This is sort of an old issue in video games, an argument we’ve heard about, read about, and have argued against many times as gamers. The concern about the content that our children and youth are being exposed to in video games has been prevalent since the early 90s, and it seems like every few years some old git is calling for federal video games regulation. Well, like Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw once said: “They are old gits, so we could conceivably wait for them to all die.” It’s funny to think that in about a decade an entire new generation of people will be running our government, and looking back on how society used to demonize video games because they were a convenient scapegoat will be remembered as tragically quaint.
The most important thing protecting video games right now is that fact the Supreme Court of the United States actually played “violent video games” before ruling on them, and determined, just as one of my previous articles indicated, that video games and the content within are considered to be a form of “art” by the federal government, and are therefore protected under the Constitution’s right to free speech and expression. Still, that doesn’t stop some old bastard from blaming video games every time there is a school shooting or some other tragedy in the United States. It’s just so easy to find something like video games to blame for the ills of society, as it keeps people from having to look within themselves and the way our society operates for the answers to their problems. So how can we protect ourselves from these ignorant fools who want to censor our art because it doesn’t conform to their own “beliefs” on how our society should work?
Arm yourself with knowledge! By knowing the truth, and being able to explain yourself calmly and forthrightly, you can defend your position without coming across as the sort of violent, Ritalin-addicted, angsty teenager those who oppose us think we already are. The old idiom goes “knowledge is power,” and just as G.I. Joe said: “knowing is half the battle!” The other half is being able to contain your emotions and explain yourself calmly and collectively. If you rant and rave like a hyped up pre-teen, then no one is going to take you seriously. I can’t teach you how to argue, but I can give you knowledge.
A while ago in my public speaking class at college, my panel discussion group chose to discuss “sex and violence in video games” as a topic. From that, we came up with five panel discussion questions, and debated them in front of the class. As it turns out, the questions were really intuitive and probing, and answered many questions about the nature of sex and violence in video games. Below are those aforementioned questions, and our general response to them. Use them to your advantage, as they contain great power. But remember, just like Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just don’t get shot like Uncle Ben. (Too soon?)
(1) How extensive is the problem of sex and violence in video games, and why should it matter?
Well that would imply there is a “problem,” it’s really more of an “issue.” Sex and violence exist in video games, that much is true. But, that’s not a bad thing. Now, it is a bad thing if a six-year-old starts playing Manhunt, but that doesn’t mean that the issue is with the video games, it means that the issue is with the parents and guardians. The main complaint against sex and violence in video games is that children should not be exposed to them. I’ll agree with that. However, that doesn’t mean that sex and violence in video games shouldn’t exist, it means that parents and guardians need to do a better job of monitoring their children.
The problem does not lie with video games, but with the parents who let 10-year-olds play Grand Theft Auto. The issue isn’t that sex and violence exists in video games, though there are some close-minded old gits in Washington that would have you believe that it is, the problem is who is accessing that sexual and violent content. Times have changed, and video games are not the as they used to be. 30 years ago, video games were considered toys to be played with by children. But that’s just not how it is anymore, and we all have to accept that. Video games are more mature, and most are intended for mature teenagers and adults; they’re not a child’s toy. There are clear and present labels that inform buyers of the intended audience for a game, and the content contained within, but I’ll get to that point later. It’s just so much easier to blame something like violent video games for the problems of violence in society, and the ignorant masses like a convenient blame figure. Humans love to blame and condemn a certain sect of society, in this case, gamers, because it means that they don’t have to look at themselves as for why society is messed up. They can deflect the blame and hate someone else if it means they don’t have to deal with their own problems. Returning back to the question: “how extensive is the problem of sex and violence in video games, and why should it matter?” Clearly it’s not a problem with video games, it’s a problem with society and video games are being used as a scapegoat.
(2) What are the causes, effects, and symptoms of sex and violence in video games. Or, to put it another way: “Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?”
Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? Many of those who blame sex and violence in video games for sociatial ills would have you believe that those who play and experience these video games are possessed by them, and they encourage them to hurt, rape, and kill others. They try to make you believe that playing Grand Theft Auto makes you want to steal cars and kill individuals, or that God of War make you want to slay Greek Gods. By that logic, Mario makes me want jump on turtles, and Sonic makes me want to go fast. While that last one may be technically true, the argument overall seems so silly.
Life does not take on what art teaches it; it is the other way around. The most violent and bloody war in United States history was the Civil War. Tell me, what video games caused that? What video game inspired Hitler and Goebbels to slaughter millions of Europeans in the Holocaust? What video game started World War II? What video game caused the Crusades? Humans have been slaughtering one another in the name of gold, land, God, glory, over anything since homo sapien civilization began over 200,000 years ago. Video games take on the personality of the society around it. Sex and violence in video games do not cause problems, effect lives, or have symptoms in society. It is the other way around. Video games do not affect society, it is society who has an influence on video games. It is society’s naturally occurring problems and issues that inspire video games. Video games are simply a tool for gamers to experience lives, scenarios, and situations they normally would not be able to. Video games did not cause the current war in the Middle East, it was those wars that gave cause for the video games about them. Am I blaming society for Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, Battlefield, and all the other shitty action military shooters? You better believe it. Thanks a lot, Obama.
(3) What methods exist for solving the problem, and are they efficient? Can we be doing more? Should we? What are our limitations?
