The stance against video game violence is one nearly as old as the medium itself. It’s a debate that has cast doubt on gamers, belittled developers and struck panic in the hearts of ignorant people whenever a violent tragedy befalls our nation.
And it’s an argument I can’t help but smile and shake my head at.
The issue has historically taken fire from both sides of the political aisle. Several years ago, conservatives such as attorney Jack Thompson bemoaned video game violence, claiming games such as “Halo” and “Grand Theft Auto” would turn young men into killers. Thompson gained notoriety for his push against gaming violence, and he’s since been disbarred.
Today, liberals such as Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathan McIntosh are getting attention for their crusade against violent games, claiming moral superiority by lambasting the sins of those who dare enjoy digital violence.
Both sides are wrong. So long as the game you’re enjoying is appropriate for your mental age, there’s nothing wrong with or dangerous about enjoying video game violence. I know I do.
One obvious thing that separates video game violence from violent acts in movies or books is the fact that in the former, the perpetrator of violence is often the player.
It’s rare to find someone complain that a TV show is too bloody or gory, but a mature video game trailer needs only be released and people immediately argue that the violence is too much.
Because video games give players control, some could argue that the violence enacted in games could encourage players to act it out in real life. This stance insults gamers’ intelligence.
I dare you to find a single person desensitized enough by video game violence to carry it out in real life. If you can find one, I’ll tell you right now it’s not video games that led them to carry out their horrific acts. Consider for a moment that the criminal might have enjoyed violent games because the person already was disturbed and likely to carry out the crime regardless. Remember, correlation does not imply causation.
There are plenty of studies out there that claim carrying out video game violence results in real world aggression, but there are just as many—perhaps more—that state the opposite. Many studies that link the two ignore the effects of competition on increased aggression. Considering no concrete link has been found, it’s unfair to blame games when a violent act occurs—though it happens all the time.
Too often the news reports after some man kills a bunch of innocent people about how he liked “Grand Theft Auto” and played “Call of Duty” as if those are relevant to his rampage. John Lennon’s killer identified with the main character in “The Catcher in the Rye.” Does that mean reading the novel makes someone more likely to kill? Of course not.
I’m sure you’ve seen—whether in your own life, someone else’s or pop culture—a counselor’s recommendation to angry youth: Don’t carry violence out against people or animals. Instead, take out your aggression on inanimate objects. Punch a wall. Kick a pillow. Channel that violence against something you can’t hurt.
I’m no psychologist. (Though I do have a minor in psychology.) But I theorize that video games can be therapeutic to otherwise violent people. Instead of hurting a person, an individual could use violent games as an outlet to release their aggression, especially considering how over the top games can get.
It’s fair to say violent video games are more bloody and gory than most other violent media. In games, I’ve shot, chainsawed, tortured, burned, crushed and every other sort of grisly act you can imagine against other digital people and creatures. It’s not uncommon to kill hundreds or thousands of things in a single game, whereas in a violent movie you might see someone else carry out a few dozen violent acts.
I remember simultaneously wincing and giggling with a disgusted sort of glee as I watched the new “DOOM” (2016) demo video at this past E3. Cutting-edge graphics have made violence more nauseating and realistic than ever, even when you’re destroying monsters and demons and not virtual people.
This fact doesn’t change my stance. A sound person will never confuse video games’ hyper-violence with what they can do in reality.
ENJOY WHAT YOU CAN HANDLE
Impressionable kids certainly shouldn’t be exposed to mature games. Even if you’re of age, it’s OK to dislike violent games. There’s nothing wrong with shunning blood and gore.
At the same time, people must realize there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it. Violence is the cornerstone of the gaming medium, and it’s not going away. To demonize violent games and those who enjoy them isn’t fair or even scientifically supported.
Live and let game, huh?
This article originally appeared on Jake Magee’s GazetteXtra gaming column, Press Start.