How Far We’ve Come
This past Christmas I was standing in line at my local Gamestop doing a little shopping for my brother when I happened to overhear a curious conversation. A mother was trying to decide which game she wanted to buy for her sixteen year old son and she had narrowed her choices down to three: Battlefield 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Saints Row The Third. The sales clerk was doing a good job of highlighting the various elements of each game but then the mother said something that nearly made me drop my brother’s gift in shock: “Do any of these games have killing in them? I don’t want my son playing any games where you kill people.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Had this woman been living under a rock for the past ten years? Had she never even taken a passing glance at the screen her son sat in front of when he played? Did she not realize that her son was old enough to drive a freaking car? Perhaps it was a bit unfair of me to cast such harsh judgement but when compared to my own parents, who bought me games like Turok and Resident Evil when I was little over half her son’s age, this woman just seemed alien to me.
A short while later I started to think more critically about why the mother’s inquiry had startled me so much. In this day and age, where violence and death can be found in abundance in anything from movies to books to reality television, it would only make sense that most gamers just take it for granted when a game tells them to line up their cross-hairs and pull the right trigger. But is that necessarily a bad thing? What was this mother afraid of that she felt she needed to shield her nearly fully-grown son from any game that tasked the player with killing virtual targets? How can violent video games be such a menace when they take up most of today’s gaming catalogue?
The Road Less Travelled
While it is true that a fairly large number of new games being released contain some form of violence, luring players in with guns and rockets and battle-axes isn’t the only option available to developers. Those who would condemn video games as the inspiration behind gang violence or school shootings or terrorism or other atrocious acts always seem to neglect all the good that has come of gaming as well. For every study or analysis claiming that violent video games cause players to feel increased aggression and lack of empathy there’s another that makes an equally good (often times better) case of pro-social elements such as teamwork and compassion for others being fostered in both violent and non-violent games (more on that later).
Puzzle games ranging from classics like Tetris to more recent examples like the Professor Layton series have been shown to increase brain activity while other recognizable names like Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and The Legend of Zelda have managed to combine platforming and problem solving elements with combat in a way that is friendly and fun for gamers of all ages. The media would have us believe that all video games involve gratuitous death, gore, sex, dismemberment, and other extreme cases of violence but that simply isn’t the case.
Boiling It Down
While the case-studies used to link real-world violence with video game violence could be considered controversial at best, there are some numbers that cannot be ignored. Studies have shown that nearly 60% of gamers are male and are thus more susceptible to the overly aggressive stimulants found in violent video games. In their article Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behaviour, Bruce Barthalow and Craig Anderson explain how a study involving 43 undergraduate students revealed that the students were more prone to aggressive behaviour after having played ten minutes of a violent video game (Mortal Kombat) as opposed to a non-violent one (PGA Tournament Golf).