Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Videogame Violence.

It's been a hot topic for awhile now, and the media are still featuring anti-gaming messages whenever the subject is brought up. Here's the truth.

For every study that shows there could be a correlation (not causation, more on that in a moment) there are just as many (more, in fact) that show there is no correlation. The only conclusive thing we've found regarding videogame violence is that those who are predisposed to aggression are likely to act aggressively, a fact that stands true without videogames as well.

It is important to note that there is a clear distinction between correlation and causation. A correlation is simply saying something like "violent people play videogames" (which does not mean that all those who play videogames are violent!). A causation is a statement like "playing videogames makes people violent" which is entirely untrue. You always hear about how they search the homes of kids who did shootings at their schools and find an Xbox, or a Playstation... Well they also found a toaster, kitchen knives, showers, toilets, beds, chairs, windows, etc. It doesn't mean a thing! In fact, there's more of a link between owning violent books and violent tendencies than there is between those tendencies and owning violent videogames.

Here's a satirical example of how correlation is far from being an indicator of people's beliefs and tendencies: Bread Kills

There are hundreds of millions of people that play videogames. I wouldn't be surprised if billions played, for that matter! Of those, only a handful have committed violent crimes. So what of the rest of us? Are we all just festering cans of whoop-ass that could explode at any point? Of course not! We are rational, intelligent people who understand the difference between reality and our in-game worlds. This is not just those of us over a certain age. You can ask any child if the things they do in a violent videogame such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty are acceptable things to do in real-life and they will tell you no and look at you like you're crazy!

The reason why videogames have come under so much flak? They've been used as a scapegoat by those being prosecuted. They blame something other than themselves. This has been seen time and time again with classic "My uncle told me to do it!" or "I was just doing what I saw [person X] do!" When faced with the prospect of punishment, be it incarceration or anything else, the inherent tendency is to lie to spare oneself from harm. At some point, somebody who got in trouble thought to cite videogames as their inspiration. This was followed by more people looking for an excuse for their violent episodes, and eventually it snowballed (thanks to a sizable contribution by the media) into the issue it is today.

I understand, however, that it's a good idea to limit and moderate the time children spend playing videogames. I also understand that parents probably have objections to the exposure of their children to the content of some of these games. Does this mean it's a good idea to censor and regulate videogame sales? No.

It is the parents' responsibility to know what their child is playing and for how long, and it is their decision to make regarding what is and is not acceptable content for their children to be exposed to and how much time they are allowed to play. The videogame industry agrees with this sentiment. That is why they created the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), to evaluate games and assign ratings that describe their content in order to assist parents when selecting what games they want to let their children play. The ESRB is an independent board with no ties to any particular game company, as such they can assign ratings without bias. The videogame industry's decision to form the ESRB is a model of industry responsibility. Can you imagine if financial companies had done the same and created an independent board that reviews financial business practices?

Utilizing the ESRB rating system, the vast majority of retailers (I'd estimate 95% or more) have instituted policies where they restrict the sales of "mature"-rated games to those that are 18 or older. There was no federal law passed, no court cases, no instance of the government stepping in at all. This was entirely done by the videogame industry to self-regulate the distribution of their content.

So what's with all the uproar over violent games? Once again, it's the media distorting things for ratings. It is not the videogame industry's fault that some 7-year-old stole his dad's gun and shot three people at school, it is that child's parents' fault for not paying more attention to their child's behavior and moderating his activities. For that matter, it's their fault for not securing the gun out of their child's reach! We don't need government regulation and censorship, we need parents to start doing their jobs.

1 comment:

  1. I've been waiting for something like this to pop up. I've written an opinion piece for my high school newspaper in my junior year about this topic. It's the parents' responsibility! It's as simple as that!! Couldn't agree more!