Video Game Violence

By Patrick Masell

Recently the media has bombarded Americans with images and stories concerning a popular and morally corrupt (to say the least) video game called "Grand Theft Auto." GTA 3 and its sequel GTA: Vice City has sparked record sales as well as protests and news reports across the globe. Most of these reports and protests question the game's graphic content and the effects it may have on its audience, especially teenagers.

However, GTA was not the first series of video games to create such a stir in this country. "Mortal Kombat", a fighting game known for its amount of blood and gore deaths, hit arcades in 1992 and home consoles the next year. The question of how graphic violence in video games influences this nation's youth have been debated for over a decade. Violent video games have few, if any, adverse effects on the vast majority of its audience and those who are negatively influenced often are unstable to begin with. As a seventeen year old gamer I have a clearer perspective then politicians and parental groups. Not only that, but the U.S. Court of Appeals agrees with me.

I have been playing violent games since the release of Mortal Kombat on the Sega Genesis console in 1993. Since then the majority of games I've played had a violent theme. Medal of Honor, Metal Gear Solid, and Socom: U.S. Navy Seals all have military themes. Then there are the Mafioso games like GTA and the Getaway, which sport extreme violence, language, and sexual content. And horror games, such as Resident Evil, BloodRayne, and The Thing, which contain more twisted and gore-filled images then any slasher flick.

According to people such as presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman I should be a ball boiling hatred that will explode at the drop of a hat. However, to this date I have not committed any abominable act of violence, and certainly none that reflects anything in video games. But I am just one example. One would be hard pressed to find a student at Whitmer High School (my local school) that hasn't played at least one of these games and as of yet it has not erupted in an orgy of gang warfare. In fact, the people who claim to be inspired by games to commit violent acts make up less then one percent of those who play video games.

So how can one come to the conclusion that gamers as a whole can be influenced by video games to commit crimes? If so, then one could claim, with merit, that all people of Islamic or Arab backgrounds are capable of becoming terrorists. Why not? A sizable portion has, many have been exposed to those fundamentalist ideals.

Or perhaps African-American males in urban environments are naturally inclined to use and sell drugs. The numbers are there, if one would take the violent game debate seriously, then he could successfully argue these other points. The point is simply that you cannot predict the actions of an entire group based on a few "rotten eggs".

The fact is many variables go into a youth committing an act of violence and to say video games are chief among them is ludicrous. As part of a ruling last June the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote that "(the idea that) there is a strong likelihood that minors who play violent video games will suffer a deleterious effect on their psychological health is simply unsupported in the record."

Sadly, a child is usually influenced by combined factors of hostile environment, parental neglect or abuse, and impaired mental state. It is often we hear about a deranged serial killer born with a mental defect or abusive, overbearing parents. Children who commit gang violence are often from poor neighborhoods. Students who have committed Columbine-like acts are often disparaged by other students and are social outcasts. And it is evident that their parents had little bearing in their lives. How did their plans of violence, deteriorating mental state or their acquisition of weapons go unnoticed by their parents?

Parental neglect is possibly the largest factor in juvenile delinquency. Ironically, the same parents who favor censorship of video games probably don't even realize the games their children are playing are meant for adults to begin with. There is something labeled on every game box called an ESRB rating. Acting like a rating system for movies, it determines the age group that a particular game is appropriate for. The GTA series is M or mature, suitable for people seventeen or over.

Yet that doesn't stop parents from buying it for their underage kids. In fact, there are many instances where a teenager will be refused from buying a certain game. Their parents are brought in to confront the store manager and the manger explains the rating system, but the parent buys the game nonetheless.

It makes no sense that a parent will refuse to let their child watch a violent or pornographic film, but let them play violent games. Recently, in Tennessee two teenaged boys fired upon motorists with a shotgun, killing one person. The boys claimed that they were inspired by the Grand Theft Auto games. Now the lawyers of the victim's family are suing Take 2 Interactive (the game's publisher).

Dan Hsu, editor of Electronic Gaming Monthly, made an excellent point. He compiled a list of targets much more suitable of litigation. Among them were: 1) The parents who let them play video games they're not old enough to play. 2) The parents who failed to teach those kids any sense of responsibility or the differences between reality and fantasy. 3) The parents who allowed those kids to have access to firearms. Sounds reasonable.

The sad fact is that people are either to busy to take an active part in their children's lives or just don't care enough to. But it is the responsibility of the parents to properly raise their kids to become healthy participants in society. And if a tragic event like that in Tennessee takes place, it is not a reflection of the wrongdoings of a game maker, but of bad parenting.

People are not willing to accept that violent video games are the product of today's society. And that society's ills are rooted in larger problems then a small animated character shooting other animated characters with a machine gun. People are also unwilling to admit that, despite the influences their kids are subjected to, they are the ones that are responsible for their upbringing. And because these individuals do not accept this responsibility media, such as video games and their creators, are now scapegoats.

Games have become my generation's insanity plea for people that want to look as much like victims as the people they hurt. Censoring or banning video games will not solve or even help a problem that is much more deeply rooted. Finally, to Mister Lieberman, you can have my video games when you pry them from my cold dead hands.

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Patrick Masell. All rights reserved.