The violent influence of games: Ending the argument

Innocent until proven guilty

Innocent until proven guilty

Alec Meer from Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently wrote an article decrying the glee with which public opinion, headed by certain sections of the international mainstream media, has looked to link the recent mass murder in Norway with video games. The phenomenon manifested in several retail outlets pulling a selection of video games (including World of Warcraft) from their shelves, citing respect for the victims. Meer argues that there is no link between video games, even violent video games and acts of violence in the real world.

He is of course, correct in the most pure sense if the word. Anyone who has even a passing interest in the medium would know this instinctively. Playing a video game doesn’t stir copycat fantasies in the mind of a sane individual and if you’re frequenting this site you would likely know that from personal experience. Even if you don’t have experience with video games you could do some simple napkin arithmetic on the number of games sold around the world and the number of spree killings occurring and come up with the same conclusion. If you wanted to go even further you could look at the demographics of spree killers, (males under 35) look at the rate of video game participation in this demographic and calculate the likelyhood of them NOT playing video games. Failing that you have the frustratingly unprovable line that it’s seeping in to your subconscious. I would have thought the simple fact that the vast vast majority of 20-30 year olds haven’t become mass murderers had that one covered. There is a theory that a violent game could make that disturbed fraction of the population that has the propensity mass murder in their heart more likely to go through with the deed but there has never been any link found between playing violent games and doing violence in the real world. Never. It’s very easy to get the sense that the media might have the cart leading the horse on this one. This would all of course be very rational.

Yet when Anders Breivik in a few sentences of his chillingly disturbed and violent thousand page document of raving (I refuse to imbue it with the title “manifesto”) mentions video games as part of his daily routine the uproar begins. Quoth England’s The Telegraph “Anders Behring Breivik emailed his extremist manifesto to a Dutchman he had met while playing an online computer war game that included scenes where players kill unarmed civilians.” The Mirror proclaims “His Facebook page says he loves bodybuilding and Call Of Duty – where players can shoot people on an island.” You can no doubt find similar media proclamations in the mainstream media of your country of residence.

Like the subject in a Pavlovian conditioning experiment you can almost hear the unspoken accusations. Video games are implicated. Complicit in this tragedy. Part of the problem. Must be controlled. In a world where our governments are looking for as much control as we the people will give them, the thought of the content of video games being heavily regulated is a disturbing one. Hailing from Australia I feel this concept more keenly than most.

The cart leading the horse

The cart leading the horse

So why, when a rational mind and all the studies in the world can so clearly demonstrate no link between virtual violence and real violence does this outcry exist?

I should point out firstly that in this, jumping solely on the back of the media for the prevalence of this phenomenon is simplistic. The media are merely the mouthpiece for a section of public opinion. Sometimes society’s majority opinion, but always the majority opinion of their target reader base. In other words there’s a lot of people out there who think the media are spot on.

No matter how well reasoned the argument against, these people are not going to be convinced. They will continue to see it because the opportunity to be convinced otherwise has been around since the absolute infancy of the medium and yet we are here nearly 20 years out from Doom dealing with the same flawed perception. As much as folks like Meer will rail against it, all the rebuttal arguments in the world will do absolutely no good. The people you need to convince are doing the crebral equivalent of sticking their hands over their ears and shouting gibberish at you.

How churlish!

How churlish!

The outcry is in itself is an understandable manifestation of the fact that despite the perfectly natural aging of gamers over the past twenty five years, we remain a relatively young and politically insignificant group as a collective. In western society the sheer numbers of folk in the 40+ age bracket mean that their views will get a disproportionate amount of airtime in the public domain. There’s also the fact that there are relatively few heads of multinational media organizations under the age of 40, and those that exist likely spent a significant portion of their adult lives surviving in the corporate jungle and not forming informed opinions about video games. You’re looking at a problem which has it’s roots in generational perception.

If you were like me you argued long and hard with at least one authority figure that the particular first person shooter or real time strategy war-game that you were playing wasn’t about violence. There was no way to make them see that what I was engaged with was a battle for in game space, virtual resources, knowledge to foil the actions of my opponent, or just exercising my hand-eye coordination. They were completely unable to look past the pixellated splatter, and projected that that’s all you were seeing as well.

What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but what is for certain is that the demographic that accepts and understands video games will grow in every measurable aspect. The natural and unalterable regeneration of the human race will do it’s work. We will become the majority stakeholders in public opinion of the future and that means issues around gaming will become more readily understood. That means the “video games kill people” line of reasoning will die. Slowly, painfully for those of us who know better, but it’s days are undoubtedly numbered.

We’ll be too busy trying to deal with the underlying social problems that lead to terrorism of both Islamic and far-right Neo Nazi persuasions to give it much thought.

NOTE: The blaming video games train is arriving in Londonriotsville. Of course this newly discovered phenomenon of the riot is a direct result of children playing Grand Theft Auto.

2 responses to “The violent influence of games: Ending the argument

  1. I love how in the gamersmint article, the policeman appears to say that Pacman was a much more suitable alternative than GTA. Won’t somebody please think of the multicolored ghosts and yellow balls?

    More seriously though, any time a clearly-innocent youth does something less-than-innocent, a scapegoat is dug up (video games, music, etc.) to avoid looking at where society failed that young person. Why was help not given before the tragedy? It seems like, so often, these are just kids in need. It’s not about video games influencing them. Video games were probably a safe haven for many of them. And, honestly, it’s not like video games are the only potential source for violent inspiration, right? It seems movies, tv shows, and even books could give plenty of that.

    • Hi and welcome :)

      Interestingly enough, due to the tendency for people to congregate in dark rooms munching pills while listening to electronic music in this day and age, Pac Man might be the one argument for video games actually influencing our behavior.

      I think the perception exists in part because people who have very little experience playing video games don’t understand how performing actions in a digital world could fail to influence you in the real world. If there is a subconscious level of engagement with violent themes in games it’s clearly not at the level to have any influence over real world behavior.

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