Good Games and Good Learning: Violence

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Books, Gamer Theory
Tags: , , ,
Movie Theater 1

Go ahead . . . . make my day

This is a short entry on a short essay from Good Video Games and Good Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies). More has been written on violence its relationship with video games than probably any other topic on games. Jack Thompson makes his living calling video games “murder simulators” and jumping on every tragedy that might lead to a class action suit lining his pockets. The VA Tech shooting tragedy was barely hours old before the usual headline grabbing about how video games were at the heart of the tragedy started popping up. The manifesto issued by the Oslo shooter expressed an admiration for a Templar character from Dragon Age.

Saying that a violent offender likes violent video games is about as statistically relevant as saying they like chocolate. You would be hard pressed to find a young man who did not enjoy playing violent video games. 65,000 man hours have been spent playing online matches of HALO 3. If you strung all the man hours spent playing World of Warcraft end to end it would take us back to before humans had discovered agriculture. (Interestingly, despite Jack Thompson and Dr. Phil jumping early to blame the VA Tech shooting on video games, Seung-Hui Cho did not play video games even though he was in the prime demographic.)sales of video games compared to youth violence

Despite the hysteria and alarm the numbers clearly show that there is no way that video games are causing an increase in violence. Violent crime rates per capita among juveniles, the most impressionable demographic, has been steadily dropping for three decades. There have been video games of increasing violence and levels of realism in all that time. It would be irresponsible of me for me to suggest this correlation indicated that video games lead to a decrease in violence. But it is clear there is no uptick in violent crime that can be pinned on games.

Now this is not to say that media has no effect on people. Even though we know the images before us are not real, a touching movie can bring us to tears. A kid who watches Power Rangers is likely to spend the following recess kung-fu kicking imaginary villains. Millions of people the word over have been inspired to both great and horrible acts by the Bible. That video games have an emotional effect on us should not be a bit suprising. But translating an emotional effect into a real action requires more than just an emotional impact. Action, including violence, requires high order thought at the level of conscious control. If video games lead to violence, why doesn’t Farmville inpire its millions of players to plant corn and try to catch wandering livestock?

According to Gee, what games do really well is allow us as players to get inside a different kind of life. We can live as Batman or Solid Snake or an American WW2 infantryman for a few hours. This is untapped potential. Real intelectual development is possible as a result of us being able to try these roles on. But for the moment, most large and popular games center on violence as a core mechanic and storytelling device. Casual games are able to leverage the deep pleasure that people get from solving puzzles, but it may be unrealistic to ever expect there to be a Modern Chemist 3 for the mass market. Still, as indie developers gather more popularity, we might see some games that allow us to explore more than just shades of conflict.

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