Now, I’m not saying video games shouldn’t have to have regulatory rules. Obviously, people have the right to know what content is in a video game and what it’s about before they purchase it for themselves and their kids. There needs to be some sort of label or indicator stating exactly what kind of content and behavior is in a video games, to let people know what they’re in for, or what to avoid if they so choose to. As stated before, however, there is already a procedure in place. Every nation does it differently. In Japan they use the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) to rate video games based on their sexual, impressionary, and violent content. In the European Union, the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system is used. Here in the United States, we use the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The ESRB is a self regulated internal board that rates video games based on their content and suitability for particular age groups. It issues a rating and descriptive label on all video games, providing individuals interested in purchasing the game with information on exactly what kind of content is inside. Now, the fact that some parents or guardians ignore those labels and buy their bratty eight-year-old Call of Duty or Manhunt is not the ESRB’s fault, and it’s not video game’s fault either. I would argue that the ESRB does an efficient job at informing potential buyers on exactly what content is within. We shouldn’t regulate the content of the video games, we should just warn people about nature of the game. To do any more would violate video games’ right to free speech and expression, which I established before is a federally protected art form.
(4) Is this about morality, or is it merely political? Is it our place to legislate morality? What obstacles stand in our way from reaching a solution?
The argument against sex and violence in video games is a political move. It’s a way to appeal to uninformed voters, and give them a convenient blame figure. It’s so easy for a politician to point at video games and blame them for problems to deflect blame off of the real issue: themselves. And ignorant individuals are so quick to jump on the bandwagon and hate the new cool thing to hate, to be accepted among their peers. It’s not a politician’s job to decide what’s best for us — it’s not their place. By being an American, and a human with free will, we reserve the right to decide for ourselves what we find acceptable and unacceptable. If I choose to play Grand Theft Auto, that’s my business. And if a mother chooses to not let her child play it, she reserves that right as well. We cannot hold adults to the same standard that we hold children. We cannot censor ourselves or our video games on the off chance that a child might accidentally see it. But the sad thing is is that there are plenty of people who would gladly give up their rights and privileges, or rather, vote to give up the rights and privileges of others, if it means they didn’t have to look at their own problems. They the kind of people that voluntarily vote to censor themselves based on the cunning wiles of smooth talking politicians.
Many would argue: “well, what’s wrong with a little censorship?” Well, I would counter: “where would that censorship stop?” It always starts with “a little censorship.” But, giving someone even the smallest bit of power sets a precedent. It means that they could later argue and persuade for more. By giving someone, especially the government, even a small bit of power, you better believe that, like Rick Astley, they’re never going to give it up. They’re going to consolidate and grow that power, and slowly over time erode the artistic nature and expression of video games because they don’t like them, and you’ve now given them the power to do so.
To give a super nerdy example, that’s exactly how Senator Palpatine took over the Galactic Republic and created the Galactic Empire. He convinced the Galactic Republic senate to give him emergency power in fighting the Droid Army. Though it may have seemed harmless at the time, by giving him that little bit of power in the beginning, it set a precedent. He was able to argue and persuade for more and more power, until he had enough power to dissolve the Galactic Republic, wipe out the Jedi, and establish himself as Emperor over a Galactic Empire. The same scenario could ensue if we give those who hate our art censorship over it. It may start out small, but it will grow until video game expression is no more, and will eventually spread into other facets of our lives. Does that mean I am comparing video game censorship to Darth Sidious? I guess it means that I am.
(5) Is this truly an issue, or are video gamed being demonized? Are video games an easy scapegoat for problems? Are video games really to blame for the ills of humanity?
It should be clear at this point where my loyalties lie, and what my opinions are on this. There’s no need to keep repeating myself. I would assume that the majority of the people reading this article already agree with me and many of my points. Obviously gamers unanimously agree that their video games should not be censored or taken away. We have the right to game, and video games have the right to hold whatever content they wish, whether it be sex, blood, guts, princess rescuing Hylians, turtle jumping plumbers, or fast running hedgehogs. I write this article in the hopes that somebody who disagrees with me comes across it and has their mind changed.
Video games are a unique medium for artistic expression and story telling. We’ve had some great examples like The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Heavy Rain, L.A. Noire, Bioshock, Skyrim, and so many others that prove that video aren’t just a bunch of drugged up meat heads killing civilians in airports, stealing cars, and commuting mass homicide — they’re unprecedented and unique ways of conveying a story or a message. It’s so easy to make a blanket statement like “video games cause violence, just look at Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Manhunt, and all the others.” But it takes a truly well educated and intelligent individual to not buy into all the bandwagon hype, to do the research and uncover the truth for themselves, to take a step back and realize that it’s not video games fault for the way society is, it’s society’s fault for the way video games are and the way they’re scapegoated. Video games are not to blame for the ills of society, society is to blame for their own ills.
If you’ve made it to the end of my verbal diarrhea, congratulations. This is all just my opinion and how I see this issue. On a topic like this, most gamers are bound to have an agreeing consensus. If, however, you find yourself on the dissenting side, that’s fine too! It’s great when people have differing opinions, and can discuss them amicably. It’s only bad if you close your mind to what the other side has to say. As Carl Sagan once said: “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”
One final note. The Washington Post did a study comparing the number of gun-related murders to video game spending per-capita.
The results are … humorous. I’ll just leave this here.
Graciously edited by Abby Foote