Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Video games and violence in today's society

The connection between video games and violence has been ever-present in mainstream media over the last 15 years as game realism increases. But is there any factual basis to these views?

After recently watching the abhorrent (nay, faux) debate on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, it has really hit home how naive mainstream media and audiences are to the games industry compared to, say, the movie industry.

I'll let you watch the show in question before I continue:

Lets look at the 'panel' shall we?

Alan Titchmarsh:
Gardener, TV presenter with no knowledge of games (see from 1.06 in the video where he shows absolute ignorance to games ratings).

Julie Peasgood:
Self confessed Actress, TV presenter, author, voiceover artist, awards host and public speaker. I forgot to add HYPOCRITE. The 'voiceover artist' forgets to add to her CV that she voiced a character in a video game from the early 00's. A survival horror called Martian Gothic: Unification. What about acting in various soaps that have violent story lines too? The whole 'categorically against violence as entertainment' argument goes through the window now doesn't it? (See 6.16 in the video).

Kelvin MacKenzie:
Journalist and ex editor of the tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Tim Ingham:
Current editor of

Looking at all of the 'panel', we see one definitely apt participant in Tim. His profession is games, seems to be a well educated individual but comes across immediately as the villain. Out of four people, we have one person who has actual experience with games, one who is a glorified gardener, one who has some intellect and experience in mainstream media and one who has no place in discussing violence in games due to hypocrisy.

How can this important subject ever be taken seriously when producers/broadcasters aren't really interested in the facts? The studio audience completely booed the significance of the Byron Report when Tim used the governments report to counter Julies ambiguous statement (see 2.12 in the video) "there's a proven link". How is this fair coverage? If anything, Julie should have received the booing, but as she is the “defender of innocent children” she has the backing of the audience.

There was an actual study of this kind, under the control of Iowa State University Professor of Psychology, Craig Anderson. The Professor believes that the study has conclusive evidence there is a link between violent games and youths who are despondent and violent:

“We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method -- that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal -- and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects, the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behaviour."

Now, I don't particularly agree with the final result of this study. For example, were the children involved shown what is right and wrong, real and virtual? Did they have a stable parental environment? I have not been able to source that information as of yet, but I would love to find out. A key issue that I believe is being ignored by the media in regards to this issue, is one too brutal for many politicians, journalists, parents and psychologists to admit. Are generations of parents failing their children? I believe this to be the actual problem in today's modern society. The Professor even expresses the control that a parent should have over their children, which Miss Peasgood seems to have ignored:

"Just like your child's diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home, and you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house -- conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict."

I actually agree that violent imagery (including; movies, games, books, music and websites) can attribute to creating an anti-social personality. We see this influence in the Bulger killing, where violent 18/R rated VHS movies, which were available for the killers (both under 12 years old) to watch freely, were publicly attributed to influencing the killers (although not backed by investigating police at the time), not games as Mr MacKenzie states in the ITV show. That instance cries out that parental responsibility was ignored for whatever reason. Also the Columbine shootings in the U.S., where music and video games were both indicated to have influenced the killers. Again my question in all these instances is one no-one has or wants to ask, how did children get hold of material that's rated 15/18 before they were legally able to and should the parents be held responsible in a court of law? Do we blame retailers? No as there are many measures in place to prevent minors from purchasing age rated products. The media blames the games developers, I however, blame the parents and believe they should be brought before a court of law.

Recently, I have seen children “bullying” their parents into buying them items, including adult rated movies and games when out shopping. I used to work for various games retailers and I took it upon myself to inform parents of the content in the games they were about to purchase. Many times they would just buy them anyway and say, “It beats them being out on the street” as a ten year old runs around their feet screaming at them to buy it. On the other hand, I did occasionally make a little headway and the parents realised they shouldn't actually buy the offending item. Yes, bad salesman I know, but educating a parent and preventing the corruption of a minor made me feel like I was making a difference. Now if the ignorant parents are buying adult rated video games for their children to “occupy them” and “get them off their back” as I increasingly believe is happening, how can it be anyones fault except the parents if they can't say no?

Retailers, as well as, respective industries, have put restrictions in place to protect children from the violent/profane/controversial/pornographic material that is available within every facet of the media, either by the BBFC rating system or PEGI. Mr Ingham, in the offending Titchmarsh debate, goes on to explain that each console manufacturer has built in security for parents to prevent their children from playing games that are rated explicit, but do parents take the time to utilise these features, or simply leave their kids alone with the computer? Should the games manufacturers do more? I would like them to advertise publicly the security features in each console, so that its easier for the parents to realise they have complete control over their child's viewing/gaming habits.

The real question should not be “are video games influencing our children”, it should be “are the parents of today's generation responsible enough to have children in the first place.”

This may be an offensive opinion or just difficult to digest for some readers, but having played video games since the age of 4, I have grown to be a non violent, law abiding, tax paying and reasonably successful individual. I attribute this to my upbringing. I was taught from a very early age the difference between right and wrong. I remember watching various 80's Sci-Fi with my father and him explaining who are the “naughty” ones so that I understood.

I remember getting the PS2 just after release. I had been saving up for it for a long time, and I had asked my dad give me a lift to the store to get it. Then I saw GTA3, I begged my dad to get it for me. I think I was 14/15 at the time. He agreed under the proviso that I played no more than an hour a day of GTA3 and that he had to be there when I played.

He was being involved in my pastime. He never got it, but he wanted to make sure I knew the difference between right and wrong, reality and game. I completely hated the rules at the time, but I applaud him for taking that time and interest in what I was doing at the time. Just think if other parents took this kind of interest, instead of leaving them to their own devices/kicking them out of the house for a few hours, how much different would our youth be today? This is just one of the many reasons I am proud that he is my father.

