Video Game Violence


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As recently reported in USA Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) introduced a bill to examine the impact of violent content, including video games, on children…This possible bill would require the National Academy of Sciences to submit a report within 18 months on whether violent video games and other programming adversely affect children.

Other studies have not been able to provide conclusive evidence that video games, movies, television programming or media in general have adverse effects. It’s not a simple issue of finding evidence or a “smoking gun” because there is no way an entity, including the National Academy of Sciences, can provide conclusive evidence of neural activity, codes and/or patterns that prove violent content in media has adverse effects.

This USA Today article also reminds us “video games are a protected form of speech, a status upheld in last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.”

Daniel Chandler states in his book Semiotics: The Basics “few people understand all the rhetoric that goes with visual culture, but it seems everyone has an opinion about it – how it works, how it doesn’t work; how it ought to work and how it refers to the world.”

Chandler also states “film does not simply record an event, but is only one of an infinite number of possible representations (Chandler, 2002).” Video games and many other media can substitute for film here.

In the video game world, a player is presented with a situation and it is up to them how they interpret it. If players mainly get weapons to interact with in this world, then violent content will continue being a hot topic.

We mostly hear about crossing the line in violent content. Should innocent bystanders be killed without consequences in video games? Should video games allow animals and children to be killed by the player? Can players create violent situations by doing nothing? Do players get negative consequences for killing bystanders without weapons? Can video games build someone up for a situation that might occur later on in their life that involves self-defense or helping others get to safety instead of standing by and watching passively? If we fill our minds with negative influences/visuals/media, etc., then how does it process in our minds and emit in our lives?

The values promoted in violent games and how these games relate to a person’s true beliefs can be best observed by actually watching the person play the game and conducting a study/usability test – an imperfect system that cannot really replicate the right social context.

Most people can assess that reality isn’t the same as a video game and there is no reset button. This perspective requires a certain level of understanding and maturity before playing video games. Do we know which choices can hurt us? What guides us when we play?

People also need a reason for acting. Why do they act violently? It’s easy to view violent video games as a possible cause, but what is really going on in a violent offender’s mind? Can a video game have an overwhelming influence on a person’s actions? How much can it contribute to violent behavior?

Again direct observation can be incredibly valuable here. Do players cooperate with other players online or aggressively target players less talented than they are? What are the real-life reasons connecting this behavior? Do they seek safe haven in the video game world or a place to lash out?

We could rely on a government sanctioned study for these possible studies, but observing other people on a personal level can be incredibly valuable.

Video games can represent situations most people would not encounter in their normal life, so there is always that level of escapism. A sci-fi game set in the future. An international spy eliminating the “bad guys” in various ways.

Emergency rescues, airplane flight and life-saving medical procedures prevail in some video games, but are largely left for detailed simulations that can involve full body simulators and even robotics – too expensive for the normal video game studio.

How do these virtual drives, virtual accidents, virtual victories and virtual deaths create enough of a grip to trap people in these world to the point of addiction?

It’s all anchored in meaning. People find meaning in signs and signifiers, which can be easily anchored in a medium. If a video game medium continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then what are the warning signs when a player approaches a video game addiction?

Tracking a person’s gameplay each day can only go so far. How do we gauge the lack of direction, support, and community responsibility – most importantly how can we help?

Each person is different…and valuable. Complete assessment, which considers several mental, physical, and emotional elements, takes a lot of time, resources, and personal investment.

Websites like present detailed movie content reviews, but not for video games, which would take a considerable amount of time. Even the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) relies on videos not entirely gameplay for their ratings.

Other media sources have also helped me. The husband and wife team Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson use a popular game title in their book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. Their study, which included some 1,300 middle-school gamers in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, presents a good sense of the behind-the-scenes issues.

These authors point out creative aspects and a gamer’s background before playing the violent Grand Theft Auto III game makes this issue more than just good and bad while explaining how entertainment and creative expression through the game would appeal to several girl gamers.

The authors also stress an important and perhaps forgotten aspect of the violence debate – how exposure to real violence in the household factors into game play. There are plenty of cross referencing among chapters, which increases the reading difficulty factor a bit.

Guidelines, suggestions, and formal policies in media can also help. For example in 2009, North Carolina and Utah made some of the first statewide social media policies that encourage people to “share with the participants the things we are learning and doing, and open up social media channels to learn from others”

So what do video game players get in return? Only entertainment? If so, then does happiness only depend on winning and losing? How do we consider the varied gameplay options, rewards, and online interaction for each person.

Video games are frequently violent, sexually explicit and exploitive and commercialistic. We have to employ the hearts we had or perhaps still have in our early development. My daughters loved the “peanut butter jelly time” video on YouTube, but when they accidentally accessed the “spoof” video where an armed character shoots the singers soon after the song begins. They cried and had faces of terror. Call it “getting real”. Call it “life”. Whatever we call it I feel it cannot be easily dismissed.

Social connections and skills will help players distinguish more between the real world and violent game worlds. How much do we consider how our eyes and senses code what we see into neural terms then into the language of the brain and finally become reconstituted into experiences in our surrounding systems/objects?

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1 Comment on "Video Game Violence"

  1. Thanks for the great post … as you describe, there is no simple black & white absolute answer for all of this. Almost everyone has a firm grasp on reality versus fantasy from an early age, yet we cannot deny that media impact our perception of things …

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