More of the Ol’ Ultraviolence

[originally published in The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, Issue #105, June 2006]

Last month I touched on the enormous (and heated, and probably eternal) debate about the significance of violence in videogames. It’s not an easy argument to resolve; on one side you have gamers and game makers defending their hobbies and livelihoods, if not their very identities. On the other are a group of concerned citizens honestly believing — however erroneously — that they are protecting the innocent from nefarious forces.

You know what I do for a living, so you can probably guess which side I come down on. I know — from longtime, extensive, personal experience — that videogames do not turn otherwise conscientious, reasonably well-adjusted individuals into slavering, murderous social deviants. It just doesn’t happen. If it did, you and I and just about everyone we know would be in jail.

Furthermore, we can be reasonably assured that the vast majority of the slavering, murderous social deviants of history had very little exposure to videogames. Linear time’s a bitch, baby.

So why all the hubbub? It’s pretty simple, really: Outsiders look at the, ah, ethical freedom offered by advancing game technology, and it scares the living crap out of them. Because, yes, some of the things we can do in games would be genuinely evil were they done in the real world. They watch us stealing cars or running over pedestrians or pulling off a totally sweet headshot on a moving target, and they think, “Oh dearie gracious me, what if I were that poor, unsuspecting pedestrian? What if that were my car?”

They worry that we will confuse games with reality because they confuse games with reality.

Don’t let that upset you too much, though. It’s understandable — we’re at an unbelievably dynamic moment in history, technologically speaking. These finger-wagging pundits may be hip enough to know that games exist, but they’re not nearly hip enough to ever have played one. So it shouldn’t surprise us that games seem like reality to them — a living world, magically squeezed into a set-top box. They don’t understand that players of first-person shooters are no more likely to pick up a shotgun in real life than players of Monopoly are to liquidate their assets and start building hotels.

They’re right about one thing, though. There is a game that to all appearances seems to be every bit as dangerous as they claim. There is frequent, documented evidence of players (and even spectators!) committing real-world crimes. Players routinely inflict real, physical injuries — often vicious — on their opponents in typical play. There were 23 documented deaths associated with this game in 2001 alone.

But in spite of all this frightening evidence, this game is not only tolerated in this country, but actually celebrated. Young people are encouraged to play it — high schools even hold weekly competitions! On school property! And those who do it professionally are paid, on average, almost a million dollars a year. You’ve probably even played it yourself.

It’s called football.

And why isn’t anyone concerned about the likelihood of kids raised on football going out and randomly chasing, tackling, or stiff-arming innocent bystanders on the street? Because it’s just a game. |