Because of Video Games I Now Like to Punch Strangers on the Street

[poll=64]

This weekend I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. My wife wasn’t super excited about the idea so I asked her why and she said because it’s so violent. I asked her why punching someone on the street and stealing their car was more violent than shooting someone in the back of the head. She said because it’s in the context of battle and defense and something about WMD’s and that’s when she started to laugh at the absurdity of the issue and said that the one just felt more violent than the other.

It’s an interesting issue, both the question of which violence is worse and the bigger question of how video game violence affects our culture (if at all). I think there are good philosophical arguments for both sides, though I have a hard time believing either side without any solid evidence (which is difficult to quantify). Therefore I tend to lean toward the personal anecdotal evidence that it has no discernible affect on me (I’ve never been in a fight, have become less physically aggressive over time, am still horrified by actual violence, etc.). This is not to say that I will be playing these games with my 10-year old kid, but I’m not ready to blame our culture’s violent tendencies on Halo.

What are your thoughts on violence in our pop culture? Do you discern between Doom and GTA IV or is violence to aliens the same as violence to zombies the same as violence to human soldiers the same as violence to human citizens? Does the quality of the graphics matter? Do you have anecdotal evidence of it increasing kids’ aggressiveness? Are you someone who thinks all video games are a waste of time no matter what the content? What are your thoughts?

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Because of Video Games I Now Like to Punch Strangers on the Street

  1. Both lead to a further desensitizing, and lowering our threshold for what is acceptable violence.

    The problem with a game like Call of Duty is that it places you, the player, into the missions to, say, capture some French village or something (granted I’ve not played the game myself, but I’ve seen its graphics and some of its plots). But you don’t get the “downtime” of actual reality that took place in the original battle. You get solely the missions. You also don’t bond with your fellow soldiers because they are not real and you won’t feel bad about their death (because they’ll “live” past their virtual death). Furthermore, this kind of game makes it easier to commit soldiers to far off lands to fight wars, because in our video-gamed-minds we’ll succeed, because we’re the “good guys.”

    There is a reason why so many actual soldiers come back from war with PTSD and other psychological disorders. War truly is hell.

    Grand Theft Auto is a silly dumb game that I am still shocked is doing so well. It is silly silly silly. What is the point of teaching our youth (and youth in adult bodies) that you can resort to violence to solve your issues? Heck, why don’t we resort to violence to convert everybody to Christianity? 🙂

  2. I read somewhere once that kids who are already prone to violence can become more agressive if they spend time playing violent videogames, and that seemed likely to me. My kids have not become violent from playing violent games, but I don’t let them play anything rated Mature. Or at least, I think I don’t—seems like we have Call of Duty.

  3. The most violent video game in the world is Super Smash Brothers. Non stop fighting and killing between men, women, children and animals. My kids have played it since they were about two and have not resorted to discernible violent crimes yet, although there’s still time for them to go all Natural Born Killers on me. Meanwhile, the newest version of that game just came out on the Wii. It’s awesome.

  4. Here’s a nice quote from Rockstar Games’ Vice President of creativity and Grand Theft Auto writer Dan Houser. Very lucid, well-spoken man.

    If you don’t like any violent content in your entertainment, then I apologize because I do. And I’ve unfortunately been exposed to it my entire life. If we equally got rid of a lot of books that talk about violence, okay.

  5. “If we equally got rid of a lot of books that talk about violence, okay.”

    I’d miss the Old Testament and Shakespeare. I hope no one is seriously considering this modest proposal.

  6. What is the point of teaching our youth (and youth in adult bodies) that you can resort to violence to solve your issues?

    Good point, Dan. Similarly what’s the point of teaching our youth that eating all the biscuits in the house and avoiding the ghosts will solve your issues. And what’s the point of teaching our youth that short, pudgy, mustached Italian men stomping on mushrooms and and turtle shells will solve your issues? And what’s the point of teaching our youth that if you fit odd-shaped falling blocks into place without any wasted space will solve all your problems?

