We live in a world where blame is often too easily shifted and personal responsibility too easily avoided. Excuse-making has arguably become the fad of our time; as the laundry-list of blame-accepting environmental influences grows larger, the courage to accept and improve our own faults seemingly becomes more rare.
It’s in this environment that legislators, executive officers and community groups gather to determine the impact of violent games on the minds of impressionable youths and adults. Not to be misunderstood, there is a place, even in an excuse-making world, for these types of investigations and legislative remedies meant to better our societies. And, if there is a proven connection linking violent video games to the ever increasing occurrences of unspeakable acts of rage, our world could be better off without them – or at least benefit from stronger age-gating. But for every criticism of the video game industry (founded or unfounded), there are many unheard and unrepresented voices of those who have been positively influenced by gaming.
Certainly, violence is not the only criticism of video games. While the debate over violent games rages in the wake of recent tragedies, it is worth noting that criticism of the gaming community is nothing new. Any discussion on the merits or vices of the medium should recognize that this debate is longstanding and broader than the current issues over violence.
To be sure, almost every game has some amount of violence built into its game-play. When they were first introduced to mainstream culture, many of us may remember the shock of seeing the wholesome, even if pixilated, Mickey Mouse fall victim to Peg-Leg Pete in a pirate-ship battle. Even the swing of Link’s sword or the flash of Rock’s blaster deals death to any creature that dares come in their path. Admittedly, the violence in these games (and many like them) pales in comparison to the realistic modern-day shooters, designed to give the player as close to a real-life experience without actually pulling the trigger of a gun. Still, the point bears repeating: violence is inherent to nearly all video games.
Whether well-intentioned or another attempt to shift blame, the recent impetus to investigate and ban violent games ignores one key piece of information: for many, they’re a source of comfort in difficult times.
Video games are familiar, predictable and easy to understand in an otherwise complicated world.
Video games are familiar, predictable and easy to understand in an otherwise complicated world. Examples abound of people who, through no fault of their own, have become lost, scared and, in their own eyes, alone. Despite best efforts, health, family relationships and social surroundings can spin out of control. But every time someone boots up a video game, he or she takes command; the destiny of their character and an entire world, waiting to be saved, is within their power. With hard work and a little luck, the player can accomplish great feats, go on unimaginable adventures and become the hero of an entire civilization.
If he or she stumbles along the way, no matter – checkpoints, extra lives and fresh starts provide a consequence-free way to keep moving toward an end goal. Video games can offer hope amid bleakness, endow courage to overcome and, put simply, make people feel good about themselves. They offer second chances in a world where re- starts are difficult to come by. Regardless of personal circumstances, many of us have experienced this kind of comfort and healing-power afforded by a simple video game.
One well-documented example of this positive influence of video games is that of Steve Wiebe, a former Donkey Kong champion, whose pursuit of a world-record is chronicled in the documentary film, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Steve used games to help get him through a difficult time, which included the hardship of a job layoff. In his own words, describing the comfort he received from playing Donkey Kong, Steve said, “When I got laid off and I had time on my hands, I was thinking ‘what can I do to feel like I have control of something?’ With this, it’s just me and the machine. It doesn’t matter if you let me down or someone doesn’t come through, I’m in control.”
Looking back on his period of unemployment, Steve’s wife recalled that video games were a “Godsend to him the last couple of years to get him through, it was a safe-haven for him.” Sometime later, after Steve had been chasing a world record and an elusive matchup with renowned Donkey Kong expert, Billy Mitchell, stress and time away from family had taken its toll on Steve’s wife, who again said of her husband, “he was searching … he wanted something and I wanted that for him because I wanted him to be happy, so now I see that.”
Steve Wiebe’s experience may resonate with many, especially young gamers looking for something certain in an uncertain world – something, as Steve Wiebe put it, to control. It doesn’t matter if school, family or health let them down, video games can be a welcome diversion for many young people searching for happiness. That much needs to be understood by anyone who advocates banning the sale of violent video games. In the process of gathering information and formulating legislation and community rallies, it must be understood that many turn to video games for reasons much nobler than the pursuit of violence.
Again, this is not an attempt to put a stop to these types of investigative discussions. In fact, the tendency to shift blame to violent video games and the call for personal responsibility falls just as squarely on the shoulders of gamers as it does the legislators and lawmakers. Rather, the purpose of this article is to point out that there is a deeper-seeded issue at play and that many turn to games for positive reasons, not with an intention to hurt.
