Violent games have parallels to porn
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Computer Player, January 1998
Now that holiday gift-giving has come to end, how many
of you, dear
readers, gave or received computer or video games as presents? And what
percentage of those were violent?
Well, you might wonder, what counts as a violent game?
all agree that games like Doom, or Duke Nukem 3D, where a muscle-bound
hero shoots at everything that moves, splattering the walls with gore,
How about Carmegeddon, where drivers use their
vehicles to wreck havoc
on the roads? Is a game violent if, as Joey, my 13 year-old used to
there?s no gore? How about the air combat or Star Wars-like games,
you?re shooting down enemy fliers?
Clearly, there are different levels of violence
offered in computer
and video games; just as clearly, games with violent themes are popular
with many game-players. And this is a cause for concern among many
As both a parent and a teacher of teenagers, I?ve
heard the response
?Well, I?ve been playing violent games for years, and I?m not a
And they?re right?few game-players are homicidal maniacs. There has
research suggesting a link between violent video-game playing and later
aggressive behaviour?a 1990 review of studies conducted by the US-based
National Coalition on Television Violence, for example, claimed that
out of twelve studies reported harmful effects on normal children and
Similar to the effect of violent TV, it seems, as Funk reported in
that there is a clear ?short-term relationship between playing violent
games and increased aggressive behaviour in younger children?.
In many ways, the debate about violence in games
reminds me of the debate
about pornography. In both cases, you get an industry that claims to be
simply giving the market what buyers want. You have critics concerned
social effects, but unable to point to strong cause and effect
between games/viewing and later actions.
Violent video and computer games seem like pornography
to me in other
ways as well. For example, both let the consumer fantasize being a sort
of all-conquering hero.
Research about pornography may be instructive, as
well. There is no
evidence that viewing pornography turns most viewers into rapists.
there is evidence that viewing violent pornography makes viewers more
of violent sex?less sympathetic to victims, and more likely to view
violence as a joke.
Similarly, I suspect that there is a relationship
between a tolerance
for violent video and computer games and a tolerance for actual
as a way to solve problems?an acceptance that school yard bullying and
worse, for example, is simply ?the way the world is?.
Computer and video games are not the only or even the
main cause of
this attitude, of course. They?re simply a symptom, along with violent
TV shows and movies aimed at pre-teen and adolescent audiences. As
themes become more and more widely expressed, it?s easy to become used
to them?to not even notice them. Not long ago, computer publisher
AnchorDesk web site promised a look at a group of driving games, with
available for download. Four out of the five games listed used cars as
a way to kill, wound, or maim. When I e-mailed them that this wasn?t
driving but more about killing, the site?s authors? didn?t seem to get
the point?to them, violence and game-playing seemed synonymous.
As with movies and TV, the game producers are
responding to threats
of censorship with self-regulation. Sega, for example, rates its games
as suitable for general, mature, or adult audiences. Nintendo models
ratings on those of the Motion Picture Association of America. When
Arts? NHL 98 added fights on ice, this was noted in the small-print on
Scandinavian societies have been notably tolerant of
movies and games; they, however, believe that North American-styled
media are much more dangerous, and have been willing to censor and ban
Vancouver?s schools have a policy of not allowing
violent games on computers
in schools; many parents aim for similar rules at homes. Of course,
have less control over what their children play at friends? houses, or
in the arcades. My Joey admits to going to friends to play games that
banned at home. But now, he?s decided that most such games are
he prefers, he says, games with less gore and more plot.
For research on violence and video games, check
In far-away Finland (just a click away on the Internet, Roberto Bianchi
has posted a site devoted to downloadable, certified non-violent
your choice of English, Italian, or Finnish: http://www.sci.fi/~roberto
As always, I welcome your feedback.