Unfriendly Undertones: Video Games and Their Representation in the Media

We all know what Pokemon Go is at this point, but for those who are maybe aware of it but don’t know exactly what it is, let me explain.  Pokemon Go is a mobile phone app that functions as an Alternate Reality Game, a game that uses the real world as its backdrop.  Essentially it spawns Pokemon, digital creatures that the players can then capture and train.  It’s not feature complete yet, but from what I know the intention is to eventually let players battle each other with their trained Pokemon (which makes sense considering the Pokemon video game franchise is built around the idea of battling other Pokemon trainers as well as other wild Pokemon).

The app took off at an unprecedented rate, becoming a cultural phenomenon literally overnight.  Of course, due to its popularity, it was inevitable that the news would talk about it.

And that’s where my problem begins.

This past weekend, one of my preferred channels on Youtube posted a video that was different from the norm.  In it, the person talks about how Pokemon Go has been labeled as dangerous and even demonic by some entities.  A soundbite played later on calls the Pokemon creatures “digital demons”.  The clip came from an organization known as Tru News which, from my brief look at their website, seems like a totally unbiased, fair, and not at all crazy group of people (if your sarcasm detector exploded, I apologize).

These are only the most extreme examples.  You can find similar extremism when it comes to any subject.  But even in the “regular” news, stories about Pokemon Go seem to have a certain slant to them.  They talk about privacy concerns.  They talk about people crashing their cars while playing the game.  They talk about the Coast Guard being called out because people took a boat without permission while trying to catch a Pokemon.  Most stories seem to focus on the “dangerous” side of Pokemon Go.

Now, to be fair, someone did actually crash their car while playing the game (which is not the same as the infamous Pokemon Go highway crash story, which by the way is totally fake).  But there is this overwhelming emphasis on the supposed dangers it poses.  And it’s something that isn’t just exclusive to Pokemon Go, but seems to be the way the news treats video games as a whole.

I’ve talked a bit about video games and violence in the past.  It’s a topic I feel strongly on because games are a big part of my leisure time.  And it’s frustrating to me that games are still treated like they’re kids’ toys, despite the fact that the average age of people who play games is in the thirties.  For an example of what I mean, check out this article from TIME magazine.

“Violent Video Games Are Linked to Aggression, Study Says,” the headline reads.  The subheading reads “But there’s not enough evidence to suggest they are linked to criminal behavior.”

Now, that might not seem too unusual.  In fact, this might seem to be one of the more fair articles you can find on the subject.  However, something bothered me.  I googled “Violent Video Games” and this is the first headline I saw (separated in its own little box nonetheless).  But the subheading is nowhere to be seen.  So on Google, the first thing you see is the part about how games are linked to aggression, but nothing about how there’s not enough evidence to connect them to criminal behavior unless you click in to the article.  Even the little box it gives you says nothing about there being no link to criminal behavior.

“In a report published Aug. 13,” the box reads, “an APA task force reviewed more than 100 studies on violent video game use published between 2005 and 2013. They concluded that playing video games can increase aggressive behavior and thoughts, while lessening empathy and sensitivity toward aggression.”

It seems almost like fear-mongering.  I was taught in college (I received a minor in Journalism) that a headline should give your readers a good idea of what the story is about and its tone.  Doesn’t the TIME magazine headline seem a little misleading on that end?  There’s no context unless you click in and read the entire article.  A better headline would hint at the idea that the study didn’t find a link between games and criminal behavior.  Or, at the very least, it wouldn’t misrepresent the article from the outset.

I could stand here all day and talk about how I’ve played many video games that feature violence and I turned out just fine.  In the end, my experiences are merely anecdotes.  They do not prove anything.

But then, neither do all the stories about violent criminals who played video games in the past.

I understand where a lot of this condescending attitude toward video games comes from.  It’s the age-old clash between generations.  It’s the idea that the older generation cannot understand the newer media.  They didn’t grow up with it.  It confuses them.  So naturally, they become afraid of it.  It’s the classic fear of the unknown.

And who is the news business primarily run by?  Older people.  People who didn’t grow up with video games.

So now their reactions to it start to make more sense.  They don’t have the experience with them.  They don’t understand them.  And instead of trying to understand it, they just lash out in fear.  They denigrate the medium for supposedly glorifying violence, even though movies and television shows have featured violence in them since before video games even existed.  They criticize the industry for not doing enough to protect underage people from being exposed to explicit material, even though they already have a ratings system that functions similarly to the one governing movies.

At some point, we have to accept change.

At some point, we have to move on.

We can speculate about the dangers of these new media, but unless there is concrete evidence supporting our concerns, then it’s time to let go.  We can look at the generation below us and mock them for their attachment to things like iPads and smartphones.  We can insinuate that their childhood is somehow of lower quality than ours because of all their exposure to these new forms of technology.  But at some point we have to realize that every generation is going to experience things differently.  All generations go through a similar phase of adopting something new that the older generations scoff and shake their heads at.  We’re not any different from the generation of iPad users.  Some people can probably still remember when rock and roll was “the devil’s music.”  It’s no different for video games.  They’re new.  They’re different.  And therefore, they’re feared by those who don’t understand them.

Instead of fighting these new things, we have to find a way to adapt to them.  Instead of constantly stepping onto a soapbox and preaching the dangers of them, maybe we should be exploring their potential while still encouraging restraint.  Tell your kids that yes, they can play video games, but only after they finish their homework.  If we don’t actually sit down with our younger people and try to understand what it is they find so fascinating, then we only push them further and further away.  And at that point, we really have no excuse when we wonder why they resent us.

The world is always changing.  Change with it.  Don’t hold it back.


Well that’s all I have for this post.  Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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One thought on “Unfriendly Undertones: Video Games and Their Representation in the Media

  1. Pingback: Spotlight: Miasmata – Rumination on the Lake

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