A Note on Violence in Video Games

With GameOn, we’ve already started to explore the impact of games that developmentally are light-years ahead of the crude tanks and planes featured in Combat.  We’ve discussed games where the avatars are highly-detailed facsimiles of people.  We’re about to do more of that, and that’s why I think it’s important to set the stage with a discussion of violence in video games and its impact.

Let me say right off the bat that if I thought video games were responsible for encouraging violent behavior, I would immediately cease playing them myself, and I would ban them from the household, forbidding my kids to play them entirely.  I abhor real-life violence in all its forms, and anyone who knows me well also knows that this disdain for violence manifests in ways that even some hardcore pacifists might consider extreme.  For instance, I dissociate from anything that fetishizes military violence.

Why, then, do I believe that violence in video games doesn’t encourage violence in real life?

For one, scientists constantly look for correlative or causative relationships between the two, and overwhelmingly come up empty.  What’s more, some studies have even revealed a causal relationship between playing violent video games and reductions in crime (warning: PDF).

What’s more, I’ve come to understand that the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is learned fairly early on.  Even my four-year-old understands the difference between fantasy play and real-life consequences.  And I’ve lived a lifetime during which cultural warriors have repeatedly failed to respect exactly how early and how well this distinction is made in our minds.  History has not been kind to them.

Almost every fantasy-related cultural phenomenon of which I’ve been a participant has had to endure attacks from people who cast doubts on the ability of regular people to distinguish between fantasy and reality.  It’s that doubt that produces convenient cultural scapegoats, a list of which conveniently includes just about everything I’ve used to stimulate my imagination since I was a kid – rock music, roleplaying games, comic books, movies, television, novels, toys – video games are just one entry on a much larger list.  I don’t expect the culture warriors to stop attacking them anytime soon.

They may get some traction when it comes to studying the correlation between video games and addiction, as any parent who’s had to turn off a PlayStation or take away an iPad in the middle of a game can appreciate.  But when it comes to fantasy violence begetting real life violence, I’m convinced otherwise.

So, why write a post on this?

The political climate is once again ripe for scapegoating.  We’ve seen a significant political backlash against the proliferation of guns – a backlash I support, by the way.  And gun rights advocates are currently latching on to whatever scapegoats will allow them to continue the status quo.  The president tried to scapegoat video games recently, in the wake of yet another school shooting tragedy, and it’s obvious that the culture warriors are about to gear up for another round of blamestorming.

And here we are, in the middle of a blog series that celebrates some of my favorite video games.  I’m not tone deaf.  I’m just not buying any of this crap.

So I’m going to continue to write about video games.  Some of them will contain violence.  You’ll even see me sharing video gaming experiences I’ve had with my kids.

But one thing you won’t see me doing is pussyfooting around because I’m worried about what other people think.  Video gaming is planted firmly in the world of fantasy, and I see nothing wrong with celebrating games that have brought about hours upon hours of fantasy-based fun.

What I do consider wrong is wanting to re-fight this battle all over again.  It’s a distraction from the real issues, and it unfairly maligns something I’ve enjoyed since I was a little kid.  Enough, already.