Why Aren’t We Discussing Videogame Violence?

RPS has posted a thought-provoking article about videogame violence.

But can we just drop the fever-pitch finger-pointing and be honest with ourselves for a second? Forget the nutty politicians. Forget the “studies” that have been tailored to say whatever people want them to say. Just breathe, count to ten, and look inward. We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks. Does that cause violence? Probably not. I don’t have any concrete reason to believe so, anyway. But it gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives. We can’t just ignore that. We shouldn’t ignore that. It’d be outright irresponsible to do so.

And the conversation will continue.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. And that’s why I’m going to start at square one. Within the next couple of days, I’ll be publishing a followup piece to this one in which I’ll take a very close look at the places where games and violence have intersected with my life. From blissful, naive childhood all the way up to right now. Sure, the whole exercise will be inherently biased, but is there any other way to do it? And if I end up being completely full of shit, please – by all means – tell me. I want to start a discussion. Whether that means you end up contributing your own anecdotes, tearing mine to shreds, or doing something else entirely, that’s great! Regardless, I think it’s high-time we talk about this topic in an open, frank manner. So, right then. Pause your games of Far Cry 3. Let’s get to it.

I’m looking forward to the discussion.

One of the first complaints I saw in the Gearbox forums after Borderlands 2 launched was that the instances of decapitations and limb cutting had been toned down from the first game to that point that it almost never happens. People found it intolerable that the graphic head-popping and legs flying weren’t there. They demanded to know when Gearbox planned to patch it back in.

Well yes, when you establish expectations…

Take a look at the cautionary tale of New Coke.

But I know why we’re not discussing it. That’s the easy part. It’s because that’s the sort of thing the enemy talks about. “Videogames cause violence,” they hoot and holler, pitchforks aloft atop their dusty dinosaur steeds. “The medium just belches out puerile filth that teaches our children how to kill. All games should be banned forever. Period end.”

No, I’m not discussing it because I thought it was settled. Like other forms of entertainment, violence can be good or bad. A lot of games are really creepy about it right now.

On the actual question of whether it makes kids go nuts, I thought that was settled too - who are these perfectly normal people who snap after shooting too many simulated people? Entertainment is a reflection of culture, not the other way around.

My favorite strip is relevant:

IMO, that’s more about visceral feedback than the actual violence happening. In a game that’s all about guns, you want to feel powerful when using said guns.

As for the general debate … oh lord, this again?

I too thought this was, for the most part, settled. I mean sure, it’ll come up when tragic events like those in New Hampshire occur, but I’ve noticed it’s discussed less and less because more people realize it’s not even an argument, really.

I think you inadvertently said more about violent games and people’s attraction to them than the RPS article.

At some point there will have to be a rational debate and proper research just in case there is a link, no good in another 20 years bemoaning the fact.

Today I saw a 10 year old girl getting her dad to buy Grand Theft Auto IV in a game store and he did it, I expected the shop to say are you nuts it’s 18 for a reason but he just sold it to the bloke yet there is no way he would have bought an 18 horror movie for his kids.

There needs to be more understanding especially from parents over what gaming and console/pc gaming is about rather than using ignorance as an excuse which at present is what we seem to get.

You’ll likely never get any real good research because it would need to not only investigate games but other causes of violent tendencies. And the minute you try to include actual guns in your research, the NRA will do everything in it’s power to block the research.

First off, there are real studies and not just “studies.” Violent games have consistently shown an increase in aggression for those partaking. It does not generally last very long and aggression is not always a bad thing, but it is a real if temporary effect. Same goes for someone playing team sports or even chess (albeit to a lesser degree). The experience can actually provide some real benefits, including team building and positive social interactions if done with friends, confidence building, and even enhanced analysis and decision making skills. Oh, and it can be fun. Those who have normative influences and are not at risk for severe mental illnesses will generally revert to their typical behavior patterns and will suffer no long term detrimental effects, largely just retaining the positives they obtained along the way.

That said, no matter how much of a majority of the population falls under that description, there will always be some who do not. You also have a situation where those who are more predisposed to a particular behavior (aggression in this case) will be more likely to seek out a socially acceptable outlet for it (violent video games), so every time I see some murder and video games being connected I find the lack of nuance in such an assertion to be quite troubling.

More studies still need to be conducted to firm up decade-old conclusions, refine theories, and address how the medium has changed. I suspect we’ll be seeing another wave of publications just like we did in the years shortly after Columbine. /research scientist. The rest is all conjecture.

Here’s something else to think about: murders were committed before guns were invented. However, with guns there is an increase in both the potential lethality of an individual and the speed with which such an action can be carried out, removing time during which the murderer may think twice about it. In a somewhat similar manner, activities encouraged aggressive responses and created a dangerous environment for a small minority long before video games were invented. However, the high level of immersion and intensity (ever increasing, one might add) in video games is potentially much more potent to those who are at-risk. Technology and advances in any medium lend themselves to those searching for more extremes.

As the writer points out, there’s also the cultural impact to consider. The more mainstream that socially acceptable virtual violence becomes, the larger diversity within that segment and a greater number will find the extremes. More begets more: as virtual violence becomes more of a hobby for more people, it becomes something to market to and that creates a cultural momentum. It wasn’t that long ago in the scope of history that we had gladiators shedding blood to delight the audience, after all. While our sensibilities may have evolved, it’s important to remember that we’re still the same base animals that thrilled to that spectacle. I don’t see us ever going back there (barring a Fallout scenario), but it’s good to humanize these things instead of just chalking it up to “crazies” out there.

