Time to reconsider the violent video game debate?

Brendan Sinclair, Gamesindustry.biz:

So when tragedies happen, our response must be galling to those who don’t “get” games. Instead of explaining the merits of what we do, we throw up discussion-ending roadblocks of First Amendment rights and scientific research (ignoring that parent watchdog groups also claim to have the weight of scientific research on their side). It’s not unlike what the National Rifle Association does when the issue of gun control comes up. They say it doesn’t work, namecheck the Second Amendment, and change the subject.

Sinclair is absolutely right – the video game industry has an unfortunate tendency to go the First Amendment whenever anyone in government questions what they’re selling or how they’re selling it much the same way the NRA goes to the Second Amendment.

I really wish both industries would stop rubbing our noses in their respective constitutional rights to exist.

Sinclair also talks about the backdoor marketing of violent video game content to children, despite ESRB ratings:

They put Kratos in Little Big Planet and Hot Shots Golf, Solid Snake in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and the cast of Army of Two, Dead Space, and Medal of Honor in MySims: Sky Heroes. Oh, and who could forget the Mortal Kombat animated series?

Sinclair talks about broadcast television’s requirement to serve the public interest with a portion of their programming, and suggests the video game industry do the same.

The problem as I see it with that approach is that left to their own devices, consumers will choose shit over gold almost every time. Otherwise the cable broadcaster once known as “The Learning Channel” wouldn’t be shoveling crap like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” I don’t think the answer is as facile as “make better quality stuff,” otherwise PBS would be the most-watched channel on television.

  • The whole thing about putting Kratos in LBP etc is a bit laughable. Like he truly believes the developers thought “well, LBP is popular among children. Lets put a really violent character in there to hypnotise them into wanting to kill shit”.

    It’s just a ridiculous statement.

    In my opinion, the gaming community just needs to grow up. We can have our violent games and enjoy them without feeling the need to lash out at people who disagree with it.

    But also the general population need to grow up in regards to gaming. I don’t remember the last time a highly popular and highly violent movie got stick for being violent, or accused of “advertising to children”. Because it’s not true. Nor is it true of violent videogames.

  • Think about it as an analog to the food industry. Walk into any major grocery store, and you have an overwhelming selection of the most perfect foods available to humankind. There are beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh-made whole-grain breads and pastas, lean proteins, if you’re fortunate, you’ll even find relic grains and organic foods… imagine how our forbears would have reacted to seeing such a bounty every day. Apples! Strawberries! Bananas! Leeks! Potatoes! Whole chickens, plucked for you and ready to cook! The absolute gold-standard of food to keep our bodies running and healthy.

    But instead, people move to the inside aisles. They buy cardboard boxes full of little plastic bags full of salt and sugar, refined and processed edible items (I won’t call it food — just because it’s edible doesn’t mean it’s food). They buy plastic bottles full of salty sugar water laced with chemicals that has only one goal — to make you buy more of it.

    Why do we walk right by the stuff that is truly good for us, and gobble up the crap? For the same reason we watch crappy television and not PBS, or play repetitive, violent games rather than Cookin’ Mama or Peggle — it appeals to the lizard brain in a unique way (not that Peggle doesn’t — it’s just a different way and perhaps a different person), and people get paid a lot of money to figure out how to appeal, more and more, to that lizard brain.

    That’s not to judge — we’re wired that way, and big companies with deep pockets are using that to their advantage to make money. Some call it exploitation, others call it good business. Victims don’t always know they’re victims. (Also, we need a better word than ‘victims’.)

    • Mother Hydra

      What is all this WE crap, clearly your over-generalizations aren’t lining up with reality. FACT: no correlation between violent behavior and violent games. FACT: games are labeled, we have the ESRB nothing else needs to take place on the part of the game industry. We should be having honest discussions about mental illness, feelings be damned. Nut no, you strike me as the sort that encourages special thinking.

      • You’re missing the point. Panderers of shit will find a market full of people willing to buy shit. Our population is undereducated and unprotected.