So, as discussions move forward to determine the impact of violent video games, let the unrepresented voices of gamers be heard to say that there is a deeply powerful quality about video games, a quality that helps many to overcome problems, cultivate courage, inspire hope, and most importantly find a source of happiness.
This is one of the best articles I've read in a while. The message is clear and to the point. Though it's easy to blame video games for the violence in society, there is even more positive things that come from them. Great piece @Jeff_Lowe!
Know that feeling after playing a mario game "I want to kill turtles" no... you probably don't :/ nothing to worry about.
I completely agree. If there weren't video games there would be a lot more young people with nothing to do late at night. I can remember being awake til the sun rises play Perfect Dark, Goldeneye, Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. There's educational value to games as well. Problem solving, Hand-eye coordination, reading, math and even science are tucked away in many video games of all different genres.
When talking about kids it's up to the parents to decide if their child is mature enough to handle certain games, just like movies and music. There are ratings and warnings for that very reason. While kids can be influenced by many things committing violent acts is not the fault of the game. It's a game and there's obviously something wrong with anyone that's unable to discern fantasy from reality no matter what the fantasy is. Sometimes the reality is a nightmare and it causes a person to prefer fantasy but again that's not the games fault.
Sorry to go on but it just bugs me when blame is shifted to one thing or another instead of just dealing with or admitting that the individual is responsible. Are you going to blame things that can't act on their own and punish everyone that just wants the entertainment.
I think it's wise to check yourself when interest deepens into any hobby or ongoing activity to gauge what kind of effect it is having on you. Parents should do the same with their children.
I think young children especially can find the often empty rewards of games more of a draw than all the world around them. Interaction with physical objects and people is extremely important to develop life long skills and kids left to their own devices do NOT always make healthy or wise decisions as they don't have the experience to know better.
Many games and other digital products are designed to addict for profit, after all, not enrich.
This is why I still reserve some caution against what I see in teens with their faces constantly lit by a screen, and even adults playing something as vacuous as Farmville constantly. I believe video games like anything else can be abused and they can effect people negatively. I also think we are formed by what we consume, especially when it's with constancy.
In the end, a well-adjusted individual is not going to be negatively and dramatically transformed by regular or even frequent game playing, but it's always healthy to self-evaluate.
(This feels a bit unbalanced, in retrospect. There are many physical and psychological gains that come from games, too!)
Wow, poignant article. I haven't read anything looking at the issue from this perspective yet, rather refreshing.
Great read! This brings up a healthy discussion
I have a gaming device and im not afraid to use it.
@aaronsullivan Well said sir...I see it happen more to people that dont play video games on dedicated machines. These 'casual' games are highly addicting and really are just mind-numbing. Personally aside from competitive multiplayer if there's not significant depth and a good story I am not interested.
I grew up blaming all of societies ills on heavy metal music - SATAN RUUUULEESSSS!!!! - and the movie "Born Innocent" so I don't blame anything on video games.
I've been playing video games longer than some of you have been alive, and my kids have been playing since they could hold a controller - and I don't worry about the violence in what we play. There are games other than FPS as long as you own something other than an Xbox. And it's not that we don't play violent games - they play a lot Godzilla Save the Earth and Unleashed and Brawl and Melee - but I never worry about the violence. Playing video games keeps away them from listening to heavy metal music and watching Born Innocent.
Gamers just wanna have fun
Nice article. That part about being able to do anything in a game is something cool. Great job pointing it out.
"Gamers have no credibility in this argument." -Seantor Leland Yee
You heard the politician, we don't get a say in this arguement.
Sorry, that comes to mind now every time gamers speak out against all the blame. It seems no one wants to listen to the people who've actually witnessed the affect of gaming on the mind.
great article! something that needs to be brought back to all aspects of video games - positive power.
Without a doubt violence in video games influences people just as much as violence in movies, tv shows or even books influence people too! We are influenced by what we allow to enter our minds and there's no denying it otherwise advertisers wouldn't spend so much money on advertising if a simple 30-second tv commercial didn't influence peopl.
On the note of first-person shooters especially, it's worth noting that in the army there used to be standard targets. These were replaced by targets taking on the form of a silhouetted human. Not so that it became easier to know where to shoot a man, but because simply shooting at a silhouette of a person WEARS DOWN A PERSON'S NATURAL RESISTENCE TO KILL SOMEONE. That is why shooting practice now feature a human target, albeit just a black blot on a paper far away. If that can happen, what about the way some computer games boast about the detailed expressions of pain and muliple ways the NPC characters in a game can die, where some games require hundreds if not thousands of fatalities to get from the first part of the game to completion.
