subsequently mess up your entire mission objective.
Newsweek would have you believe that every video game is a gore-infested shooter and is breeding grounds for all school attacks and other juvenile homicides. This is like basing the entire movie industry off a couple porn films, and it’s an unfair accusation. Don’t listen to what they say. The ESRB tells a different story. Not surprisingly, 54% of the games rated by the ESRB in 2004 were rated E for Everyone, and only 13% were Mature and over.
According to ESRB research, 83% of parents agree with their ratings. Maybe they just picked a lucky test group, because that seems a little high when I’m constantly running into parents who are surprised at the games their children are playing (including my own parents). Regardless, it’s not the game industry’s or the ESRB’s fault. If parents are so concerned about their children, why don’t they actually get involved with video game purchases? I think the real epidemic — if there even is one — is a lack of parental participation.
Is there really a need to get so uptight about violence in video games, though? Thanks to the insight of Game Revolution, we now know crime has actually gone down in the past several years. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Crime has been at its lowest in this so-called “violent” era of video gaming. What, exactly, is the problem, then?
Fanatics will claim that even the innocently enjoyable Super Mario Bros. series is too violent. Somebody went so far as to record five deaths per minute in the original Super Mario Bros. game. The childish Kirby 64 was recorded to be 71% violence. This is kid’s stuff, though! I don’t know anybody who has a fetish with eating mushrooms and jumping on turtles from playing too much Mario.
As H. Stephen Glenn says, “People are often more capable than we see them as.” I once asked my nephew, who is seven, if killing people was bad. “Yeah,” he said, as if I was an idiot for asking. I then inquired if killing people in Halo was bad. His response: “No, because it’s not real.” Did he understand the difference between the real world and virtual reality? Sure he did! And I think most kids who are raised by levelheaded parents do, too.
While televised violence does make aggression more likely, it does not invariably cause it for any given person. According to psychologist Dennis Coon, children who believe that aggression is an acceptable way to solve problems are the ones likely to imitate that violence. Perhaps these “GTA-inspired” shootings were the offspring of other factors (like an unstable family life). The game may have been the delinquent’s only escape from his/her real problems.
I will admit that games can be very frustrating and induce a need to break something (i.e. the controller), but this is a frustration similar to solving an impossible math problem or practicing a difficult piece on the piano. The only way to avoid getting frustrated is to never do anything.
In other words: violent video games aren’t bad, and if you’re mature enough to know better, playing violent video games will not make you a bad person.