Imagine your daughter in a dark, tight-spaced, labyrinth, so narrow that there is barely enough room to strafe left or right by one foot; with her broken radio in one hand and her assault rifle in the other. She’s cut off from all communication, and since she has found no other crewmate alive in this alien labyrinth, they could all possibly be dead. As she navigates through endless passages, she hears a hoarse growl. She turns right on a blind corner, not knowing what lies ahead. Little does she know that a massive behemoth of a creature awaits the next turn, waiting to quickly catch her defenseless and rip her apart before devouring her. She sees the monster right in front of her, swinging its arm towards her as the first act of instinct. Alarmed, she raises her rifle and drills the monster full of bullets. The creature falls smoking down at her feet, and she lets out a cocky grin as 500 points are added to her score on the top of the television screen. Before running off to kill another alien creature, she pressed the pause button and walks to the kitchen for a quick snack. This is video gaming.
Controversy continues to escalate on games such as one described above between parents and gamers, regarding the psychological effect of simulated, realistic, 3D violence on the minds of young children and growing teenagers. Yet recent research shows that videogames contribute very little to today’s everyday violence, despite complaints and concerns that games influence a child’s normal behavior. Technology is a way of life in today’s world, computers are used by toddlers, adolescents, and adults alike; no matter what career path a person chooses, the computer plays an essential role in the job. The more our technology progresses and as our industry grows stronger, computers and electronic entertainment will grow to be found everywhere around the world. And this includes videogames.
Although gaming became popular in the 1980s, it has been alive since the 1970s. In May of 1972, Magnavox Odyssey was released as the first gaming console. A few built-in games came with it, and the graphics were as simple as white blocks over a black background. At this point, game violence wasn’t even an issue since the graphics were just simple, moving patterns on a screen. Magnavox Odyssey did not sell well despite being a public release gaming console. This may have been a result of the sales practice; the gaming console was only available in Magnavox stores, where crooked salespeople assured customers that it would only be compatible with Magnavox televisions (“Console launches” 68). In October 1977, the Atari Video Computer System was released, along with it the classic game “Pong”, giving the system a place in the history books. However, the turning point in gaming came with the release of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (Adorably called NES), in fall 1985. Although Nintendo marketed the system as a toy, the technological aspect of it sparked interest in people of all ages, especially when it was released in the United States. The market was opened to daring game developers who made games that marked the birth of interactive media that we know today.
But perhaps too daring though. Macintosh developed and released Mac Playmate on PC in 1987 (and another version in 1995); stimulating an animated woman with sex toys after undressing her was the object of the game, and the orgasm was the goal. Another highly controversial issue was an underground game set in World War II, but what sets this game apart from other World War II titled is the goal of the game and the core gameplay itself. Set in Europe, the player takes charge of a Nazi concentration camp; rewards varied depending on how many and how brutal were the deaths of Jews. Enraged parents raised protest when Mortal Kombat was released in 1991, which gave the player choices on how to “finish off” their opponent, sporting the most graphic (and not to mention bloody, VERY bloody) “fatalities” ever seen in any videogame of its time (Choi 2). Since then, games like Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil became targets for anti-violence protestors a reason to push for or even completely ban violent videogames.
The Columbine shooting incident in Colorado have given angry parents an obvious reason to try and strangle the video gaming industry. According to the media, the game Doom presumably help the young murderers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, learn shooting tactics. However, of all the bullets (approximately 300 bullets in the library alone) that were shot in Columbine High School, 13 were killed out of a possible 1,800 students (Alastor 2). This connotes that the game may NOT have help them out at all. In fact, weapons on the television screen do not work at all as they do in real life; controllers aren’t as heavy as real guns, there is no recoil from a blast, it usually takes several shots to the torso for a normal enemy to go down, and many other major errors (Wynar 5). A videogame is strictly made up of polygons and pixels, and there are no available controllers to even remotely simulate the feel of a real gun.