There's no doubt computer games have an impact on people, just as much as all other forms of media - including music - can have an impact. Will something be done about it? Of course not. There's too much money to be made from it!
Video games keeps us inside,and out of trouble. I much rather stay home and play video games and that is a safe past time. I cant find anything negative about that.
Just further: Pedantic examples can be given as above of say, Mario jumping on goombas constitute as violence and while I'm not doubting that, there's a big difference between that and say, Far Cry or Assassin's Creed. Ninja Gaiden etc. Likewise whereas Jerry cutting the rope to allow two large pieces of lumbar smash Tom's feline face to a mere pancake, Hostel or Saw shows violence in a completely different way. There's 'violence' and then there's imitating reality. How long before that becomes reality imitating fantasy?
@aaronsullivan I agree wholeheartedly and you shouldn't see it as unbalanced. If anything you've said the most sensible thing here (and that goes for my two replies above, haha )
Enjoyed the article. Really this topic could be turned into a major editorial with many parts. I'd like to see more on the subject. Video game history and its societal/cultural impact has fascinated me since I started playing in the late 70s.
This article was a joy to read. I can't fully express how much video games have positively impacted me. There's been a lot of times in my life where it seemed there was no remorse, yet playing the games I loved pulled me out of a potential dark way of living.
No matter what. I can always count on the imaginative, colorful worlds of these experiences I adore, to bring joy, to entertain, to consolidate, to triumph with, to make me feel like I can in fact accomplish something in a world that places so many obstacles in the way.
I have so much to thank video games for. I've grown up with them, and I've been able to be a kid again through playing them. I hope this hobby of mine never leaves me.
Very good article. Video games can really improve my day, basically any day. Yeah, it is easy to blame violence on video games, but there's not really a point to it. Plus, video games can take you away from your problems, and put you in a new world to explore and imagine. Video games are like a never ending sheet of paper, if developers are good, they can add some real depth to their pictures, and you can either interpret it as bad, good, or great, like an art critic would a painting. The worlds of video games are seeingly endless, like the possibilities of a painting.
Might as well ban r-rated movies, too.
Most people who don't play games see the people who do so during difficult periods of life as unsocial/apathetic. That might be true sometimes but rarely.
It is not games that make people commit acts which impact this world negatively, it is the critical thinking skills and common sense which shapes the way people act.
Video games made me who I am.
...So the industry isn't completely without blame.
Cool article. I find that video games have made me a better person as a whole. It's strange to say it, but some video games actually have given me a completely different perspective on some situations that arise outside of games. Keep in mind I don't treat games like reality, but they are certainly a part of reality.
I think it's better for someone to let all their anger out using video games, than it is for them to just go out and start killing actual people.
Jeff Lowe, your writing is amazing!
A feel-good N'life article. Well written, very articulate
Rant time: Blame has become very black and white but in reality when something goes wrong there are a multitude of factors involved. Unfortunately for lawyers and politicians, being honest and saying "well this is hard to fix/identify blame because it is complicated" doesn't improve their chance of re-election or improve their chance of their client winning (and getting them paid).
Someone goes and commits mass murder. They just played violent video games in the past. Wait a minute, almost every guy alive has played a violent video game... why hasn't the human race obliterated itself. Lets not forget the other factors:
Access to weapons
Mental illness/Personality disorders
The multitude of people who have thought 'hang on something is not quite right with this person' but have failed to do anything about it
Exposure to violence/abuse (video games/movies/domestic violence at home)
Americans, while I'm here saying one thing won't solve violence, please do something about your gun laws. Makes much more sense than politicians chasing video games.
Great read Jeff!
This is indeed a refreshing piece to come across here at NL. Looking forward to seeing what else you've got up your sleeve.
So is the argument here that games can only have positive impacts on people, or that the positive impact outweighs the bad?
Either way, if games can have a positive impact on people's lives, then it stands to reason that games can also have a negative impact on people.
This is a dangerous argument for anyone who believes that games don't influence violent behaviour.
I happen to agree with this article, but if you agree with this then you've really got no grounds to claim that games can't also create negative impacts on people's lives.
I don't think he's saying that. It's more, "Instead of wildly flinging accusations at the gaming industry for allegedly creating violent people, why don't you look at the positive things that stem from gaming??"
Most things in life we engage with can have both positive and negative consequences. You can't say that games cause violence simply because they can have a negative impact upon us...that would be like saying "well, exercise is good, but if we do too much exercise it can have a negative impact on us...therefore exercise also causes violence" It might be that the negative consequences of gaming are a 'loss or poor quality of sleep'.
