Gamers’ paradise: “Prepare for unseen consequences!” *

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

“But mom, don’t you want your son to protect you?” said my friend’s seven-year-old when she told him no more video games for the night. “With your controller?!” was my friend’s response.

Compared to this boy, I have a much simpler life – one with no TV and no gaming system. So naturally, when I recently saw a male friend playing Halo 3, I was not only appalled at the intense graphics and use of violence, but I actually wanted to flee the room.

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

Look, I don’t think video games are simply good or bad. I have male friends who are brilliant, kind, and sensitive, and play video games that are violent, just as I know people who never play video games, but are real pieces of work.

I will never be a fan of these games. When I spend my days studying domestic violence homicides, it’s hard to imagine playing a game about killing others for entertainment. But what I really want to know is what your take is on violent video games, like Halo, and how (or if) you think it impacts violence against women?

*“Prepare for unseen consequences!”

9 thoughts on “Gamers’ paradise: “Prepare for unseen consequences!” *”

  1. This is a complex issue, but my opinion can be summed up as: enjoying violent video games do not make violent people.

    I dislike violence. I feel physical discomfort when I read news of people being hurt. I dislike war, and feel that, in nearly all cases, it is unjustified.

    I love violent video games. I love violent movies. I also love video games and movies that have little or no violence. It is easy for me to make a distinction between fantasy and reality. I believe this to be generally true for almost all people (excepting mentally unstable people).

    Our son is two years old. He is interested in video games, but too young to play them. We limit, but don’t prevent, his exposure to all media, from Sesame Street to video games. He loves watching the “mushroom game”, and giggled heartily when he watched our characters getting blown up by bombs in another rather cartoony game (Little Big Planet).

    I know the effect of violent and nonviolent media on me. I am an avid reader, movie watcher, music listener, etc. All of my media consumption increases the richness of my thoughts.

    We got a reminder of the difference in effect on our two year old son the other day at a friend’s house. She was showing off her new entertainment center, and put on Lord of the Rings. Our son watched for a minute, but suddenly became extremely upset, and we thought that it was probably because of the loud noises and the looks of fear on the actors’ faces.

    Seventeen year old kids are quite another matter from our two year old. They are learning self reliance, and must be able to make decisions for themselves. I would no sooner limit an older teenager’s access to violent video games than I would to violent literature. However, I would talk with them about the balance between entertainment and work/school/chores. :)

    p.s. I don’t really care for Halo, but a couple of other very violent games that I think are brilliant (because of their depth of story and incredible art) are: Bioshock and Dead Space.

  2. My synopsis is that violent kids will be violent kids, blaming video games is as accurate as blaming D&D, music the parent doesn’t like, television, or anything else, this is a lot of opinion that is not backed by any real factual data.
    The article you posted is clearly opinion, the author even states this. I then read the articles she referred to (http://www.dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=22800).
    The Dana.org article quotes a lot of studies. Most of the studies quoted involved 10-14 kids studied. These studies were volunteer based, not randomly selected. This is not nearly enough numbers to come to any real conclusion. The Dana.org article also quotes one famous study (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/122/5/e1067). This study covered some 1200 kids, which is good. But it was a longitudinal study (tracking the same people as the aged) performed once. This study claims that there is a “significant risk factor”. This study and others have been attacked as biased science. This study did not run a control group to see what number of similar teens showed signs of violence in that age group change, and the study implies that the only difference in any of the students is hinged solely on the exposure to these games.
    The problem with claiming this sole link is that it can put the cart before the horse, i.e. did video violent video games make these kids violent, or did being violent drive the kids to violent video games, as the study asked the participants about how much they played these games as opposed to taking a sample of people and asking them to play (or not play) a certain amount. This spoils your collected data immensely.
    Can I prove that violent video games do NOT increase violence towards women? no, I cannot prove that negative. Here is an article that sums up a lot of my opinion: http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html

    Addendum: I am not saying parents should let 5 year olds play “Grand Theft Auto” just as I might not think that showing the same child “Kill Bill” or reading “American Psycho” to them is a good idea. This is not necessarily based on violence towards women, but that these works are generally full of content that young children do not have a proper frame of reference to judge them by.

  3. A central question for me is: WHY do people think it is so fun to play violent video games that objectify and/or encourage violence towards women as part of game play?

  4. In response to Mette’s question:
    “WHY do people think it is so fun to play violent video games that objectify and/or encourage violence towards women as part of game play?”

    I enjoy many violent video games, such as Halo, Left4Dead, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, etc. However I challenge two or three of the unstated ‘accepted truths’ of the question. First, I do not see how these games encourage violence towards women as part of the game play. If we take Grand Theft Auto as the example in which there can be violence toward female characters, it is not central to the game at all, and I do not see any violence towards women in Halo, or Call of Duty (in which there are not any notable female characters at all, and this article was originally in reference to Halo).
    Secondly the question seems to imply that these games are fun BECAUSE they objectify and/or encourage violence towards women. This could be a misunderstanding of the brevity and lack of emotional context typed messages are written with as a fault of the media in which they are presented. Halo is a fun game that allows one or more people to test and exhibit their skills in a form of play with themselves and/or others, I do not view it as an act of violence. Perhaps your argument is against competition in general? or is it merely against this form of media in which it is presented?
    Also, on the ‘encouragement’ question, I would reply with another question: Do you believe that any form of media (print, film, game, etc) that displays or contains violence (towards women or not) encourages violence (towards women or not)?

