In the wake of the recent Sandy Hook tragedy, we are now showing more sensitivity toward and more awareness of the level of violence in our world. As a result, violence in media, especially in video games, has come under increased scrutiny. I may be in the minority, but I think this scrutiny is a good thing.
However, there is a fuel being thrown onto the fire.
This fuel is at its core derisive, misinformed, unnecessary rhetoric that ultimately distracts from real issues that should be discussed. This time the fuel has been supplied by Californian State Senator Leland Yee through these comments he made yesterday.
Normally when I write an article, I try to be as logical as possible. I look at the issue or idea, break it down, examine the reasons for why something may be the way it is, and then draw some conclusions. For the most part, I try to stay emotionally uninvolved.
That’s not to say that I’m not passionate about what I write about; if I didn’t care about the content of my articles, I wouldn’t put so much time and effort into them (and I do pour my blood and sweat into every article I write). It takes a long time for me to get to the point where I am “happy” with what I’m posting, and I try to keep an even-keel when I’m writing something.
However this time it’s different. What Senator Yee had to say got me a little hot under the collar, to say the least, and this time I’m writing with some fire in my belly. And when you see what Mr. Yee said, you too may be a tad upset by these comments:
Gamers have got to just quiet down. [They] have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.
Quite a statement there, Mr. Yee…Do you have anything to back that up, or are you just talking out of your ass?
First of all, to say that gamers have no credibility in this argument, and that we act only out of self-interest, is an attack on any gamer’s integrity. It says that our opinion in this debate doesn’t matter because we are inherently biased, that we can’t understand why violent content in video games would be examined, and thus what we say should be brushed aside.
Such a statement insinuates that Mr. Yee is himself an expert on the subject and automatically knows more than we do. I just have one question: what gives Mr. Yee more credibility over me, one who actually plays (sometimes violent) video games? What makes his opinion less subjective and therefore more important?
To an outsider like Mr. Yee, it’s too easy to look at violent video games and give a disapproving tsk-tsk. But by making such statements, Mr. Yee is scapegoating an easy, very visible target while trying to silence those who would stick up for it.
The simple fact of the matter is that his opinion doesn’t matter more; he just has a larger platform from which to express it. Moreover, his statement is rife with as much subjectivity as any gamer chiming in on the debate. If anything, gamers should be encouraged to come forward and share their experiences with violent video games for the obvious reason that we are the ones who have first-hand experience playing them.
Gamers have a place in this debate by virtue of being a stakeholder in its outcome. To silence our opinions is, in part, to silence the debate. To think otherwise takes the same closed minded approach Mr. Yee suggests gamers maintain regarding this issue.
But you know what, I’m going to grant Mr. Yee’s proposition that gamers have no credibility. What about the numerous recent studies found in peer reviewed journals—like the one found here, or here—that find no causal link between video game violence and real world violence, and even show that many of the studies that do find such a link aren’t credible because their methodologies are flawed? What about the studies that video games, like first person shooters, actually have positive effects? Do these findings lack credibility?
By not considering the amount of work that has already gone into studying the effects of video game violence, it seems that it’s Mr. Yee who has the credibility problem and should be the one quieting down.
Let’s grant another proposition: that violent video games do cause an increase in aggression (it is possible after all, as many other studies propose). Unlike Mr. Yee, I have no background in psychology, only a phenomenological perspective, but I still don’t think that violent content is to blame here. I’d lean more towards the competitive nature inherent in video games in general as responsible for any increases in aggression, and the video games that happen to foster the highest levels of competition (first person shooters) also happen to feature violence.
I hate to draw an analogy between video games and sports, and I have made my dissatisfaction with that known in the past, but I think there is one to be made here. Think of someone playing football, they are rewarded for being aggressive, and it’s the competitive nature of the sport, that desire to win, which fuels a football player’s aggression. Video games are no different.
When we play video games we are always competing, whether it is against other players or even the AI. If we lose to either, it’s natural to become upset that we lost. Here aggressive behavior, such as anger or even hostility towards fellow gamers, is being fueled by a desire to win, not the violent content.
I think what upsets me the most about Mr. Yee’s statement is how he paints gamers with the broadest of brushes as having an insatiable blood-lust. That all we care about with video games is how they allow us to spill virtual blood. Forget art, design, character, or plot, all we’re interested in is how a game can enable our most primitive nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have being playing violent video games since I was a kid (like many, my first true exposure to extreme video game violence was through Mortal Komat), but I’ve never, let me stress never, been part of a violent incident in my life. The violent content to which I have been exposed, whether through video games or other forms of media, hasn’t damaged my mental health. I don’t day dream about how it would be swell to act violently towards people; when I’m driving my car, I don’t think how cool it would be to hit people crossing the street. Violence in video games isn’t some sort of vicarious thrill.
If anything, I’ve become less “bloodthirsty” and more sensitive towards violent content as I’ve gotten older. When I see violent content in video games now, I’m more likely to cringe than I would when I was younger, but even then I wasn’t some deranged virtual killer gleefully spilling virtual blood. I’d like to see Mr. Yee explain that. After all, he seems to have all the answers.
Blaming violence in media isn’t new. Comic books, television, movies and even music have all been scrutinized at some point in time. Video games happen to fall under everyone’s gaze right now because they are relatively new, and people are still trying to understand them. It may not seem like it, but video game violence being studied and discussed is actually a good thing. It will ultimately bring us closer to dispelling so many misconceptions about video games and those who play them.
Furthermore, I believe that as we continue to discuss and question the levels of violence in media because it will ultimately help us understand ourselves better. However, we shouldn’t make media a scapegoat. To do so is to stifle human creativity. After all, most everything that enters into the media and entertainment spheres represents a creative effort on the part of someone, and art ought not be censored, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
Of course, increased attention will always be paid when a tragedy occurs, but rarely will we look at those behind the tragedy as extremely rare exceptions. Instead we go looking for the easiest answers, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to blame the proliferation of violent content in video games as being responsible, rather than the fact that sometimes we can’t make sense of these actions, that there just isn’t an answer—at least one that we can make fit into a thirty second sound bite.