So, wouldn't that mean you have no grounds to claim anything regarding this topic?
I agree to an extent. Any form of entertainment can influence bad behavior. Video games are no exception.
@Chrono_Cross I don't claim that games aren't an issue in some violent incidents. Not the underlying cause, but quite clearly a symptom.
I know this because I know games also have positive impacts on people. Can't have one without the other.
The life changing games were not made for addicts. They may be made to gain profit, but they are made with quality and time. If you make a highly addicting bad game, congratulations: you just ruined yet someone else's life. I appreciate companies such as nintendo who try to find unique, innovative, and quality gaming.
Entertainment and art in all forms of media are judged by anyone with a righteous and passionate mind (which should be any human being of reason). Everyone has their reasons and both fortunately and unfortunately people are not usually and easily changed.
@Bankai Looks like you beat me to the punch, I was about to say the same thing.
Video games, just like anything form of media can affect an individual both positively or negatively depending on their ability to process what they've experienced. Why do you think many parents worry about scary movies giving their kids nightmares?
To me its the level of violence and how its presented thats important. Something like Mario or Loony Toons I find mostly harmless, but a game like God of War or the Last of Us on the other hand should definitely be kept out of the hands of children.
Another stigma I really hate is how people who don't play games see it as complete waste of time, and that your anti-social or don't know how to socialize if your not doing something "more productive". Whats funny is many of them play facebook games or have non-productive hobbies themselves.
Thanks for the kind comments and interesting discussion. Video games have had an overwhelmingly positive influence in my own life. Sounds and images from the NES and SNES are forever intertwined with fond memories from my childhood. Just as important, video games have been a welcome release and given me a positive place to turn during times of stress and grief as well. Thanks again to everyone who joined in the discussion.
@Jeff_Lowe There are so many ways that this article could have gone so very wrong, but I feel that you did a great job staying on subject. It wouldn't have hurt to have maybe put a line or two to say that: "Yes, video games can have a negative impact on gamers' daily lives. There's proof that video games can create addictions, social isolation, financial instabilities, etc., but there isn't any proof that video games have create violent tendencies within gamers."
This quick little statement would have balanced the piece - giving it a very grounded, realistic mood - while still keeping your very positive 'feel' and angle that you gave us.
I really enjoyed reading your piece Jeff. I look forward to seeing your future work here at NL.
Great read, thanks @Jeff_Lowe. There's an other article in the subject that is also interesting, yet talking more about examples of the benefits of video games. I would encourage you all to read it, especially since it's quite targeted to Nintendo fans:
As it has already been pointed out, there are the good and the bad of the influence of gaming, but if we want to defend our past-time we might as well show off the range of its positive impact.
I'll make this short - given how much I care about my passion for gaming, I'm all the more glad Jeff wrote such a thoughtful article. Cheers, @Jeff_Lowe!
Now all that's missing is other people outside gaming to understand how important gaming is to folks like us...
I don't know about america but over here in the UK, a 10-year old can walk into any games shop and buy an 18-rated game without question. Whereas they couldn't buy an 18-rated DVD. Go figure! They should bring in the same restrictions on computer games as they do for all other forms of media.
When I was younger, playing Crash Bandicoot encouraged me to eat apples.
@LavaTwilight In North America children cannot buy games that are M for Mature (17+) until they are 17. Of course, like any form of media, there are ways of getting around this. I've seen too many stupid parents buy six year olds Grand Theft Auto or something equally as violent despite the clerks at Gamestop saying, "This game is incredibly violent, has lots of swearing, and even partial nudity. It SHOULD NOT be played by children," to which the parents reply, "Oh, it's okay, his dad lets him play these kind of games," or "Well, he already has other violent games," or something else that shrugs it off. I've seen this happen quite a few times, and want to know how many times the parents put the game (or games) back? Zero. None. Not one mom or dad of a young child decided to heed the warnings of the Gamestop clerk and not give their child a game that contains heavy violence, glorifies drugs (in some cases), nudity, and other things that could negatively influence a young kid. It baffles me.
This reminds me of another story. I work as a swim instructor for kids of all ages. I like to be friendly with the kids, so I ask them how their weekend was, how their day at school went, et cetera. Anyways, I asked one ten year old how his long weekend was once, and he replied, "It was really bad!" I asked him why. He said, "I regret getting a game that I wanted." I asked him what game. He tells me, "It's called Dead Island. It's really scary. I didn't know it was going to be this scary." Although I've never played Dead Island, I've seen a few trailers and watched my friend play it for a while. I'm pretty sure that a ten year old shouldn't be playing it. I asked him who bought it for him. He said his mom bought it. So, the parent of that child was handed a game called DEAD ISLAND (which probably should have tipped her off that it wasn't for a ten year old) which features some pretty bloody zombies both on the front and back of the box art. Also, IT CLEARLY STATES RATED M FOR MATURE, AGES 17 AND UP. And now, because of her negligence, she's got a kid who is basically traumatized and can't sleep. Bravo.
