Conditioned Violence?

13 08 2007

Hot Milky Drink is a blog, mostly, about games and education, run by Derek Robertson. This post is a fairly typical worry about games:

I appreciate that the game is a 16+ and that it is aimed at young and older adults and that in general people are not stupid but…I can’t help feeling that games such as these can help construct an implicit acceptance of an ideology that says I’m bigger and stronger than you so I’ll kill your family and rape your daughter, tie you up and lock you up without charge and and steal all your wealth.

It does, however, raise a very important question for anyone extolling the pluses of simulation and games for teaching: How do games affect us? On the one hand, certain viewpoints are saying that violence in games has no effect on people, but on the other, people behind educational games are saying they can have a very profound impact on users.

The post doesn’t offer an answer. Is the distinction that between acquiring knowledge and skills, contrasted with effects on our motivations? I’m not sure, but I suspect while a game can convey knowledge and mental skills, it can only work with the motives that are already there.

One of the commenters mentions Grossman, though as ever when he’s cited, no distinction is made between the ability to kill and the desire to, nor any mention of other techniques used to back up training with human shaped targets, nor that soldiers will still suffer nervous breakdowns and PTSD after too much exposure to combat. We are far more than our conditioned reptilian reflexes.

I get the feeling that very few people on either side of the debate are being completely fair to the views they oppose.

There is also this interesting chunk in the comments:

afterwards one attendee told me of his dilemma when his boy asked if he could have a war game (it may have been Call of Duty, I’m not 100% sure), a game which the parent felt uncomfortable about. However he agreed on the condition that they also studied the events of the game in a wider context, bringing in books and dramas and so on, so that the game content could be experienced in a greater context.

The less context a piece of media puts around mature content, the less mature that piece of media is. Hence age restrictions: Older humans supposedly have greater ability to contextualise for themselves. So the idea seems to go.

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2 responses

13 08 2007
Neuromancer

yeh but as malcom x said “violence is as american as apple pie” blameing games for violence is about as sensible as blaming the Bible (or any other religious text) for violence.

its a cop out those of us who play a lot of wargames know that violence is not a very good response in alot of situations.

14 08 2007
davidhayward

I agree, it’s my opinion too that games can’t be blamed for violence. The best take I’ve seen on it is Henry Jenkins’, that any kind of media is a risk factor: San Andreas is likely to have more of an effect on a teenager in a poor area full of gangs than one in a rich neighborhood full of gated communities, but in no case can it be proven to be the *cause* of any violence.

The point is, while gamers might know, and it might be obvious from the numbers, that there isn’t a causal connection between playing videogames and behaving violently, it needs to be studied and discussed in more depth to actually prove it to people who want to believe the opposite. Moral panics aren’t reasonable, so it’s not enough to just make a coherent argument. Because of the strong desire to believe various things on all sides, the talking points have to be overshot; or to put it another way, people who believe in things passionately underestimate the win conditions for their point of view.

The discussion will have to be dragged up and rehashed over and over. I think that’s a job for academics and journalists, because as soon as an instance of the discussion is connected to a specific game, that dialogue seems to be doomed. That makes discussion on violence itself a very difficult problem for the industry, as it only arises as an issue for developers and publishers in relation to particular games. In such cases, the best PR approach is to give no comment and wait for it to blow over rather than enter into discussion.

(e.g. Until Hot Coffee, Rockstar maintained a silent approach to controversy and weathered it all, but that one time they spoke out and got caught up in all kinds of extra tangles that proved to be very bad for them).

It doesn’t matter that each of us as gamers have settled the issue of violence for ourselves; the issue has to be settled culturally. That means very slowly and persistently chipping away at anti-game media and the lobbying groups that exploit it. Developers have to play the short game and weather those storms, whereas academics, journalists and all people who are one step away can play the long game.




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