Experience Point 1/3: The Context of Violence

Here we are with the age-old discussion of violence in video games.  The problem is that violent video games may or may not cause violent behaviors; this Crash Course Games episode describes it well in a nutshell.  And I am here to say that maybe we have been looking at the problem incorrectly.

In one corner, we have many people, especially parents understandably, who believe that violence in video games influences people to enact violence in real life.  They reason that, because the player is exposed to large volumes of inconsequential violence, they begin to subconsciously be (buzzword incoming!) desensitized to it, and think it’s more normal than it really is.  In the other corner, we have many people, especially gamers understandably, who argue that having a safe outlet for violence is a better alternative to not, and that the correlation between violent video games and violent behavior may actually be spurious.  Finally, I just described the problem with violent video games with a boxing metaphor.

I don’t think this debate is going to get anywhere, though.  This is one of those cases where the two sides are looking at the wrong issue.

There is a story about a parent and a middle school librarian that comes to mind.  The parent was having a fit, because she found out that the book that her son had checked out contained violence (or whatever controversial/immoral subject depending on the variation, such as sexual themes or profanity).  The librarian responds that there is another book in the library with all of these, and more.  When the parent asked what book it was, the librarian responded that it was the Bible (maybe it was a Catholic school, too).  Of course, this anecdote can be taken two ways.  The meaning that I took, and wish to draw upon now, is that the issue at hand is not the existence of the violence, etc. in the work, but rather its context as well as function in the work is what really matters.

This applies not only to books, but to games as well.  To illustrate this, I bring up two examples.  First, my example of a violent game praised for its positive meaning, Spec Ops: The Line.  Second, a violent game that was disparaged for its negative meaning, The Division.  Between these examples, the presence of violence remains constant.  The variable is what the violence is all about.

Games receive this criticism harder than movies and books because of how new they are, and how powerful they can be.  To all literature people out there, help us out: What are the two constants shared by the great works Lord of the Flies, much of Shakespeare, The Odyssey, Of Mice and Men, Beowulf, the works of Poe, the Legends of King Arthur, and virtually every religious text?  They all are highly valued for their insight and cultural importance; and they all include violence.  I believe that this holds for games as well.  We are not at the level of these; not yet.  Literature has had a several millennia head start.  But with patience and passion, we can get there.  Thus, my argument stands that we should not be focusing on the existence of violence in are games, but that we should take a deeper look at what that violence means.

Next week’s article might be shorter than normal, and might come out at a weird time.  I’m moving in to my college dorm next Sunday.  Anyway, it’s what it means to be a gamer, given that everyone plays games.