Violence In Games, Part II

In part I of this editorial, I talked violence in games, why I think some gamers like violent games, irresponsible gamers, and other related topics. In Part II, I would like to look at other content on the Web that deals with this same issue. Let me show you some of the sites on the web that I found interesting.

  • Video games and Violent Youth, from Snowball.comis IGN, was written shortly after the Columbine Colorado High School Shooting, almost two years ago. It is still some of the finest commentary by a gamer for gamers on this topic. I strongly recommend reading it from start to finish.
  • IN February, I read an article at the Adrenaline Vault reporting that a report from the Surgeon Generalis office said violent media have little effect on children. Specifically, the article says criminal activity beginning after puberty is not linked to violent media, and the link between prepubescent criminal activity and violent media is weak.

According to the Vault, the report throws a big wet blanket on the firestorm that media watchdogs were trying to generate. Itis not quite that simple.

I went from the Vault article to the Surgeon Generalis report itself. As a closing-curtain product of the Clinton Administration, the report is quite fascinating, and I recommend perusing the whole thing. But for my purposes, the most interesting part was the section on exposure to violence in the media. Some highlights follow:

"Most systematic research on childrenis exposure to violent media dates back to the 1970s, when most families did not have access to cable television, music videos, video games, or the Internet," says the report. There are few studies—none measuring long-term effects—for the newer media, particularly video games and the Internet.

For television, the report comes to a confident summary: "[S]tudies show a small, but often statistically significant, long-term relationship between viewing television violence in childhood and later aggression, especially in late adolescence and early adulthood. Some evidence suggests that more aggressive children watch more violence, but the evidence is stronger that watching media violence is a precursor of increased aggression."

But the cited studies were conducted in the 1960s, i70, and i80s, long before the Internet explosion, with an eye toward network television. There can be little doubt a child of 1955 was exposed to less violent media than a child of 1985. And future studies will probably show that with more exposure to more intense and interactive violent material, children respond with more severely violent behavior.

And then thereis this Gamecenter article. According to former Editor-in-chief Michael Brown, Gamecenter somehow got hold of a proposal from the Interactive Digital Software Association (supposedly a group representing the interests of software manufacturers nationwide) to the Federal Trade Commission. According to Mr. Brown: Print (including game publications): Ads for Mature-rated games may not be placed in magazines where 45 percent or more of the readers are under 17. [GCis] Analysis: By our count, there are only three magazines in the industry whose audience does not fit this profile. TV advertising: Ads for Mature-rated games may not be placed on programs where 35 percent or more of the viewers are under 17. [GCis] Analysis: By this definition, a game such as Resident Evil could not be advertised on MTV. Internet ads: Paid ads for M-rated games shall not be placed on Web sites where 45 percent or more of the visitors are under 17. [GCis] Analysis: The document states that Media Metrix data will be used to establish the demographic of Web site audiences. Considering how many fan sites are too small for Media Metrix to measure, this could make it impossible for any independent sites to secure advertising revenue.

Gamecenteris "News Analysis" borders on apocalyptic, but the sentiment mirrors mine. Mr. Brown goes on to say, "Weire chilled to the bone by the lengths to which the IDSA [Interactive Digital Software Association] seems to be prepared to go to appease the U.S. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. If the industry adopts these guidelines--even voluntarily--M-rated games will soon fall into the same category as pornographic magazines and videos. Games that canit be marketed wonit be produced." When a movie gets the "NC-17" rating, itis a kiss of death—the general public will never see, hear, or think about it. Deus Ex and Rainbow Six could become no more than interactive porn movies.

Remember: the ISDA is not some rabid media watchdog trying to get Congress to impose these restrictions. These are the actions of a software manufacturer spokesgroup offering to slaughter the video games industry as we know it. Games should be fun. They should be a diversion, a relaxing vacation from real life. Violence is a tool that developers should and do use to help make that vacation more complete. But violence should never, ever be the reason to make or play a game.

Do you have an opinion too? I bet you do. Fire away—at me, at the games, and at your fellow gamers in our Games Forum. If you want to see some more comments and links to relevant content around the web, you can first check out my first posting on violence in games. Play hard; play safe! –Ricky