    • Well-said. I suspect Michael Pollan would agree.

  • Jay

    Canadian kids watch all the same violent movies and video games that American kids do. Furthermore, Canadians have the same mental health issues as we do here in the US. However, Canadians don’t have the same gun violence as the USA. Hmm…

    • dr.no

      Nor do Japanese, Korean, European, Rich Indian Kids, Rich Chinese kids, etc.

  • gjgustav

    Alternative solution: teach parents to recognize if their kids have mental health issues. And teach kids to recognize the same in their parents.

    • Mother Hydra

      very even-handed and plausible. GET OUT your logic has no place here. God forbid personal responsibility kicks in, else people will be made to feel less than special and perfect. GOD FORBID.

  • Lukas

    As a non-American, I don’t really care much about amendments to the US constitution. However, this discussion seems backwards. Why are we discussing what game developers need to do? The actual start of the discussion should be whether games make people more violent, and the current research suggests that they do not, which makes the whole discussion moot.

    The article could just as well be titled “Time to reconsider the violent books debate?”

    No, it’s not. Books don’t make people violent. Unless there’s good evidence that they do, there’s nothing to discuss here.

    • D Pauw

      More like “time to reconsider pulp fiction like 50 Shades and Twilight?” than the violent book debate. And again, using those as ways to engage and help people find more fiction is probably better than telling they’re bad people for liking it.

    • EVula

      Just to clarify, I don’t think “violent books” are as analogous to “violent games” as you’re saying; books are largely passive, while in video games, the player is taking an active role in what is happening. When reading a book, you’re not deciding the actions of the main character, versus games like Skyrim or GTA, where you actually are making a judgement call about whether or not to kill someone.

      Personally, I think the huff about violent games is overblown; I just disagree with your particular argument here, even though I think we are probably on the same general side. 🙂

  • kibbles

    there is no science linking violent video games to real-life violence.

    nor books. nor comic books. nor pinball machines. nor skateboards. all of which have been persecuted as corrupting youth at one time or another…

    give it a rest. theres no magic bullet here.

    • Mother Hydra


  • D Pauw

    Sinclair seems to be dancing back and forth across the line as far as things that are the industry’s responsibility.

    I agree that I really questioned the Halo Wars kids toys when I saw them. That very much is advertising to kids and I wish they would stop it.

    Trailers online having ineffective age gates? Uh, what kind of solution do you propose for this? Segregating websites by age appropriateness (i.e. channels) or enforcing certain times that these websites can be active (i.e. Prime Time)? This isn’t a 1st Amendment issue, this is a the internet doesn’t work like that issue. That doesn’t mean the internet is always right, just that the likelihood of you changing it in such a brute force method is very low.

    The rest of it, media is a reflection of the society. Blah blah blah. Can you expect companies like EA to care about pushing out anything but the sequels to the best selling franchises? That is why we have indy devs who have no such pressure. Instead of stamping your feet and expecting the big giants to make the equivalent of public access television or have Solid Snake tell everyone smoking is bad and he learned a valuable life lesson how about we try to find effective ways to show off the good games from developers who don’t necessarily have huge budgets?

    But lets ignore the science. Lets blindly do actions that felt good in the past regardless of how effective they’ll be now. (Sorry, for the snark but saying that just because science cannot tell us the ultimate cause of behavior currently doesn’t mean it cannot help us identify actions that would help.)

  • For the record, there’s a great deal of evidence that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior, especially in children. To say that there’s “no science” is simply wrong. There’s conflicting science, for sure. Some studies say there’s no link. Others show a link. You have to choose which science to believe. 🙂



    • D Pauw

      Actually, it isn’t necessarily contradictory. Such experiments can be measuring very different things. The example you provided they measured aggressive behavior by giving participates the ability to control noise level (up to the volume of a smoke alarm). How connected this study is to how prone someone would be to committing a violent act as opposed to a highly competitive act it doesn’t say. I only briefly read the paper and I’m not a trained social scientist so I may have misinterpreted the paper a bit. But it doesn’t look to support violent games causing overt violent behavior such as shooting. Just that it can increase aggressive behavior due to the competitive environment of the violent video game in question. That is useful information but not in the “give me a reason to ban xyz” sort of way.

