Video Game Violence: An Astonishingly Simple Perspective

The year: 1961. The game: Spacewar! The objective: to kill the other enemy ship. The realization: this was the first game that truly promoted violence according to today’s standards. The takeaway: oh the humanity!

After endless claims that video games are causing today’s youth to become degenerates that want nothing more than to become criminals, the same people who are arguing that video game violence is harming our youth need to take a look at Spacewar! and tell us with a straight face that this was the beginning of the end for our youth.

Oh how the world was going to change.

Then there was Death Race, a game where the objective was to run over little gremlins that just happened to look somewhat humans because of the pixelated nature of the game. You’d think World War III had just begun with the amount of protests that took place. Yet the world kept on spinning quite fine. However, it became clear that video games were becoming more detailed and more complex by this point.


When Crime Pays

But then came the peak of this controversy. Grand Theft Auto, which really pushed beyond the limits, was a game where your goal was to steal, commit crimes, and do all sorts of illegal actions to win the game. The series began in a top-down perspective on the PC but eventually shifted to three dimensions and featured plenty of blood and gore.

Actions like fighting, shooting, blowing up cars, stealing, evading police, and even killing police became prevalent in the game, which surely was bound to stir up the drama — it did just that. It has been condemned by various organizations and the lawsuits against the game’s publisher are insurmountable.

However, considering the sheer popularity of the series, it is unbelievable how crime rates are not any worse as far as crime goes after the release of Grand Theft Auto series. Also, I have no intent of grabbing a baseball bat and whacking someone on the head with it repeatedly (well, on most days, anyway).

Even today, new video games are pushing the limits of violence, sex, and crime, and people are still up in arms about the whole ordeal. Is it truly necessary?


Worthwhile Comparisons

So here comes the age old comparison: video games versus movies. What is it about our society that believes it is okay to let someone watch a person’s head get sawed off and arms and legs yanked off their body (reference to the movie Saw) but performing a double-tap on a zombie in a video game is somehow substantially worse for our youth?

Why is it that sex in a video game is so horrible? You see it in movies all the time. You see it on television all the time (Cinemax, anyone?). You see it being talked about in music all the time. You see it on the Internet all the time. So what’s the big deal about sex being in video games? (“Sex,” interestingly enough, is one of the top five searched queries on Google by children under the age of 10. Who thinks video games are responsible for this?)

And one more thing: we regularly encourage kids to be competitive. We tell them to strap on a football helmet, go out to the field, play hard, and take off another person’s head if necessary to help achieve a victory. People get hurt this way. Yet what is the difference between tackling someone with the force of a car crash compared to drop kicking a virtual character in a video game?

Why all the drama?

Well, there is no definitive answer. Also, there is no answer that, at least in my mind, makes sense.

I learned more about sex, violence, vulgarity, and crime in school than I ever did in video games, and I didn’t grow up in a bad neighborhood either. I regularly played Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat when I was younger, yet I haven’t gone out and killed anyone. Why is there any reason to believe I am more likely to commit a crime when compared to someone who hasn’t experienced these same games (or actually has)?

There isn’t!


Video Gaming Goodness

But here is what video games can (and, in many cases, been scientifically proven) do for children these days:

The first thing video games do for kids is instill a sense of strategy — it forces the players to think, act, and face the consequences of their decisions. In most games, even when you are asked to perform evil, there is usually a consequence to be faced for that action. Video games, for the most part, do a great job of conveying this type of behavior.

Games also help players to use that thing in their head. While movies, television, music, and other forms of entertainment rarely require you to use your mind, video games do the exact opposite — forcing players to act, react, and make judgments. This is good, because keeping your mind sharp is important. If you don’t use it, you lose it, right? So perhaps puzzle/mind games are some of the best for this, and they really do promote logic and reasoning skills.

Video games are also used in medical treatments, particularly for children and adults with diseases that impair their mind and/or physical movement.

Some video games also can help instill a sense of creativity. Take a look at games like Rockband, DJ Hero, The Sims, Assassin’s Creed, and others: they all require the user to be creative to win the game, doing things that even the developers of those games never expected. I’m no da Vinci here, so anything that helps me be creative is a plus, right?

