Alright, let's get pundity.
There has been a war on video games in this country ever since Mortal Kombat allowed us to rip out our opponent's spine. Every time a tragedy strikes our nation, people come out in force to blame violent video games, and, in a way, this is nothing new. People simply got tired of blaming senseless acts of violence on gory slasher flicks or the explicit lyrics of Marilyn Manson and Eminem. Video games are kind of the in thing now, outperforming many other forms of media. So, of course, they would have to be the hot new scapegoat.
Before I get into how absurd the "violent videogames are ruining our children" argument is, I want to play devil's advocate for a second. Unfortunately, we do have a problem with "underage" kids playing "adult" video games. Granted, this is the sort of thing that should normally fall under the responsibility of the parent, but anyone who plays shooters online can tell you that there are a depressing number of ten-year-old kids shouting racial slurs. Heck, it's become somewhat of a comedy phenomenon on YouTube. I don't know about you, but I wasn't shouting the n-word on the playground in grammar school.
Am I saying exposure to violent video games is the root of this sort of behavior? Not necessarily. However, exposure to the racist, sexist, and overall toxic online communities that video games have fostered may have played a small part. However, that's an argument for another time.
The simple fact of the matter is that violent video games aren't corrupting or youth any more than other forms of violent media. Human beings have an ability to separate make-believe from reality, even at a young age. Children have been given cap guns and Nerf guns to play Cops and Robbers for ages, and they haven't gone on shooting sprees. Laser tag establishments haven't come under fire for acting as murder simulators.
And here's the most depressing thing about this whole mess: We already know that violent video games aren't corrupting our youth. We have done countless studies on the effects of violent video games on adolescent behavior and just about every one of these studies shows that children who are exposed to violent video games are no more likely to commit violent acts than any other children exposed to any other sorts of media.
So why are video games always the scapegoat? For one, it's because violence has kind of been a staple of game development. Violence, of course, tends to arise when there is any sort of physical conflict in a story. However, there's a big difference between the pixelated sword slashes of Chrono Trigger and the graphic animation of Leon Kennedy's head getting chainsawed off in Resident Evil 4.
Is this graphic gore and violence a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it's everywhere. We've made video games that straight-out glorify violence and gore. Sniper Elite V2, for example, included a slow-motion X-ray cam for the sole purpose of allowing you to see your enemies' testicles explode as they are shredded by a sniper round. It didn't make the gameplay better, nor did it help the story out; it was just gore for the sake of gore. Sure, in a grindhouse schlock horror game, there's a place for that, but in a game that advertised itself as a serious military shooter, is that really necessary?
In a way, games as an artform are still in their adolescence, as gaming's target demographic still gets excited over bloody explosions and boobies. Heck, that's exactly the sort of behavior you would expect from young children. You don't hear this stuff around the office water cooler.
But, even more than that, it's easy to make gaming a scapegoat because nothing we could do would actually change anything. A bill was recently proposed that would establish huge penalties for any retailer caught selling M-rated games to children. However, it's usually not kids who are going in to stores to buy the latest Call of Duty. Kids don't have money because they don't have jobs. And by the time they actually do get jobs, it would be legal for them to purchase an M-rated game anyway. It's usually the parent who goes into a GameStop and purchases a violent game for their kid, and there's no form of legislation that will stop that. It's not illegal to give an M-rated game to your child; it's just bad parenting.
This bill will also issue huge penalties for any store that obfuscates the ESRB's rating system. Game ratings would have to be clear, visible, and easy to understand. However, most people already know what ESRB ratings mean. M-rated games have 17+ plastered right on the box. Once again, parents understand what an R-rated movie is, so there's no reason why they couldn't understand what an M-rated game is. If they purchase an M-rated game for a ten-year-old, it's probably because they don't care rather than because they don't understand what it means.
But let's assume that there are some people out there who don't understand the ESRB system yet. The simple fact of the matter is that they can understand the system. A thirty-second Google search, or a fifteen-second scan of a game case will give you all the info you need. There is really no way to make this ratings system any clearer.
In short, issuing penalties for unclear ratings or the sale of M-rated games for minors won't really change anything. The only way to truly prevent violent video games from getting into the hands of minors is to prevent them from being made in the first place, and this simply will not happen. It didn't happen with movies, it didn't happen with music, and it isn't going to happen with games. Frankly, the video game industry is just too huge. There is too much money, power, fan support, and overall momentum behind the industry to ever allow a totalitarian piece of legislature restricting game content to be passed.
And that, my friends, is why video games are a perfect scapegoat. Though they don't necessarily affect adolescent development, they glorify violence, which essentially paints a target on the backs of anyone who works in the industry. Yet the industry is too big for anyone to do anything about it, which ensures people can continue complaining about it until the next big new media craze.
Essentially, this is a war that won't go anywhere, a war filled with uneducated people and hype men who are doing nothing more than throwing rocks at a wall several times their size. Unfortunately, we just have to sit there and take it for now, in hopes that someone will eventually grow tired of throwing rocks.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: January 21, 2013
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*