I personally find that the greatest way to address any possible problems with gaming is to get to the reason why you want to experience the violence in the first place. What compels you to want to face down waves of demons, nefarious mobsters, hordes of alien invaders, or masked super villains? Certainly nobody wants to do that in real life, but we get something out of doing it on a screen. Once you identify whatever it is, figure out why that may be increasing in our society and work to address that issue. I would suspect that would go a long way towards shaping our society into one that more of us would be comfortable with and would create a better environment to address at-risk individuals. No solution will ever be perfect and people will still fall through the cracks for any number of reasons, but at least it would be nice to see some movement in a positive direction.

Now I’ll let you guys continue at it while I count the hours until I can get home and continue my conquest of the globe in Civ.

Does it desensitize us to violence, as Calvin asks? I’m still not sure I know the answer to that. I have been steeped in graphically violent media and literature from childhood. I have played every sort of violent game, seen every sort of splatter movie, and read books and plays from the Iliad to King Lear to Pop 1280 in which horrific violence occurs as a matter of fact. (It would be hard to develop a proper understanding of literature without exposing oneself to incredibly violent scenarios, even if you only read the Bible all day.)

Yet real-life violence makes my stomach quiver, causes me to break out in a cold sweat, and confuses and paralyzes me. The one time I have been in an actual fistfight (I use the term liberally, as it was more a case of me standing there and being a punching bag) I was so confused and scared that I basically just stood there and got hit. I’ve seen tempers flare over rights to a tennis court, nothing more than heated words and a little leaning-forward body language, and it disturbed me deeply.

I don’t mean I’m a shrinking violet; I have a bad temper myself and can get into an argument if the conditions are right. What I mean is that I don’t understand what it even means to be desensitized to violence. Whenever I encounter violence, anger, stress, or danger in the real world, I feel hypersensitized to it. It feels completely different from anything I ever saw in a Tarantino flick or an episode of Dexter or played in Call of Duty or anything else. And the most violent acts I have ever experienced have been nothing more than punches thrown (and car collisions, if we add in accidental violence). If someone pulled out a gun and started shooting, my response would be so far from ‘desensitized’ that I would probably turn into a pile of quivering goo. In fact, my fear is that I would do just that and not be much use to those around me or even myself.

I adore Calvin & Hobbes, but I never really bought that particular strip, at least as it relates to my own individual anecdotal YMMV experience of real life.

Maybe Violence in media (peroid) when compared with folks with menal illness issues, specifically those susceptible to suggestion or psychotic or other violent disorders should be more closely exaimined. Maybe with young children with developing minds, but definetly the former should be seriously discussed and action taken on (long overdue actually). However to single out video games will have little to no impact on voilence in our society, since we are only treating a sliver of the cause vector.

I don’t know if we are desensitized by violence. I do believe we learn to either “ignore” it or become fearful of violence that doesn’t necessarily exist for us.

Now I do think we have become desensitized to sex. Look how sex is now depicted in the media and how modesty in dress seems to have become a thing of the past. The idea of sexting would have been abhorent a generation or two ago. The daytime TV shows, the reality shows, the stuff in prime time shows, etc. I recently had a discussion with a friend over an episode of Two Broke Girls that we both had independently happened to hear parts of. The stuff in that show would have got you arrested in the 60’s in many parts of the south. :)

I am not saying this is all bad, just that I think it has happened.

I think our decreasing empathy and increased voilence as a society has more to do with our enherint natuer and Dunbar’s number, than anything directly to do with our culture of violence. When we lived in smaller communities, we knew all the people around us or at least someone we cared about did.

Know we can live in a community where neither is the case, and we are able to indulge in our enherient nature more freely. Because the consequence you would have in asmaller community is now often not an issue.

Isn’t this more of a factor of society setting the bar lower, verse higher. in past generations, they would set a higher bar of social behavior, that people strived to obtain. Now, thanks to media, we keep finding ways to lower the bar, lower and lower and be socialy acceptable

You know, the typical uses of guns are not violent, or even violent-fantasy. It’s just shooting for the fun of it. Maybe that’s changed recently (I blame video games) but there was never really murder ideation going on while at target practice.

Are you sure that’s true? Do you know what the numbers are for gun owners with respect to target shooting? I would think that a sizable subset of the legal gun owner population bought the weapon primarily or solely for self-defense. For those owners, the “typical” use would be the gun sitting at home or in a purse, probably never to be used, but certainly in contemplation of violence. Maybe they’ve shot it a few times at a range (one would hope), but the motivation isn’t target shooting.

With respect to violent video games, I think that’s one of the challenges: is the player engaging in the game because it is homicidially violent or merely as a game of skill? Would the same players be happy with good old Duck Hunt? I suspect not.

They find it titillating, that’s the reason for most passive or semi-passive entertainment. With very little skill needed or real-world feedback, video games use spectacle and violence to increase the excitement factor. As you say, most wouldn’t be satisfied with Duck Hunt because it’s too simple and has very little feedback. When you’re actually firing a gun you have all five senses engaged, your brain is occupied doing something that takes considerable skill, and you have massive feedback. Violence isn’t necessary.

Granted I’m coming from the archetypical gun culture where we shot for fun and hunting; I see yahoos at the range in the city blazing away with 9mm at a 5 yard full target and chortling. I won’t argue that they are a good example of gun owners or should even be gun owners. They should probably not be allowed to breed either. But usually when someone engages me on the subject (which happens quite a lot) mentions of violence with guns are usually done with a sense of light shame, but matters of technique are spoken of with enthusiasm and curiosity.

I can understand where you’re coming from with respect to Duck Hunt vs. real shooting: Wii tennis ain’t real tennis.

But, what about Duck Hunt vs. MW3? Neither is real shooting, both are video games. But is MW3 popular today because it is homicidally violence? If so, does it further promote violence, as compared to Duck Hunt? Or is it merely scratching an itch that is in all of us, without exacerbating that itch?