This also reminds me something my father did with Conan the Barbarian, starring a Mr Schwarzenegger. I was 4/5 years old and I saw the ad for it on TV, begged my dad to tape it for me. he did, but the lovely old git stayed up all night recording it. Why did he have to stay up while it was recording? Well the lovely old git stayed up and stopped the recording of it when it got too bloody or had nudity/sex in it, then restarted the recording when that scene was over. That's what I call a parent who cares. He cared about what I was watching, what was influencing my personality at an early age.

The honest truth of this issue, is that really, there is none. Well in regards to just video games anyway. That is if parents, the government, retailers and games developers work from the same page. We need to work together with this issue, otherwise you will get two warring sides with no reasonable resolution. OK, 'warring' could be slightly exaggerating. I believe the following steps could be a huge leap in the right direction:

  • Parents need to be re-educated into understanding that games can, and do, include amazing fitness work outs, family oriented games, some very mature thought provoking ideas as well as violence. These themes are rated the same way as films, albeit now using the PEGI system. This covers all aspects of the game, what type of themes the game consists of in an easy to understand system:

  • Developers and console manufacturers need to make parental controls mores accessible to parents, advertise it as a selling point and make everyone aware the consoles have these security measures in place.

  • Retailers need to take on the responsible attitude of advising parents of the content of the games they are buying. Many parents are ignorant to the true content of a game, they only go on the information given to them by their sons/daughters.

  • The Government needs to, instead of ignoring the issue, actively promote parental participation with video games. They need to also deal with the issue of child care in the UK as this attributes to, in my opinion, more screwed up kids than games could ever produce.

These aren't ground breaking steps, but no one seems to have made the effort to do them so far, which is incredibly frustrating.

I'm a gamer, I will always be a gamer. I would never dream of doing some of the things in life that I do in a game. Its a release from the stresses of today, where I can drive the car of my dreams, wander around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, be the hero/villain or even try to survive an attack from zombies with a group of friends. I read, I enjoy film and music, to me, games are an addition to my cultural experience. Games immerse you in ways other media will never be able to, and this is not a negative point. We just need to ensure that games that are rated 16+/18+ are kept out of the hands of underaged kids.

Would you let a minor watch an 18 rated movie, buy cigarettes/alcohol, drive a car?

Its all the same to me.  There are age restrictions for a reason.  Lets be smart and stick to them with games, films and music, otherwise we will have a nation of influenced youths who could become violent due to the imagery they may have subjected to.

Games will never be the cause.  Ignorance is.  Parents need to make an effort and the media needs to research their stories and find the true root of the problem, bad parenting, before they point fingers with no evidence.  Gaming is a part of today's society now.  TV, Film, Radio and Music have all been held accountable for influencing young minds previously.  Did they though?  No, but thats due to an element of control with ratings preventing minors being subjected to the imagery that can harm and scar a young mind.

Games may become more realistic in the look and immersion delivered, but this can do no more harm than watching a movie or reading a book containing a similar amount of violent imagery/themes.

If your a parent, take an interest and participate. Games have a lot to offer everyone, as long as they are used correctly.

Useful Links for Parents:
PEGI Ratings explained
PEGI Advice - check out the PDF: The Good Gaming Guide, A Parents Guide to Video Games. (this should be packed into every console/game box)

1 comment:

n0odles said...

A very well, thought-out and presented argument. Being a gamer and parent myself, I thoroughly agree with what you have said and am rather disgusted with the likes of AT and Peasgood.

I've grown up with a family of gamers. My mother (who is now 51) still games - she's a rather prominent figure on World of Warcraft amongst other online PC gaming communities. I used to play on her Amiga when I was 6 (Ahhh... Monkey Island, James Pond...) and was given my very own NES, in my room, when I was 10. My youngest brother recieved the N64 when it was released - he must've been around 5/6 years old and he had Goldeneye. A little bit of background on my brother - he suffers from ADHD and Dyslexia (both diagnosed at the age of 8) and my mother always commented on how computer games helped keep him calm and also helped massively with his reading capabilities. We were all always left to our own devices when it came to gaming but we knew right from wrong. We weren't allowed to watch much TV - we used to watch Disney videos and I was (and still am) a HUGE bookworm. He's now 18, with a full-time job, a very wide circle of friends and we're all still huge gamers. Infact, it's the way my youngest brother and I keep in touch - we live hundreds of miles away from each other and I only see him once a year when he comes to stay with my family.

I am 23 and have 2 sons, aged 2 and 3 in September. I never go on my consoles until they're in bed - simply because I don't want them seeing the violence that goes hand in hand with slaying Zombies or getting my butt kicked on COD/Halo. I made this descision as a responsible parent. I actually stopped speaking to someone because he always made pointed comments about my children 'seeing' and 'hearing' me play said games. I'm no angel and give as good as I get but never infront of them and this is what this bloke failed to acknowledge.

There is a point to my rambling - pregnancy hormones make me drone on alot - sorry!

So yes, I agree completely, these ignorant, worldly uneducated people need to look beyond the games and look at the people bringing (dragging?) the next generation up.

Society is very mishaped these days;

*I couldn't buy teething relief for my youngest without being patronised for 20 minutes by the pharmacist on how to apply the Bonjela on my sons gums.

*I was refused the purchase of a lighter because I didn't have sufficient ID. I did, however, manage to purchase a huge roasting knife from the same big-brand shop by the same cashier.

And lastly:

I had to show my passport to the cashier when I bought GTA - she wasn't going to sell it to me without it. Funnily enough, she sold the game to a father (no need for ID, no asked questions) who had his 9 year old son with him - the boy had told me how excited he was about getting the game.

Go figure.