Personally, and I realize that I'm the minority here, I didn't own a Mature game until I was 17. I played them a lot at my friend's houses, but I didn't own any. It wasn't that I was strictly following the ESRB guidelines, persay, I just wasn't interested in any M games (plus I only had a Wii, and there weren't many M games to choose from, and most weren't desirable at all for me. Also, my parents are kind of strict so I doubt they'd buy me any anyways.) I played enough T for Teen games, even before I was 13 (or 14, or whatever it is for T) but a majority of my desired games were rated E for Everyone. This year, I bought Zombi U a short while after I bought my Wii U. I've recently gotten into the whole zombie craze (I really like the Walking Dead) and Zombi U looked like a lot of fun. And it is. All I'm saying is, the ESRB guidelines are there for a reason, and they really aren't that much to ask. Parent's should refrain from buying their children M games until their kids are at least 14 or 15.
As a Gamer of 30yrs, Playing many types of games, Violent & Non-violent, I stick to my believe Of what you see/do in a game does't make you as a individual re-enact the actions in the real world.
But, If a person is unstable to begin with then there is the element of the possibilty of a real-life enactment of an action from a game.
As I say person in question has to have a problem, wether known or unknown about to begin with.
I myself have never thought about re-enacting anything I've seen in a game.
Society has to blame something for its problems, since the Early/Mid 90's its been video games, in the 80's it was Films and in the 50's it was Rock n Roll music.
Thats not to say Parents, such as my self should take it for granted our childeren automatically assume actions performed in games (and other media) are fictional, and can't or shouldn't be performed in real life.
As parents we should abide to age ratings, (with minor parental discretion, i.e Zen Pinball 2 rated 12 is suitable for my 5yr old), and educate children so they understand what is acceptable and what isn't.
A child seeing/playing a violent games and/or films without parental control and education could grow up to think the violence is the norm in society without education.
@LavaTwilight Depends on the shop, it is illegil now to sell games to players younger than the age rating.
At one time it was only games that had the bbfc rating, but that was extended to PEGI.
My understanding is PEGI is fully replacing the BBFC rating for games.
My local GAME, And Grainger aswell as Tesco, Asda and other outlets will not sell a game to under age consumers.
Besides, Even If a store sold a game to someone under age. Its then the parents responsibilty to check on what thier child is doing/playing on a system and take actions that are needed.
At the end of the day its the parents that will be telling the press 'NSMBU made my Son Jump on his pet turtle' even though they themselves never took the responsibility over checking what thier son was playing, and educating him about whats fictional and whats not.
'Games' is such a wide topic, from ultra-voilent to very educational.
But so is life.
It all depends on the person playing the game.
I think it's wise to guide children into gaming and be very careful with what you expose them to. But besides that, there's no proof violent games make us violent. Agressive at a max, but violent? No.
I think real warfare can make someone violent.
This is a perfect point. I have a passion: it's called videogames, i may rage over something in this industry but after a few hours i don't care anymore, because it's the way it should, you know that you are in control.
In said game you don't like how gameplay is turning, how the game is becoming and forcing to do things you don't like: farming, nonsensical killing and so on; well i simply stop playing and i hate the game so much i sell it back.
You could've dare to say one thing: if you want your kids to grow up for good, you simply have to be a good and attentive parent.
They must learn, through you, that games are fake and take them away for, like, one week if they go overboard with them. Or such things.
Don't either take them away completely, if they are occasional gamers it's ok, but doing such drastic decision to a kid that has that to free him/herself of the accumulated stress, that won't end well. You will ruin the idea of society and make him/her think that everybody will try to take their fun away.
Games are about fun, the world is more stressing and unfitting every year.
You wanna have better kids? Go make a better world!
A fun article and a lot of very good comments - I intended to mentione specific posts that chimed with me but there are a lot of them! Basically, this is a very personal article that, although valid, suffers from the same problems as IGN's equally interesting research review articles published recently. By adopting a defensive attitude from the beginning, the article lacks balance and, therefore, is easier to criticise.
@Captain_Balko Man you are totally right! Today's world needs more people like you and more parents like yours.
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