The topic of violence in any media is always best treated cautiously. In fact it was merely a few weeks ago that a UK based chat show attempted to broach this subject and ended up landing smack on its face. Now most criticisms for violence in games seem to be at the progressively more realistic depiction of acts.
The photo realistic game is probably not more than a generation away at most and the mathematical geniuses that slave over 3D engines to make them produce these amazing graphics push things further towards that goal every year. What I’m proposing is that it might not be the “graphic” progression that fuels violence in games, it’s something a lot more universal than that.
First, let us draw some parallels to other mediums. Violence can be found on multiple entertainment platforms such as televisions, films, music or books. To understand the supposed increase in video game violence we should possibly look at one element – story. Now sure, there are a few exceptions to this, violent songs/movies/games just for pure titillation or shock value, but on the whole, mature media uses imagery to reflect the points of the story arc.
For example, the upswing in Horror-Porn titles like Saw and Hostel use a frighteningly grizzly selection of imagery and this mostly for thrills and excitement. In contrast films like Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill, 300, Saving Private Ryan, and Gladiator all use striking and visually beautified representations of graphic violence, but this is only here to progress the story, to move the plot – as weak as it might be. So when you boil things down to their lowest common denominator, visceral representations of violence would just be a plot device.
So why is this plot device acceptable, for the most part, in movies or books but not in video games? Well the argument is that the violence in video games is used as titillation, and you have direct control of the violence rather than seeing violent acts from an observers point of view. The overall argument is that being active in the action is more damaging than passive observation.
Firstly to the point of titillation. Sure this happens, but it happens just as much, if not more in movies. The best example, having been stated already, is the current love of the Horror-Porn genre. So to the more relevant second point. This argument really depends on the point that the graphical action is the thing driving your need to play the game. The general rule applies if you’re watching the movie or playing the game just to see people eat their own limbs or chuckle with glee as someone urinates in a victim ocular cavities – you should probably have a brief chat with your doctor to be honest.
Video game bashers are missing the main point. Video games are played, mostly, for the story element – at least the games that contain these sorts of graphic scenes. You don’t normally find that many decapitation scenes in Pony Trainer. In this way they are a little different than a movie and pretty similar to a book. To progress the story in a book, you read the words and interpret the written word into imagery in your mind. To progress a violent scene you interact with the mechanics of a book – basically you turn the pages to further the story. Sure it does not have the blood and guts pre-rendered for you, but the imagery for a book is in your head, it’s personal and can stay with you longer than someone else’s imagination represented on the screen.
Sure there are games, as there are movies, books and music, that just goes out of its way to shock and offend. These are the breaks from the norm, the strays that throw the curve. For the main, it rings true that games that contain a single shallow trick get old real fast. Games that are violent for the sake of violence (Carmageddon was a good example) may amuse from a purely juvenile point of view for a short amount of time, but they soon loose their shine when you discover the game beneath is pointless.
The point being that these are NOT violent video games. These are adult stories with violent content; some of which is gratuitous and graphic but adult none the less. This distinction has been communicated in several different ways over the past few years, it’s just a shame mainstream media is just not listening. If you don’t want to partake in a horror movie, read a Dean Koontz novel or watch the latest Tarantino movie then you opt not to let those into your life – this is the same for video games.
There is a choice of which stories you want to be apart of and people need to be left to make those informed choices – and in the case of minors, the person responsible for the child should make the choice in accordance with laws and legislation put in place to protect minors.
Video games and gamers in general are under the spotlight during this push into mainstream culture. Gone are the days of sweaty youths beavering away in their bedrooms making the next Lunar Lander or Chuckie Egg. Gone are the days of the lone gamer desperately typing dirty words into Infocom titles to see what titillation is returned. Video games are growing up, moving into the social conscience more every week, and as such, gamers need to take a more mature approach to combating these bigoted views.
Despite the gaggles of miscreant youths on Modern Warfare 2, the supposed average gamer age sits at 33 years old. With this in mind, it is about time we embrace the more mature methods of addressing these issues.
This should be accomplished via more structured public debates and sound facts and figures. Not by several thousand angry youths DoS attacking Alan Titchmarsh or Jack Thompson’s website or yelling they want to beat the crap out of someone – remember this is about violent behaviour.
To contrast, I leave you with this thought: in 2009 a wave of “violent art” seemed to flood the art world. Many of these artists, like Alison Brady, produced multiple images that are both graphic, disturbing and evoke emotional responses. They have no obvious story and you are left to determine if what you are looking at is art, has a deeper meaning, or was just a sick ploy for notoriety in a world full of people looking for definition. Is this more or less disturbing than gunning down some polygonal characters on a TV screen?