Violence in Video Games

by Jonathan Keller

In today's society there is lot's of violence. Turn on any TV channel and watch the evening news. I guarantee that there will be at least one story about a violent crime. It is a sad state, but a true one. What is even more tragic is when the violence is committed by children, or teenagers, doubly so when it is against another youth.

A question that has been going around is "Who is to blame?" There are no 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong answers to this question. However, more recently it has been a trend to lay the blame on entertainment popular with youth. Falling into this category are video games. It is undeniable that America's children are fond of this form of entertainment. You would be hard pressed to find a person who has never heard of "Super Mario," or a child who has never heard of "Pokémon." Video games have become commonplace.

The problem isn't with games like "Super Mario Brothers" or "Pokémon," but with the more violent games on the market, games such as "Doom" and "Quake." These games, and the others lumped together in the same category are targeted because they are based on killing your enemy, often with various guns and in gruesome fashions. As technology has increased, these games have become more and more life-like.

Many adults, parents especially, are blaming the recent waves of violence on video games. Incidents such as the shooting at Columbine High School, in Littleton Colorado last year come to mind. At a press meeting for her Senate run in the state of New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "I couldn't help but be upset when I read about the two boys from Columbine being obsessed with the game Doom." She didn't mention any of the other factors behind the boys' shooting. What about the fact that the boys were rejected, treated as outsiders and misfits? Youth can not control their emotions often. That is something that has to be taught, not picked up (Cannon et al.). It is the job of the parents to teach this, the parents and the schools.

The shooting in Colorado actually clears something up. It shows us where the real problem lies, in parents and teachers who pay no attention to their children.

"What I'm about to say, I don't think America wants to hear," says Scott Poland, a school psychologist who led crisis teams at past school shootings. "We have a number of troubled children who have a history of bullying, are fascinated with guns, violence, and bombs, have been teased, or are outcasts. It's time to end the culture of silence" (qtd. in Cannon et al.).

But do you need more proof? Of course you do. This was one isolated incident. Statistics often say more than single reports. The Interactive Digital Software Association points out 70 percent of the most frequent users of video games are over the age of 18. The crimes we are talking about are the ones committed by minors. Now, in the recent years, the rates for violent crime for youths has actually gone down, while the number of video games sold has increased (Hill).

Sen. Michael Balboni, of Long Island, stated the following "Over time, these games have desensitized our children to pain, death, and violence, yet the manufacturers and vendors of these games have trivialized and glorified bloodshed and violence ... the after school ritual has gone from milk and cookies to milk and murder" (qtd. Hill). That is a hefty claim. Vincent Fung, a student at SUNY Stony Brook, plays some of these violent games, such as Quake III. However, he was asked if he feels he has been desensitized to violence, this was his response "No way, seeing something like these games show in real life would make me throw up."

This fits with what Gail Markels of the Interactive Digital Software Association (ISDA) said. "Tens of millions of people of all ages play video games of all kinds, and they are perfectly capable of separating fantasy from reality"(qtd. Hill).

Another charge thrown against the video game industry is the lack of a coherent video game rating system. Video games receive this beating because they are supposedly rated with an "alpabet soup of letters," according the to the First Lady. She claims that parents need guidance, and that they have to be more involved in selecting video games for their children (qtd. Nagourney).

When I read that in the article, I was furious. The rating system in place for video games is widely known among players. Every game released since the ratings were instated has had it clearly visible on the front of the case. Reaching into the drawer next to me, I pulled out four games at random. The first was Capcom's "Resident Evil 3," definitely among those where there is controversy. It contains lots of bloodshed, and various different enemies to kill with a variety of weapons. However, right on the front of the case, in the lower left corner, you find the rating, M, for mature. Next in the pile Squaresoft's new "Front Mission 3." Again I look at the lower left corner and find that this game is rated T, for teen. After that is Squaresoft's "Final Fantasy VIII." For the third time my eyes scan the lower left corner. This game also has a T. Last in the pile is Game Arts "Grandia," which is rated E, for everyone. Now if I were a parent and wished to learn more about this rating system, I could easily do so. Right on the back of the case, in the lower right corner is a box explaining why it got rated the way it did. The parents can see whether the game contains explicit language, violence, bloodshed, or a host of other things. To learn even more, right beneath that list is a phone number you can call, and the web address of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

I was taking on the role of a curious parent here and called the toll free number. I was greeted with a recording. I found that the number puts you into a phone-accessed database. In this database you can find information on the rating for any game. When prompted I selected Resident Evil 3. After a moment I was listening to phone tell me that the game is mature, and may contain sexual themes. It went even further and told me why it was rated mature. The game contains animated blood and gore, and animated violence. Both which I would have known had I look on the back of the box.

Still playing parent, I then went to the website for the ESRB. A page with cheery colors welcomed me. Several options were available to me, but one caught my eye. "For information on the ESRB, click here." I followed the link to a page which offered me various explanations on the ratings system they use. The most noticeable feature was the "Parent's Guide." The information we need is out there, and you don't have to search high and low to find it.

Again, this reinforces that parents are to blame. The same parent who does not notice the signs of a troubled youth, is not going to bother learning more about the games their child is playing. Or do parents let it be because many of them realize that a video game is just that? A game.

Lastly, video games are not cheap. The come at an average price range of $40-$50. This only shows that parents have to be at least partially aware. The younger the child, the less likely they will have access to these games.

Yet, even with all this, some would still blame video games. But considering the facts, how can you? They have in place an effective, easy to understand, and easy to learn about rating system. They have a price out of reach for many children. The crime rate is dropping while game playing is rising.

The point is, the children and teenagers playing video games, whether they are violent or not, are not the same children and teenagers committing violent crimes. Why you might ask? Simple, while the crime is being committed, they are sitting at home, pretending to be something they are not, secure in the knowledge that what they are doing is fantasy only. Games have not desensitized the children. It is the parents who are desensitized. Pay more attention to what your child is doing and take an active part in their life. Perhaps if there was no rating system we would be better off. Then rather than trust someone else's judgement, the worried parent would have to research just what kind of game their son or daughter is playing. They would be more aware.

So, in conclusion, what I am saying is this. Stop blaming the games, focus your energy on solving the real problem, that of teachers and parents who don't pay enough attention (Cannon et al.). As Scott Poland says "It's time to end the culture of silence" (qtd. Cannon et al.).

Works CitedCannon, Angie, et al. "Why? (Columbine High School Massacre)." U.S. News & World Report 3 May 1999: 16(1).
Final Fantasy VIII. Dir. Yoshinori Kitase. Playstation CD-ROM. Squaresoft, 1999.
Front Mission 3. Dir. Toshiro Tsuchida. Playstation CD-ROM. Squaresoft, 2000.
Grandia. Playstation CD-ROM. Game Arts, 1999.
Fung, Vincent. Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2000.
Hill, Michael. "Game Over? Lawmakers consider limit on violent video games." The Associated Press State & Local Wire 7 Oct. 1999.
Nagourney, Adam. "Hillary Clinton Seeks Uniform Sex and Violence Rating for a Range of Media." The New York Times 22 Dec. 1999: B5.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Video Game. Capcom, 1999.
X Communications. Entertainment Software Rating Board. 1999. Entertainment Software
Rating Board, Interactive Digital Software Association. 9 Apr. 2000.

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