Let’s face it, I talk about games a lot on this blog. They’re a big part of my life…being one of the main ways I relax when I’m not busy dealing with my responsibilities (adulting is hard man). And I’ve come to their defense a number of times, particularly when it comes to the attitude that they’re either pointless wastes of time with no value or, in more extreme cases, that they lead to violent behavior.
When I was younger, I heard this kind of talk a lot. Violent games cause violence. For so many people who had never laid their hands on a controller, that just seemed to be the logical conclusion. Because there is a large amount of history and research behind the idea that people who consistently witness violent imagery become more desensitized to violence. But while violence was constantly glorified in movies and sensationalized in the news, it seemed that video games were the ones that found themselves in the crosshairs.
Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a worthwhile discussion we can have. The interactive nature of a video game is something that sets it apart from watching a movie or news broadcast. But despite all the stories about killers who played violent games in the days leading up to their crime, there’s never been a conclusive link between the games and the violence that the person perpetrated.
One of the first times I can remember games being blamed for something was in the case of the Beltway Snipers. During the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the younger of the two snipers (Lee Malvo) was “trained” on the video game “Halo”. This of course led to a whole long crusade against the game franchise, led by then-lawyer Jack Thompson, a notorious critic of video games at the time (he has since been disbarred from practicing law…hmm I wonder why). But despite the outcry, nothing ever really became of it. And the “Halo” franchise still continues to this day.
Stories like this were common when I was growing up. There were so many tales about the supposed dangers of playing “Grand Theft Auto” that I eventually lost track. Like I said, the problem with all of this is that a conclusive link between games and violence has never been proven. Even this Slate article from 2007, which seems to lean against video games, admits that these studies have their flaws and that “maybe aggressive people are simply more apt to play violent games in the first place”. For every study that supposedly links games and increased aggression there is another study that finds helpful benefits from playing them. That’s not just my bias talking either. If you look for it, you’ll find that the literature surrounding the effects of video games is scattered at best.
Another thing that bothered me was just how hypocritical the attitude toward video games really was. In 2011 people in Canada rioted after their hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup final. And no one really thought much of it. Think I’m joking? Just check out the headline for this CNN photo gallery of the riot:
“Canucks riot: Canadian hockey fans go Canucks in Vancouver.”
Ha ha isn’t it so funny guys? Look at those silly Canadians. Aren’t they just so crazy?
At least 140 people were injured in that riot…all over a sports game. But do we want to talk about the implications of that? Hell no. Because violent behavior over sports is just an accepted thing in mainstream culture. Even here in my home state, the animosity between Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers fans is nothing short of legendary. And hockey fans in Canada have rioted even when their team wins!
It’s crazy, really, how skewed public opinion has been toward video games. It seems to come mostly from the older generations who just don’t understand them. It’s a natural generational thing…even my generation looks at babies with iPads and gets skeptical, despite the fact that the science isn’t conclusive on that either. Someone I know from my high school days told me recently that he used to be one of those people until he had a kid and got him an iPad. After he saw how it helped his child learn to speak and read, it changed his mind completely.
And that’s the key thing here: understanding. We should be making attempts to understand why this latest trend is a trend. We should be making attempts to understand why people like playing video games and why parents feel inclined to give their children iPads. But instead, the conversation surrounding these things are frequently dominated by fear-mongering nonsense and hyperbole. Is it worth having a conversation about? Of course it is. But immediately comparing video games or iPads to hardcore drug addiction is not the way to go. All it does is muddy the waters and make having an actual dialogue impossible.
Because after all, understanding can go a long way in this world.
Thanks for reading. Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week!