Video Game Violence – Do We Even Need A Debate?
This article, combined with Leigh Alexander’s comments on it, have provoked this post. The article is factually fine – some children are impressionable, and watching Modern Warfare 2’s sanitised, Hollywood War On Terror is, inevitably, going to create a small – and I cannot stress this enough, a very small – proportion of people who are going to look at it, think “Wow, this is awesome!” and walk into their local gun store the next day to load up.
THe problem with this article is that it assumes (as does M.I.A., the controversial rapper it quotes) that children are walking into GAME and HMV and picking these games off the shelf, then prancing home, playing them 24/7, and being turned into murder drones ready to go to war. The fact is, it’s not like that. I can’t speak for the US, having not lived there in a long time, but currently, I, a man perfectly within my rights to go and buy an 18-rated game, still have to bring I.D. and prove my identity. I don’t doubt that some stores are less scrupulous, but make no mistake, the greatest cause of children acquiring games that they shouldn’t is their parents. 13-Year-Old Johnny sees Dave, whose parents don’t know or don’t care, flashing Modern Medal Manshoot Murder Kill Storm 3 – The Face-Blastination around in the playground, and suddenly Johnny has to have it, Mum, pleasepleaseplease! The issue is not that these games are too violent for children – they undoubtedly are, and they are marketed as such and sold with a clear 18 rating (something no-one can complain about with the advent – at last – of a unified game age rating system in the UK) – the problem is parents who either:
- Don’t know that they’re buying a game with such content.
- Don’t care that they’re buying a game with such content (and I am willing to believe this is a very small number).
- Cave into their child’s protestations of peer pressure created by the above.
Leigh Alexander, of the excellent Sexy Videogameland, suggested via Tweet that 18 was an impressionable age in any case – which raises the question, what IS a suitable age for people to be buying games like Gears of War 2, Modern Warfare 2: any game with graphic violence? Do we raise or create a new category of 21+? Experience of living about 5 minutes from a university campus suggests to me that there are just as many man-children aged 21 likely to think violence is awesome after dropping their tactical nuke as there are 18-year olds. Likewise, I know a lot of incredibly mature 18 year olds who can enjoy Modern Warfare 2, but will sit in visible shock when watching, for instance, the Wikileaks video that apparently showed a US Apache firing on unarmed reporters (mistakenly).
The issues with video game violence, then, are not that it exists, and that it is reaching unparalleled heights of graphical realism (albeit nowhere near photorealistic, no matter what the Daily Mail might scream); the issue is that some few video game stores aren’t enforcing the law (and the UK is generally very good on this – it’s a small minority), that parents are caving into their children’s claim to “need” these games for playground cred, and that people who are naturally unsuited to deal with virtual realities such as these are being exposed to them. Give someone with suicidal tendencies a razor-blade and hurl abuse at them for 5 hours, and they’re likely to self-harm. Give someone with an inability to differentiate reality and fantasy sufficiently an AR-15, then sit them in front of Modern Warfare 2 or it’s ilk for the 5 hour duration of the single player, and their mental problem will, similarly, come to light.
Can we necessarily stop parents buying 18 rated games for younger children? No. But we cannot, should not, then attack the makers of those games when young children grow up and decide to join the military, or mentally unstable people are influenced by those games to the point where they do something horrible. And the final suggestion of that Joystick Division article, that “If even one kid gets nudged towards war by a video game then, in a very real way, the people who make and support war games have blood on their hands — the kind that doesn’t fade away into forgotten pixels after a minute or two” is frankly ludicrous. The idea that anyone of sound mental judgment would base a career decision that will affect their entire future, and risk their life, based on the fact they quite like the bit where you shoot the man in the face with the bullets, is a huge leap to make, and precisely the kind of logic that should not be given credence when discussing this subject.