Polygon: “Video games don’t create violence in society, they reflect it”


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!

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Someday I will die under a pile of books, movies and music. Until then, I'll eke out my time spent in sunny Los Angeles, California by working on the Great American Blog Post.

5 thoughts on “Polygon: “Video games don’t create violence in society, they reflect it””

  1. I think it’s all to do with the parents determining what’s best for their children. My parents rarely had a problem with me playing “violent” games. In fact, the only time I can recall it being an issue was with Vice City. My mum didn’t want me to own it due to all of the reports on how adult the content was, but when I played it at a friends I was too young and naive to understand what all the rude bits were about. When a friend brought it over and she actually saw the game herself, she was fine with it and was assured I was mature enough not to get a tank and run amok in a nearby city. Added to that, when I was younger, my dad would watch me play demos of games I wanted to get a feel for the content. Take for example, Timesplitters 3. It was an 18 rated game, but my dad judged that it didn’t contain any real objectionable content.I was allowed the game, and have respected him ever since because that was a fucking great game (the key to my respect is through personal gain evidently). Indeed, my earliest memories are of us both playing the original Quake; I would sit on his lap and do thing like, jump or shoot, he would control the rest of the game. What a guy. 🙂
    In other words, if parents are around to look after their children and understand their children, games should never be a problem

  2. @Petyr, couldn’t have put it any better myself :). It really is all on parents being proactive and observant. They need to know what’s appropriate for their kids and what isn’t and learn not to just get them a game they can maturely handle or understand to keep them happy and allow them to have their way about it. Also, your dad sounds like pretty awesome. My dad let me play Half-Life and Starsiege with him when I was a kid. Good memories, and to think that Tribes spawned from Starsiege!

  3. That was a very good article. I agree with Petyr in regards to parents need to be more involved with what they allow their children see. But society in general needs to take a step back and stop placing blame on video games, movies, tv & music in regards to the recent gun violence. Though it certainly can be argued that these mediums do have some reflection for a persons personality, I’m pretty confident they do not cause people to become ‘violent’. I have some opinions on what we need to do to help curb the violence…take it or leave it:
    1) Parents need to be more involved in their children’s lives
    2) Our education system is failing. We are not getting through to our youngsters with moral values…right & wrong.
    3) Inability to punish children without threat of lawsuit. See number 2… how can you teach what’s right and want is wrong if you can’t punish the wrong so that it sinks in?
    4) Secure storage of weapons, or a locking mechanism to prevent use by anyone other than the owner or government entities. (Metal Gear Solid anybody)? I don’t know all the details, but it always seems that the killers use other people’s weapons… we need to have better storage requirements and the ability to track weapons that are not in storage.
    5) Faith & Religion. I know this is a tough one, but even if you don’t believe in a god or whatever that ‘religion’ preaches, think about what it tries to teach besides that… peace, moral values, right & wrong, it’s all there, and it’s being abandoned and hated against. (Of course avoid becoming an extremist organization that use religion as a reason for violence).
    6) Media coverage of violent events. Yes, it is a sad and unfortunate event….but it is covered to the point of sensational levels. We don’t need, and we shouldn’t be provided with all the details. Let the police do their work without interruption. If people really want details, they can contact the police directly. I truly believe that the media attention that this violence is given, causes a copy cat effect for others who are equally troubled.

    In the end, there will always be violence, but it can be minimized if proper steps are took to bring our children to adulthood.

  4. @kjseath, I definitely agree that media coverage is a problem. Going down in history as an infamous murderer seems to be at least part of the inspiration in more than one of these cases.

  5. The world of games as we know are actually quite vast and diverse.
    Too be able to actually pinpoint the Half Life or Portal to be the
    key turning point for making a kid into a sadistic serial killer seems a bit too far-fetched to me.
    If humans aren’t rational enough to separate reality from fiction, then they probably are going to be causing some trouble either with or without video games.

    While I couldn’t agree more about copy cat crimes and so on, the media plays a critical part both way in our society. It deals out the truth with plenty of spin on it, so I’m depressed about the state of mankind in generally everyday. its an important job. And I think its usually a good wake up call to us. They just need to learn to cut out the excess bs and give it to us the facts straight and impartially without bias. That’s the way to make people understand that crime isn’t funny.

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