Editor’s Note
Issue: Volume: 32 Issue: 11 (Nov. 2009)

Editor’s Note

Video Game Violence: How Much is Too Much?

Violent content in video games: It is a hot-button topic where fact and opinion are at odds. Many gaming groups, including the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), contend that “facts, common sense, and numerous studies all debunk the myth that there is a link between computer and video games and violence.” Tell that to the lobbyist groups that maintain such a correlation exists.

I have been covering computer gaming for more than a decade. And while my interest in the industry is pretty much limited to the computer graphics in the titles, not the gameplay, it is nearly impossible to avoid getting pulled into the violence debate. In our June issue, we ran a story about the creation of MadWorld, a title that has a unique graphic-novel look (black and white “ink” drawings with splashes of red). While beautiful, the game focused on murder and mayhem, and plenty of it. The game sparked debate, particularly in Germany and the UK. It also hit closer to home: A reader was none too pleased, particularly with the guest editorial by the story’s writer, who, as a CG artist himself, has strong views against content censorship and the ill effects such a move could have on the industry.

This issue has reached a tipping point in Venezuela recently, where a law is pending that would prohibit violent video games and toys (see the blog “It’s the Law” on www.cgw.com). The legislation aims to curb the out-of-control street violence in a country with an escalating murder rate. Supporters say that in Caracas, youngsters—who play violent video games at Internet cafes—are easily transitioning from virtual violence to real violence. My question is this: What would they do instead? Somehow, I do not think they will be playing board games or will be content playing E-rated (Everyone) computer games. Such legislation, in my opinion, is likely have the opposite effect of the intended outcome. My opinion, not fact.

My view on violence in games is this: If you don’t want to look at it, don’t. Games, like movies, are rated. So, simply do not buy it. But, don’t stop others from doing so, unless it is your own family. The problem is that many parents do not check the game rating, or simply ignore it. I recall an incident at a toy store during the holidays, whereby a mother requested a certain game that was notorious for its controversial violence. The clerk, in his early 20s, asked the parent who the game was for, to which she responded, “My 14-year-old son.” The clerk explained that the game was for adults and actually tried to dissuade her, but in the end she said, “Well, it is on his list, so I’ll take it.” I was aghast. She never even checked out the box. I realize that some parents are careful and vigilant. Those are the same people who check movie ratings and make informative decisions about what their kids watch. Others don’t bother.

Will I purchase certain games for my almost-teen son? No. Will he play some of them at a friend’s house, where the rules are more relaxed? Probably. But it is up to me to monitor that situation. Come to think of it, isn’t this the same issue our parents had years ago with certain movies and television programs?

ESA states on its Web site, “Blaming video games for violence in the real world is no more productive than blaming the news media for bringing crimes of violence into our homes night after night.” Good point. Those on the opposite side have said that people become desensitized to violence after repeated play. Good point, too. No doubt, this debate will continue on for years, as there is no simple solution.

What’s your opinion on violence in games? Share it in a blog on www.cgw.com.