  5. Everyone: Thanks so much for the great feedback! Such excellent points and a great discussion.
    Specifically,
    @Colin: I really relate to your points: (1) about limiting but not preventing exposure to media, and (2) talking with teenagers about the balance between entertainment and responsibilities. Your points show that it is so important to engage with teens about the popularity that cutting edge technology brings through gaming (if I am not mistaken, Halo was one of the first online interactive games?) while also giving teens the message on how to sort through what they are seeing.
    @Josh: Thanks for decoding the citation. To be honest, I spent a bit of time trying to really research this topic before I wrote something, especially given that I am not a gamer. It was hard to sort through and make sense of what I was finding online and there were two very strong sides about violent video games. Thanks for the myth buster link! That is exactly the kind of resource I was looking for.
    Similar to both your comments, I too felt that there was no simple “right” answer as to whether violent video games are connected to violent people, so I ended up writing a post soliciting feedback from gamers, advocates, or anyone really. Thanks for responding to the call and giving a more productive way to really discuss and understand both sides.

  6. To start off, @Josh,

    The fact that you stated that the Dana article “quoted a lot of studies” is in itself telling. A hallmark of good scientific results is that they’re repeatable. The sheer number of these studies all coming to the conclusion that video games have the potential to teach behaviors, is great evidence of the truth of their findings. You are right to point out that the testing groups for most of these groups are way too small to validate any of these as conclusive studies in and of themselves, but they also, for the most part, came from peer reviewed journals. Essentially saying that, while more research can and should be done, these studies are complete valid within the scope of what they were each looking at.

    Associate Professor Douglas Gentile, who has done a lot of research on video games and child development once remarked himself that video games were neither inherently good nor bad, but if video games can be proven to teach skills to surgeons (he was a part of the surgical study cited in the Dana article), why can’t they at least contribute to aggressive behavior?
    And following that down the rabbit hole a bit further, it’s perfectly conceivable that misogyny can be learned, or at least reinforced as well. As Josh was kind enough to bring it up the Grand Theft Auto games, I’ll use them as my example as well. While it is true that violence towards women plays no central role in the game, it is most certainly a well known periphery. For example, one infamous way of making money in the games is to hire a hooker, do her in the back of your car, run her over when she leaves, and then steal all her money. While you can argue how much of a negative impact this type of game play has, I defy you to give me one long term benefit.

    Okay, now my own general response to the article:

    Women are simply not given equal treatment in video games. This is not necessarily going just towards violence either. In most games designed for teens and up (and some aimed at younger children) women tend to be presented in a very sexual light. The fantasy genre is a good example of this, and the Final Fantasy games in particular. In these games, there is almost always a female companion to the main, usually male, protagonist, and said females armor/clothes is frequently little more than a mini skirt and a halter top. There’s a well known joke among fantasy style gamers that the less clothes a women is wearing the more armor she actually has on. In addition, women tend to play secondary roles in games. This is largely due to the fact that most people working in the video game industry are male, and their target audience is mostly male. As video games offer fantasy worlds and escapes from reality for this demographic, this discrepancy makes sense from a capitalistic point of view, but is none the less unequal. While this is slowly changing, over the last decade or so the strongest female protagonist out there was Lara Croft who, while strong, independent character, was also hyper-sexualized (a hidden bikini mode is unlock-able in some of her games), and as for character depth was about as flat as a pancake. Strong female characters with emotional depth have been largely non-existent in gaming. To put it bluntly, for the most part females were cut and paste characters with big boobs. Again, this is changing slowly, Lara Croft herself is currently in the middle of a reboot to make her a real three dimensional character, but historically it’s been the case that men take the lead.

    (There are of course prevalent presentations of equally shallow hyper masculine men in video games, but that’s a separate discussion entirely)

    The argument can, and has, been made that games aren’t reality and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Unfortunately, they still can have an impact on the way we think. Besides the studies noted above, it’s a well known fact that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the early twenties, and that male brains can lag behind female minds in development. Also, the last part of the brain to fully develop is the part that deals with recognizing consequences of decisions. In addition, I can state from my experiences as a substitute teacher that really young children who are even less mentally developed are playing these hyper violent, sometimes misogynistic games. It’s great that, to his credit, Josh and others have said that they wouldn’t let young children play these games, but the truth is some are, so we have to look it at how these games might be effecting them.

    In summary, Assoc. Prof. Gentile himself has said that more research needs to be done, but the findings now suggest that video games do, in fact, impact how people think and perceive their world, and it would be irresponsible of us to not examine, discuss, and apply these findings.

  7. Trisha, it seems as though Peter has given his opinion on the Duke Nukem game. And Peter, this is such great insight. Thanks for adding to the conversation. I wonder what Josh has to say about your analysis.

  8. I have been playing games since I was a child I an still young only 20 but at the age of 3i was watching terminator and playing video games. I have never had the urge to hurt another person or anima I have never hit my girlfriend or started a fight(let alone been in a fight). Video games are a way Ito get out if the real world and do all those things and the way video games are turing out now your decisions effect your gameplay and altarwhat happens as for the final fantasy girl comment go to japan were the game is designd and see what kinda stuff they wear and there always girls that can kick ass I see more and more games with bad ass girls looking sexy and kicking butt I don’t see nuthing wroing with that and girl characters are showing up more and more phrase excuse my grammer this was uploafed via driod

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