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Video games and violence under trial

The short history of video games causes them to be more misunderstood than other entertainment mediums.

By Lucia Lee | March 2, 2012

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The games industry has been around for more than 30 years, yet the rise of the popularity of games has only happened recently. Although this allowed gamers to enjoy wider varieties of quality games, it also caused some politicians to take notice.

A law established in California in 2005 prohibited the sale or rental of “violent” video games, regardless of their ESRB rating, to those under 18. A case in 2011 now known as Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association repealed the act because it "unfairly single(d) out video games as opposed to other media” and was violating free speech.

In a more recent move, Oklahoma representative William Fourkiller proposed a new bill that would add a 1 percent tax premium on video games with a teen, mature or adult only rating from ESRB.

“Violent video games contribute to some of our societal problems like obesity and bullying, but because they raise a lot of revenue, they can also provide part of the solution," Fourkiller told KOCO.com.

The revenue made from this decision would go to bullying and obesity programs.

The bill was shot down on Feb. 20 with a 5-6 margin. According to GameSpot, the bill was met with skepticism about whether it could follow through on its goals.

"Why (tax) just video games? Why not French fries or rap music or movies?" Rep. Pat Ownbey says.

With these statements, I couldn’t agree more. My gaming past was anything but educational games and fluffy creatures. I played games that featured blood, had you kill other human beings and say highly suggestive and violent statements (I’m looking at you “Grand Theft Auto”). Despite this blatant exposure to the roughest that gaming had to offer in the 1990s, I did not turn out obese or violent.

My experience here is not a unique one, and I want to debunk the violent video game leads to violent behavior (and apparently obesity) myth.

The media is partly to blame. For some reason, everyone has the same outlook on video games as the creators of South Park did when they satirically portrayed a “World of Warcraft” gamer in the episode called “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” The media has trained the world to see gaming as a bad thing. As Reps. Ownbey and Reynolds said, there are a multitude of reasons that we could blame violence and obesity on, but video games get the brunt of the accusations.

Media is even influencing researches to check out the video game “epidemic” for themselves. I checked out an article by the American Psychological Association about the violence caused from video games. The article blamed all violent behavior on video games, even if the violent action (such as biting, spitting, pulling hair, etc.) is not presented in a video game. It explained that the reason I did this action is because I played a violent video game, not that Susie Q. (who plays no video games at all) pulled my hair first. The article also told me that as a user of violent video games, I should hurt people, I should like to hurt people and I hate to help people.

I've turned out normal. I could not pinpoint any aggressive behavior that pervades my thoughts that is caused by playing video games. I wasn't raised in a unique way that prevented this, and I don't believe there is as strong of a correlation as researchers are making it seem.

What I’m getting out of this debate is that non-gamers don’t exactly understand the medium of video games. Sure, some games are violent, but novels and movies can contain mature themes and violent language. It’s the fact the video games have been around for only a fraction of the time that other digital and entertainment mediums have, and no one quite knows how to respond to it.

I can tell you this much, you can’t judge a book by its cover, just like you can’t judge video games by one genre.

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