Every day, millions of American men, women, and children watch certain forms of media that contain graphic violence and depictions of murder, assault, and other illegal activities. Yet, the one form of media that has gained a lot more attention than most since its induction is video games. Many people who believe that video games, especially ones depicting violent acts of aggression, have a harrowing effect on young children and adolescents. They believe that these mediums have an increased effect of promoting violent acts in their players more so than any movie or television show. They draw to the notions that because we, the player, are in control of our avatar’s actions, we are consciously choosing to make these violent choices. Thus, in turn, we are more liable to act out these aggressions.
Let me tell you why all that has been mentioned before is wrong. In an article by Kirk McKeand of VICE Media, it is stated that while many video games can be seen as a form of escapism, many people can and will choose to play in ways that support their own notions of morality. There are an ever-increasing amount of studies and articles released that contradict the negativity of video games. Such as this study from Gaël Fournis and Nidal Nabhan Abou of Psychiatric Times that failed to find evidence linking diminished prosocial behavior after exposure to violent video games. Or this article by Patricia Donovan from the University at Buffalo that supports this claim as well; Those that commit immoral behaviors in a game tend to experience feelings of guilt equivalent to an actual guilt-induced action.
Many people who share the view that violent video games make a person violent tend to only address those games specifically meant for violence, surprisingly, skewing the data pool. Nonetheless, there has been a revolutionary shift in recent times with the attitude of games, their playstyle, and theme.
In their book titled, The Video Game Debate, Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt stated that the game Mortal Kombat, which was released in 1992, included violence and gore through a series of beatings, beheadings, and disembowelments that broke the illicit taboo about what was morally right in a video game. Nowadays, there are an increasing amount of games that allow a person to pick-and-choose their own adventure and go about their game as they see fit to follow, such as the Fallout series or The Elder Scrolls series.
For some, the vast nature of an open-world game, yes, opens the doors for players to commit morally questionable acts. However, a study by Sven Joeckel, Nicholas Bowman, and Layla Dogruel states that, “…individuals will respond to on-screen actions with their own sense of morality if they view the on-screen actions as a serious violation of their personal sense of morality” (479). Who better to listen to about morality than morally righteous people?
Perhaps the best group of individuals to rely on for moral foundations are people who are religious. Many religions, especially Christianity, are moralistic religions that teach us right from wrong. In an article from assistant professor Cameron Moore from Baylor University, a highly ranked Christian college in the United States, Moore noted that players navigate through secondary worlds in video games and participate in the construction of their game characters. He claims that, “…As we become agents within their complex narrative arcs, we can develop skills of moral perception and decision making” (73).
So, if video games are shown not to cause violence, even with the increased participation of viewers, why are people so adamant in reducing their availability? In a Supreme Court case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, California attempted to limit the sale of video games to minors, likening them to cigarettes and alcohol in terms of danger. In a 7-2 decision, the ruling was struck down as video games were protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The official website relating to the court case can be found here along with an audio transcription here.
According to this picture from the Denver Library, you can see how the average gamer is of 32 years old. Well past the projected adolescent and young kid popularity presented by most people. Indeed, these same people grew up with movies like The Exorcist and The Terminator movies that, as their trailers show, were both violent and disturbing. Additionally, newer movies such as 300 are even more violent than in past history. Yet, with games like, as mentioned before, Fallout: New Vegas, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Alien: Isolation, all of which are games that are violent and disturbing, allow you to complete the game in any way you see fit. All because the violence is there, doesn’t mean it has to be a part of how you play.
Take this tweet from @viscount_xander for instance. Viscount Xander is one of thousands upon thousands of amateur YouTubers trying to make a name for himself. In other words, he’s a representation of the common man; the common gamer. In his tweet he links a video he uploaded to YouTube that talks about morality in video games. He mentions the game Dishonored that rewards you based upon how you play, whether it be violently or nonviolently. Viscount Xander recalls that even though it was challenging to stay hidden and not kill people, he still chose to do so because he felt that it was the right thing to do.
So, whatever your stance might be, only one thing is true. Video games do not cause moralistic complications. Indeed, many open-ended role-playing games do the exact opposite. By playing a character that we mold and shape, one that is a virtual representation of ourselves, studies have shown time and time again that we project our own sense of morality into the games we play. I say it is high time that we stop this madness of pointing fingers and trying to ban the playing of violent video games, and instead, learn the value that these new games have instead of punishing them for what is only presented. After all, that’s the only moral thing to do.
For audio/visual adaptation of blog, visit here.