      • David

        Yep. Wouldn’t watching or playing American Football increase aggressive behaviour too?

    • Mother Hydra

      Actually you’ve cherry-picked two studies that suggest a temporary increase in aggression The full truth is that there is no correlation between violence in games and gun violence. But, an unbalanced individual (i.e. mentally ill as is the case with ALL these tragedies) is not the societal norm is it? Our appalaing lack of care for the mentally ill in this country is more to blame than gun makers and video games. Teh social stigmas that still exist around mental disorders, the often solitary lives these individuals lead- its a FAIL of massive, societal proportions and you’re thinking way too small. Again, violent videogames are a scapegoat here.

  • And so the basement-denizens peel their eyes away from another cut-scene of gruesome decadence to decry the suggestion that a generation steeped in violence and sadism could possibly have a detrimental effect on society.

    +1 for the post.

  • Doctorossi

    “I really wish both industries would stop rubbing our noses in their respective constitutional rights to exist.”

    Maybe if we would stop threatening that existence all the time, they would stop feeling compelled to defend their rights to it.

    Also, The Learning Channel airs “Honey Boo-Boo” because it sells. This is the same reason you can’t find any music-related content on MTV. If you’re looking for any cable channel to be altruistic in their programming aims, you’re looking in the wrong place, however wholesome their name sounds.

  • We’ll have all the same arguments as gun-control. It’s ALMOST pointless.

  • JohnDoey

    No, it is not time. It is used as a distraction.

    If we had no traffic laws in the US, there would be mayhem on the roads and it would not be because of video games where you drive a virtual car. We would be able to look at other countries that have traffic laws and see they have much, much safer roads and way fewer deaths.

    We have laws based on the idea that if your neighbor possesses marijuana, that is so totally dangerous to the community that we have to take your neighbor away and put him in jail with murderers and put his kids in foster care and he loses his job and stops paying taxes. But most people today would rather live next door to a pot smoker than a gun collector like the Lanzas, who were free to build a human-killing arsenal. The irony is, marijuana was banned to prevent people who smoked it from going on a killing rampage.

    So any talk of video games when we have almost no gun laws is a kind of filibustering. You really let the victims of gun violence down when you filibuster the actual debate.

  • This is nothing like broadcasters’ requirements to serve the public interest. That requirement exists because they use the public airwaves, a finite resource owned by the people. Does not apply to cable channels, internet channels, or video games

  • Mother Hydra

    videogames = scapegoating the real, societal issues. As a gamer for over 30 years I can say this isn’t the first time and likely won’t be the last time we see the govt duplicate efforts and make needless laws.

  • Sinclair is absolutely right – the video game industry has an unfortunate tendency to go the First Amendment whenever anyone in government questions what they’re selling

    The video game industry has been regulated in a manner that is simply unheard of in regards to guns. Movies, television and video games are subject to ratings and approval systems in addition to additional legislation to criminalise the sale of games and movies to minors; the definition of which changes depending on where you are in the political spectrum. Add to the mix the regular attempts at outright censorship based on causal links that are simply not supported by research and we have a situation where I’m sure people in the entertainment industry simply don’t want to hear the same claims again and again, and I don’t blame them. One only has to look at the Comics Code Authority nonsense to know that the government, or authorities, or public figures or whatever you want to call them have made a habit of demanding and many times getting legislation against entertainment they find offensive or distasteful based on no research and no rigorous chain of reasoning.

    It’s a wonder that the response from the video game industry hasn’t become “Why the FUCK are we still talking about about video games when I can buy an AR-15 in five minutes with a drivers license and 900 dollars?