I've been a gamer since I first picked up an Atari controller. I still remember how the plastic stick felt in my hand. And who could forget that singular, bright orange button. Now, to be fair, I consider the Super Mario Bros. that I got as a surprise Christmas gift when my parents left a Nintendo under the tree my real gaming genesis. The point I'm making with all of this is that I go way back. So I've been there to hear every positive or negative comment you can imagine regarding our hobby. We've all had the typical ones--usually from our parents. I can't tell you how many times I'd run to my Dad after hours upon hours of trying to get past a particularly difficult level or boss fight just for him to shoot me down with the standard "OK, so what have you accomplished?" Of course, I didn't really have an answer, but I didn't care. It was more about the journey than the destination, at least, that's what I told myself.
Then, as I got older, the narrative changed a bit. I, like many of you, had friends who enjoyed things such as sports and partying. My thing was gaming. It seemed I was way more into it than the general crowd, which led to comments such as "all he does is sit in the house and play video games." Now, I'm not saying that's untrue, but as I'm sitting here writing this article for a major game site, I realize that it did finally lead me somewhere. So that's a good feeling.
Then there was a major change: a shift in how the gaming world was perceived. And it's something that has only escalated, or perhaps the word “fester” seems more appropriate.
The introduction of violence into video games occurred a long time ago. Before we had Call of Duty, we had Combat on the Atari 2600. Before we had Halo, we had Contra on the NES. It goes on and on. The violence has always been there, it's just we were limited by what the hardware of our time could render in pixels. It was when games such as Mortal Kombat came out that this violence took a step into the "real." Now, I realize that MK was not the only violent game of its kind, but it's certainly the one that got the most press at the time. In fact, whenever you see that little rating sticker on your game case, you can thank the Mortal Kombat franchise. The controversy ginned up would later lead to the creation of the ESRB. Now, Mortal Kombat is one of my absolute favorite franchises. To this day, seeing Sub-Zero pulling the head off a defeated opponent still makes me smile. Did you read that correctly? “Smile”…not “murder!” I can honestly tell you that I've never once had the urge to set anyone on fire or rip out their spines despite the hours upon hours I've spent playing Mortal Kombat over the years.
You can see where I'm going with this, right? Once again, with yet another wave of senseless mass shootings, the media turns to its standard scapegoat of blaming video games for somehow lighting the fuse that would set off these deranged individuals who kill, seemingly for their own amusement.
I recently saw an interview that Bill O'Reilly did on Fox news regarding this most recent shooting. The story hit your typical points, highlighting how the shooter was a fan of what they deemed "violent" games. They showed gameplay clips from GTA, Call of Duty, and others. The thread that tied these points together seemed to be that games today have become so interactive, the violence you experience somehow motivates you or even trains you to act them out.
Specifically referenced was an aspect of the newly released GTA V where you’re forced to torture someone in order to get information from them. You're required to do this by selecting which tools you'll implement, and it must be completed in order to proceed further in the game. Now, there are those who might say that taking violence to this degree in a game is excessive. I say maybe...but also maybe not. The point is, nothing you see in Grand Theft Auto V is all that far removed from the countless acts you can find in any other GTA games that reporters may considered "too violent" or "lewd." Gamers knew exactly what they were getting when they put their money down at the register, and seeing as how the game has already generated over a billion dollars in revenue, it's clear THEY want to retain the right to choose what THEY consider too much. Gamers don't want that decision made for them. And let's face it; that's exactly where this discussion is headed. When people say that something is "too" of anything (too violent, too sexual, etc.), then the next logical step in the conversation is how they’d like to censor it or ban it all together.
I could go on and on about the double standard that exists in media. When a man beats his wife to death, if he played video games, the media is much more likely to blame that rather than if he loved The Sopranos. If a man crashes his car at high speeds killing someone, why not blame Need for Speed even though he was obsessed with The Fast and Furious? I don’t know of any campaign to outlaw vehicles due to the drunk-driving problems we face in this country, do you? You can’t assume that just because a violent person plays video games that all video game players are violent. I propose that the hundreds of thousands of gamers who don't go on a killing spree pose a stronger argument against game violence translating to the real world than those who do become violent make an argument for it.
As they say, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. So let’s deal with that dirty little five letter word...F-A-C-T-S.
The Journal of Youth and Adolescence recently released a study a study stating that violent video games do NOT cause aggressive behavior in teens with symptoms of depression and ADD, but rather produce a calming effect. Specifically cited in the study were games such as Mortal Kombat, Halo, and (GASP!) Grand Theft Auto. Why do I bring this study up in particular? Not surprisingly, the exact opposite information is being reported by many news outlets today in regards to this rash of shootings. Are they that misinformed, or do they deliberately misrepresent these facts because it doesn’t fit their narrative?
So ask yourself; if they’ve gotten this much wrong, what else could they have wrong as well?