40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Video Game Factor

Video games have long been the targets of government legislators and special-interest groups. Whether it is Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto III, games, much like music and movies, are singled out as some kind of destructive or negative influence on children. Frankly, I don't buy it.

Video games are rated based on their content by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The ratings are similar to motion picture ratings, ranging from "E" for everyone to AO, or Adults Only.

I'm a big fan of violent video games. There's just some sort of visceral pleasure in blasting someone with a shotgun in a video game. And these types of games are meant for adults, not children, so parents should be the ones monitoring the use of these games by their kids.

Senator Hillary Clinton (of all people) has decided to go after the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. There is a patch for the PC version that unlocks some naked characters the player can, apparently, use in playing certain mini-games as part of the whole gameplaying experience.

From the AP Wire as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, July 18, 2005:

"There is no doubting the fact that the widespread availability of sexually explicit and graphically violent video games makes the challenge of parenting much harder," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who asked the Federal Trade Commission last week to investigate one of the most violent titles, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
In this 'M' rated game - last year's top-seller among console games - the main character seeks bloody vengeance on gang-filled streets, firing automatic weapons and picking up scantily clad women.

But what really riles family-oriented media watchdog groups are additional scenes in which nude 'girlfriends' join in explicit sex acts in the PC version. The scenes become 'playable' with the help of a freely available download created by a Dutch programmer."

Now, I've been playing GTA: San Andreas and I didn't even know about this patch until I read the AP wire story. But Clinton apparently feels that Rockstar games, the developer of the Grand Theft Auto series, should have gotten an AO rating for GTA: San Andreas, because of that bit of code unlocked by the mod to spring forth the nude women. I mean, come on, aren't there more pressing issues to address? Like, say, all the millions of Americans living in poverty? It an old song and dance. A video game will come out, people will think it will cause the youth of America to start blowing up each other, and then that never happens. And every now and then you get an anecdotal case about a particular video game that was popular with a school shooter.

So...do video games create a reality for a teenager that would cause that teen to kill someone or commit some other violent act?


Anonymous Benjamin Solah said...

This issue makes my blood boil, and you make good points. I for one, am a hippie who protests inhumanity and violence and the like - and I play that game! Its the person not the game that does the killing. And Rockstar did not create anything of the sort, it was an amatuer modder. Thank you for the great post.


2:05 AM  
Blogger Sepialove said...

As a parent, it is our resonsibility to keep certain images and materials out of our children's reach. If an adult wants to use the code, that is their choice. But kids shouldn't have the option to play these games that further desensitizes them regarding violence and sex.

Just my 2 cents ;)

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anna said...

As a grad student in the field of education who has struggled with this issue for a long time, I have to say that the evidence is there that shows a direct link between violence on games & TV and the violence children use. The issue isn't so much that the game itself creates some sort of alternate reality for the child but that it desensitizes children to violence.

I've been a classroom teacher and it's a real problem.

I do agree with your statement that there are bigger problems we should address (poverty, etc), but this is a huge issue as well because the increase in fantasy violence correlates with an increase in real violence. It has the potential to be as far-reaching and widespread of a problem as poverty.

Adults who want to play the games have every right to do so, and they can use it at their discretion. Unfortunately, many of the parents who play these games don't take the necessary precautions to prevent their child from playing the game.

As a game-player myself, I would like to think that violent video games, movies, and TV don't have any effect on children. They do, though, and they start early. I had a three year old in my classroom say "*uck me, *itch" when I asked him to clean up his toys. I asked him where he heard that and he said, "HBO." My guess is that his parents, so-called "good" people who take an active interest in their child thought that their child was too young to be affected by those words--but obviously he had not only learned the words but knew the situations in which those words were logical. But I have seen significant results of these things both in practice and in research. The direct link is there and the statistics are increasing dramatically. You're right--I've not known any kids to blow up a building because they did it in a video game. A child who does has other things wrong with him/her besides exposure to a video game. The issue is that a child who sees those things gradually becomes accustomed to them and they don't seem quite as repulsive, evil, or dangerous. It's the same concept that our society has struggled with regarding foul language or sex--the more you're exposed, the less negative it seems.

Good post, though! :)

11:17 AM  
Blogger Scott C. Smith said...

One of the reasons I don't believe in the connection that violence in movies, video games or other media causes kids to become violent is based on my living in Japan for two years. The Japanese media is filled with violence, yet the crime rate in that country is low. Supposedly, the film "Faces of Death" was a bigger hit at the Japanese box office than "Star Wars." Japanese comic books are filled with violent images, and many Japanese movies are very violent. I remember watching a television show in Japan that was like "America's Funniest Home Videos," with the exception that the video clips shown were violent car crashes and the like -- with people being killed. And it was no big deal. The program would show some violent piece of video tape and then cut back to the hosts, who made jokes about what we had just seen. Maybe the Japanese are desensitized? I don't know.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Em said...

I am a teacher and I definitely think violent video games desensitises kids so that they don't have appropriate responses to situations and can't show empathy.

2:10 PM  
Blogger The Complimenting Commenter said...

I think that you make a very good point about the availability of this and who's job it is to monitor. Nice work.

2:37 PM  
Blogger ozymandiaz said...

If we actually did something about the millions of impovished children in this country then they too would be playing violent video games. We couldn't have that now could we?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Who didn't know about the mod. A guy at a place where I used to work talked about how GTA was his fav game because of the extras. This was a couple of years ago. I think the company paid the Senators to give them some free publicity!

Deliberate Chaos

7:42 PM  
Blogger The Jerz said...

I remember playing the first Leisure Suit Larry when I was a young kid and I turned out fine. At least that's what my mother tells me.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

Actually, and I can't site them now, there were some real studies that started back with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies and shows that confirmed that violence begets violence in certain situations, situation in which there is no parental supervision or where the children have no real moral compass by which to pattern themselves by.

One must remember that in Japan the violence if often turned inward toward oneself as opposed to outward.
That having been sad the real issue is not the games but the environment these kids live in that allows the games to beget the violence. This again is a bandaid.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Martian Anthropologist said...

You don't see Hillary making a big deal out of the violence in the game. That's ok with her, apparently. But put a naked chick in the game, and all of a sudden, it's the end of the world.

Sepialove said:
As a parent, it is our resonsibility to keep certain images and materials out of our children's reach. If an adult wants to use the code, that is their choice.

Case in point. Apparently, this person has no problem with a kid playing this game: the violence, the fact that the player is "stealing" cars. Again, violence is OK with America; sex is not.

6:43 PM  

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