Why people who freak out over video game violence don’t get it

Blair Hanley Frank

Photo Credit : Bullion

It’s a perennial favorite of news organizations: Some new video game is the scourge of modern society, due to some sort of possibly objectionable content that has suburban mothers locking up computers and X-Boxes. Whenever someone goes out and commits some reprehensible act, it’s all about the video games. In my experience, if you were to go into a room filled with teenaged males, you’d find that the vast majority of them will have played some sort of violent video game.* Why then are people always shocked that when some angry, teenaged prick decides to go shoot someplace up he happened to play “Call of Duty” or “Grand Theft Auto?”

I’m sorry if this sounds controversial or is difficult to understand, but killing video game characters and people are two completely different things. To illustrate my point, consider “The Matrix” and its related sequels. These are not friendly movies. Neo and Trinity don’t show up in an office building with bags and trench coats full of firearms to give everyone a friendly hug. They show up to shoot the living daylights out of the place. And somehow, it managed to reach critical acclaim. On some level, there is a common agreement between the moviegoers and the filmmakers that none of it is real.

Compare that to one of my personal favorite games: “Bioshock.” The main character is not there to give hugs either. You spend your time running around an underwater dystopia shooting people.** Philosophically, it addresses questions similar to “The Matrix.” It has one of the best crafted stories of the entire genre, to date. It’s about as violent as “The Matrix,” and again, there is the same unspoken agreement between the player and the game designers that it’s not real. When I’m killing enemies in a video game, I know that all I’m doing is changing some ones and zeroes in a data file.

But what about kids? Parents don’t want 10-year-old Billy playing “Gears of War.” That’s fine. Parents need to look at their kids’ video game intake and figure out what the best thing to do is, just as they would with movies or television. My parents didn’t let me see “Saving Private Ryan” when it came out, because I was seven. That was the smart thing to do. Video Games, like movies, are clearly labeled. Anyone who’s under the age of 14 or 15 probably shouldn’t be playing a game rated “Mature,” just like they probably shouldn’t watch an R-rated movie.

In a condensed form, it all comes down to a matter of choice. I can choose whether or not to play “Grand Theft Auto” (to date, I have not). Parents can choose what’s right for their kids. Just because something exists, doesn’t mean that everyone has to play it.

*Granted, I don’t have copious amounts of scientific data to back this up, but I would hope that as a teenaged male (for one more year, anyhow) my experience would carry a little weight.

**If you want to be technical, they’re “splicers,” people who have modified their genetic structure to the point where they’ve gone crazy.