Polygon is a fairly recent addition to the world of gaming journalism, but they’re already doing an excellent job of posting thoughtful, well-written reporting. Since it’s “Did You See This” Wednesday, I thought I’d point you towards one of Brian Crecente’s recent posts on the subject of video game violence where he argues that video games reflect the violence in society and not the other way around.
Whenever another mass shooting happens in America, one of the first subjects brought up in the media is whether or not the shooter liked playing violent video games. Of course, studies have shown that “there is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth“. So why, then, do we continue returning to the subject of video game violence as an explanation for real-world violence?
In a lot of cases I’m sure it just seems like an easy solution to ban violent pop culture; it makes people feel like they are being proactive in the face of terrible events. It’s also much more politically expedient in America to go after pop culture instead of gun ownership. However, the focus on video games has intensified in recent years as games have become more technologically sophisticated. Violent movies don’t make quite the same headlines they did when The Basketball Diaries and Natural Born Killers were released.
On that point, Crecente makes an excellent observation:
The real difference between video games and most movies or books is that video games give you choices. You can choose to derail the nuanced narrative of a game developer, to side-step the inherent morality of a game, to introduce violent acts where none are meant to exist.
Interactive storytelling is still a relatively new medium. I think it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that there are players who are incapable of separating fiction from reality and that if not for the bad influence of violent games they might never have acted out. The problem is that banning violence in video games approaches this perceived problem from the top down instead of the bottom up.
Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed playing Hotline Miami, I don’t think the game is at all appropriate for children. That doesn’t mean that I think developers should stop making such gleefully violent games; instead, I think the responsibility rests with parents to remain engaged with the kinds of video games their children are playing. That kind of engagement might have been difficult for my parents’ generation, but I grew up with games, and if the time comes when I have a kid who wants to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 17, I think I’ll know the right questions to ask.
How about you? Do you think it is ever the responsibility of developers to tone down or censor the violence in their games? Has there ever been a time when violent video games went too far? Let us know in the comments, but please keep things civil!