Thursday, March 27, 2008

Brenda on Video Games and the Media

Brenda Brathwaite has a new article on the media and video games in the Escapist.

Essentially, she can't understand why her friends all think that video games are bad, are for kids, and that kids shouldn't play them. She thinks it may be the media, but isn't sure. She solicits other people's comments on the issue.

My comments follow.

Brenda points out that "The same people who drowned machines in quarters back in the 1980s" complain about people playing video games today.

These are exactly the people who can say that video games are addictive. And these same people who played the entertaining but abstract games of the 1980s can say that many of today's games are excessively gory and violent compared to what they played.

Just because someone likes movies, doesn't mean he likes R-rated or X-rated movies. And the fact that someone was addicted to something once gives them the right to judge the activity as addicting.

There are a noticeable amount of games which are not violent and gory, but they're not the majority in stores near me. If more people are playing The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Hoyle's Card Games, you wouldn't know it from from the conversations I hear from my kids and their friends. I walk down the aisles of video games in my local stores and most of them are excessively gory and violent by my standard. My standard is "more constant and descriptive violence than I would expect from an R-rated movie" which, by the way, lasts only two hours and is not violent the entire way through.

Brenda polled her friends as to how they felt about video games. "Oddly, no one cites the media in his initial response" ... "a former boyfriend would play for hours, upon hours, upon hours. Maybe I felt neglected, ignored and disrespected" ... "Many times as I called my son, I could hear the background noise of the game, which would mean very little concentration on our conversation" ... "

In other words, damn straight it is not the media influencing your friends, Brenda. They are giving you real first-hand experiences of the addiction and social-disruption that video games can produce. Their opinions are bases on the real world, not the media.

"So, games take the fall for the son's rudeness" is no answer. Sure, manners is largely a function of training. But an anti-social, absorbing, rushing activity makes people anti-social and absorbed. Does anyone easily ditch video games when they are called by someone else?

A video game must provide constant high level edge-of-the-seat entertainment, an endless series of engrossing and climactic battles. These same types of scenes occur fairly infrequently in a typical book or movie. Other activities don't need to do this. In movies there are moments of reflection. In sports, either the sport is over quickly, or there are moments in between each rush.

"At my house, we have an efficient means of dealing with such issues. You get a two-minute warning to save your game, and then it gets shut off. There is no negotiation." This type of training is never necessary for book-reading or music practice, right? Which means you had to set these special rules for video games, only. It is not then possible to argue that video games are not more addictive and socially-problematic.

When you then ask "Where the hell is all this coming from? If not the media, where?", you already answered yourself: from people's first-hand experience of dealing with children, boyfriends, and spouses who will not answer you and who are absorbed for hours or days blowing things up.

"It would be like the film industry being blamed for people making snuff films or amateur bedroom porn." is disingenuous, as is the fact that only six percent of the video game titles are Mature. Teen games are already excessively violent, and far more than six percent of games are Teen, Mature, or AO. And players play these games in a far higher proportion to the number of games they represent in overall titles.

Snuff films, porn, and liquor all have warning signs, are not available to minors and have social discouragement factors that violent video games do not. If violent video games were sold in adult only stores, the major video game press didn't cover them, and they were played only outside of the mainstream, that would be one thing. Take a look at the list of reviews on 1UP, the leading online video game source. How many Sims games there? A few sports game, a singing game, and the rest are killing games.

Imagine if the majority of the film industry reviews and sales were explicit war movies, or adult and snuff films. People would be writing articles about fuddy-duddies who complain about explicit violence and killing in movies; oh wait, they already do that. There's too much violence in films; arguing that video games are no worse than films is no great argument.

I've watched my son play popular games that are not considered ultra-violent, such as Age of Empires, Red Dawn, Rome: Total War, and so on; not even FPSs. And I insist on the sound being off, because I can't stand listening to hours and hours of realistic explosions and death screams. I don't ask him to turn the sound off in movies: the violence doesn't take up the entire movie, and it's over in two hours, tops. Plus, the story and acting might have some redeemable content.

For adults, playing at killing for an hour or two here or there is not a huge problem. But, like drinking, watching endless television, and other essentially wasteful activities, making these a habit is not something you'll be proud of at the end of your life. These activities, owing to the very fact that they are easy and entertaining, are addictive.

Violence in video games is not a media myth. It is the industry's laziness and appeal to a base brutality and fascination with violence in its consumers. The addiction of the consumer is also not a myth, although it is a lazy man's addiction, not a chemical or neurological addiction.

Instead of complaining about the perception of video games, work at maturing the industry so that it produces more games with less explicit brutality and violence, more content, more downtime, and more reflection; games that contain stories within a set time period and don't simply pump an endless series of violent thrills into your brain to keep you glued to the screen. Work at making the endlessly brutal games a small adult-only part of the larger world of games, like snuff films.

Yehuda
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