Many gamers believe that videogame violence holds little to no influence in children. Television, movies, and books are more widespread, less expensive; and less censored than videogames yet still containts the same themes. Themes of aliens invading earth, villains seeking to conquer or destroy the world, and normal people becoming superheroes are so common in children’s movies nowadays that movies which are more graphic than videogames threaten a child’s psychological development. But they are merely tagged as “just kids’ movies.” Because of this, nobody ever looks at the hero. The movie hero could just be as much of a criminal as the villain. For example: In order to save one innocent civilian that happens to be the hero’s live interest, the hero has to kill every bad guy in his way to save the woman. These themes are worse in more mature movies. A lot of “heroes” kill the “underlings” of the villains or anyone opposing him; in “real life” the prosecuted and imprisoned for the illegal abuses of the firearms and authority (Wynar 4). What kind of hero is that?
No one can say that television has not influenced society. Novice shooters in firearms classes start out by imitating the incorrect techniques they see on television, martial arts schools boomed after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and sales of S6W .44 magnums skyrocketed after the release of Dirty Harry (Wynar 4). Studies show that many frequent game players also engage in more violent sports and watch high amounts of television every week (Ask 2).
And yet, the blaming finger still points to videogames as being the core risk for negative behavior changes in children. When anti-gamers accused the games industries of producing more mature games than fun and educational ones, game enthusiasts pointed out the fact that 42% of gamers are over age 18 (Choi 2). In 1997, 43% of games reviewed by the ESRB were rated inappropriate for the under 13 age group.
Many gamers believe that the people arguing against them are merely ignorant of many of the studies and facts presented by researchers that favor the neutral or positive effects of games on children. An independent study conducted by Alexander Ask showed that high-frequency players playing a violent yet easy game became less angry and calmer, while low-frequency players were on the flipside; also, more frequent gamers experienced and expressed more anger, but felt they could control it better. A different study by the American Psychological Association (APA) sampled twenty-five boys and girls between the ages of eight and twelve. The children were asked questions about violent behavior or empathy, and then were given one of two games to play (violent, non-violent) for fifteen minutes. Afterward, researchers gave their subjects a set of hypothetical situations designed to trigger either a compassionate or an aggressive response. No connection between gameplay and the responses to the situations was discovered (McDowell 2).
Yet the demand to ban still ran strong among anti-violence supporters. After viewing several violent videogames, including Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) created the ESRB, Entertainment Software Ratings Board (McDowell 1). The ESRB is an organization in which representatives from all of the major software companies rate every video or computer game before it goes out on the market. Ratings vary: E for everyone, T for teen 13+, M for mature 17+, AO for adults only, and others. Other ratings companies followed, such as the Amusement Machine Operators Association (AMOA), which puts warning/rating stickers on arcade machines (Choi 2). The effort to protect children from violent games stretched across the world. In Australia, the State Attorney General declared that all videogames would go through a screening test. Violent games would be restricted to adults and excessively violent games would be banned all together (Ask 1).
So why hasn’t the violence stopped? With the ESRB and other organizations striving to protect children from the gore and guns of games, and the results of numerous studies showing that there is no connection between games and violence by kids, you’d think that the shootings and violent play would stop. However, aggression research suggests that poor parenting is the cause of much of the erratic behavior by children. The limiting of playtime and the supervision of the types of games that are played are just as important as monitoring the television programs and movies that children watch.
Despite the common belief, there are benefits of gaming. An important plus to gaming is being able to vent anger non-aggressively. What could be better than blowing away that non-existent monster after a long day of school/work or other stress? If this method of venting were taken away, hyper-aggressive people would be forced to find some other way to purge their anger and frustration. This could lead to real people being hurt. Another advantage to gaming is that it opens up a social opportunity for kids; a certain game might cause some common interest between children and create more friendships and interactivity. People also seem to forget that educational games do exist, and can teach kids things that do not involve guns and killing. Games that are helpful, educational, and fun would be more popular if more people tried to encourage the acceptance, popularity, and availability of them (“Violence” 3).
Controversy is not anything new to society; there were arguments about television and rock and roll. Now videogames joins the pack. With the industry booming and the ESRB running full force to warn of mature games, it is doubtful that videogames will lose their place in the electronics empire and our everyday lives. So next time your son is gleefully gunning down monsters in dark tool sheds with his Playstation controller, just remember that if anyone objects, proof of protection is on the package of the game on the ESRB tag. It is the parent who chooses to be aware of and follow it, and lay down the law to their kids’ gaming and other media habits that might spark the violence and arguments in the lives of both gamers and non-gamers.
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