And who says video games instill a sense of seclusion? With platforms like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Live, whether playing with at home with a friend or on the Internet with a stranger, video games these days instill a sense of teamwork and competitiveness that might not be possible unless you someone to get involved with team sports. Communication, in many of today’s games, is key to increasing the odds of success, and that is a powerful and beneficial message. It is certainly better than sitting on the couch and watching television all day, which many of us do.

Finally, the last reason that video games are important to kids and makes this violence argument nonsensical is the fact that video games are fun! They are entertainment, and we live in a society where we like to enjoy things. If you like television, you watch television. If you like video games, you play video games. Attempting to take that way from someone could have more of a negative impact than anything else.

So why do we have all this debate about video games? Is it just something for people to complain about because they have nothing better to do? I don’t know!

Now, I’m not saying that video games — particularly violent ones — have absolutely no impact on a child’s thinking. But I do believe that it if someone is going to become a criminal or commit crimes that video games are certainly not the only reason for it. There has to be many other factors at play.

I do know, however, think that these arguments against video games need to come to an end. Video games are art, entertainment, and educational. And, in some cases, it’s the only education we got (so said Vin Disel in the movie XXX).

Youth will not exhort to Global Thermonuclear War simply because they played a game. There are far more things at play (like the environment where someone has grown up) that have a far more substantial impact on a person than video games ever will.

So let’s not argue. Let’s play.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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  • David

    Now this is a very nice article! I hope many people read this, especially those of which you speak I think it’s just easier to pick on games, somehow. Maybe because they’re more recent than movies? Like it’s easier to pick on a kid than on a grownup…

    Congratulations for this article!

  • Hey David, thanks for the feedback.

    I don’t know what it is, to be honest. My only guess is that kids are spending more and more time with video games and they are much more involved than any other types of entertainment that people somehow believe they will have more of an effect on a child’s development.

    Either way, a bit of parenting could go a long way in making this video gaming violence argument a thing of the past. I feel it is just something people can bang on to make up excuses for the true reasons why kids turn violent and commit crimes.

  • AHall

    As a parent my child and I play video games together because I enjoyed them growing up and I wanted to bring them into her life as well as they are a great form of entertainment. Am I about to let her play GTA? No she’s 4! But a couple of rounds of Mario Kart for the Wii and you have an incredible bonding experience that can compare to teaching her how to ride a bike or climb a tree. It’s all about parent responsibility and moderation. I played all the worst games growing up and I turned out fine. I am waning a bachelors degree in game programming, I work for a successful IT company, I enjoy being married and love raising my daughter. All the while I’ve never thought of stealing a car or harming someone.

    Great article and I hope many eyes reach this

  • @AHall

    Exactly. As long as parents supervise their children and limit the amount of game time to completely dominate their life, the children should be fine.

    I’ve played all the worst games as well. I played Grand Theft Auto far too much when I was a child. I saw more blood and guts in video games than I’ve ever seen in movie theaters. I think I’ve turned out pretty darn good all things considered.

    So it is good that you allow your daughter to enjoy those forms of entertainment.

    And thanks for the comment. 🙂

  • Barcoder

    “Why is there any reason to believe I am more likely to commit a crime when compared to someone who hasn’t experienced these same games?

    There isn’t!”

    I do not understand, how one can be as sure as you and most of videogame-journalists about that question. Of course you don not go out and smash peoples heads with a baseballbat. But: In what way the agression-level can be raised by playing violent games is not explored. At least not good enough yet.
    I also played Mortal Combat and GTA. GTA because I loved the gameplay, MK because it was a bloody game i was not officially allowed to play at that time (18+ in Germany). But I did never say: Games are per se harmless, only because I played them. I wish it was like that, but I never totally believed it.

    I rather think, one can not compare movies and games. It is so obvious that the interactive mechanic of a game lifts the experience to another level. There is a difference between watching some actor smashing zombie heads and smashing zombieheads myself by pushing a buttons.

    Can one really deny that?

    play games not war
    a videogame-fan