    Dan, it is blindingly obvious that you don’t play video games. Nobody is playing to “solve all your problems.” People play because it’s fun. If there’s anything they learn it’s much more likely the patterns that increase their skill level rather than how to confront a real-world problem. My basketball skills are as likely to improve after playing NBA Street as my aggression is likely to increase after playing Grand Theft Auto.

  7. My 5 year old son has caught me playing God of War a couple times, and he seems to act a bit more violent after the experience, including using the word “kill” when threatening the dog. As for me, I don’t think violent games/movies have had any noticeable affect on my demeanor.

  8. Rock Band solves all my problems and makes me a better guitar player, Rusty. Maybe you’re just playing the wrong games.

  9. I’ve only played the first GTA, but I remembered the perverse thrill of running over pedestrians, sideswiping cars, making use of weapons against cars (mostly), racing away from the cops… ah, good times.

    And yet, here I am, a very conservative driver, with no police record. Maybe I just know where the fantasy ends and reality starts.

  10. Wasn’t there some study that soldiers in wars from WWI thru Desert Storm have become more likely to shoot to kill? Seems like that about 20% of the WWI guys would not fire on their opponents – even if they were being fired upon. They discovered that changing the targets from the “bulls-eye” to a human sihlouette decreased the number of non-shooters. Every war since then has seen a decrease in the number of non-shooters. In Desert Storm, the non-shooters were almost non-existent.

    Does that have anything to do with video games? I don’t know for sure – but, maybe the case could be made for de-sensitization.
    Also, there have been some studies on violence and the age of exposure related to the maturing brain; i.e., the younger the exposure to “recreational violence” (movies, videos, etc.) the more likely the commission of actual violence.

  11. Rusty,

    Dan, it is blindingly obvious that you don’t play video games.

    Actually I do. But these days, I’ve limited it to Star Wars Battlefront, Knights of the Old Republic, Madden Football, and then Civ games on my computer.

    Nobody is playing to “solve all your problems.”

    I stand by my belief that the video games we play affect our decision making skills. How could they not?

    My basketball skills are as likely to improve after playing NBA Street as my aggression is likely to increase after playing Grand Theft Auto.

    Well clearly, because video games do not teach you how to hold a basketball and the proper times to release the basketball. But video games can teach you how to train your eye on an enemy and the proper time to shoot your weapon. It won’t teach you, of course, how a gun feels in your hand, nor how you compensate for the kickback from firing a gun. Those you learn with the real thing. But the more essential thing you learn is where to look for the “enemy” and when to shoot your weapon.

  12. mondo cool, that’s correct, and the difference in the percentage over the years is credited to modifications in the training. Video games could hardly account for the differences between WWII and Vietnam.

    “But the more essential thing you learn is where to look for the “enemy” and when to shoot your weapon.”

    Dan, considering that the alternative is not knowing when to shoot your weapon, that can only be a good thing.

    Rusty, I remember hearing those “thoughts lead to actions” lessons in church as a kid, and invariably they became a denouncement of tv, movies and video games. I remember thinking, “What about homicide detectives? They think about murder all day every day? How come they don’t murder people?” Eventually I realized the difference between thoughts and desires. Odd that so many still haven’t.

  13. Wasn’t there some study that soldiers in wars from WWI thru Desert Storm have become more likely to shoot to kill?

    I hope not, because that would not follow the scientific method – what’s the control group? Moreover, how could violent games possibly influence soliders from before the 1980s?

    As far as answering the original question, I think Call of Duty 4 is more violent, actually, mostly because the player is participating in a widespread wartime event, whereas GTA is localized and involves fewer characters. BUT BOTH ARE FUN AS HELL.

  14. I won’t allow my hubby to play Halo (any version) in front of the kids. That’s too violent for me. But I will allow them all to play Star Wars (Battlefront). Strange? Perhaps.

  15. Oh, sorry, I know we were talking about other video games, but we don’t have those other games. For the same reason hubby can’t play Halo in front of the kids.

  16. Yeah Geoff, tell me you’ve never heard that expression before.

    Maybe I should have said “Oh my heck! They’re so AWESOME!”

  17. Exposure to violence, whether through video games, movies, real life experiences, etc. are sure to impact a developing mind. I’m not going to picket the game makers to stop, but we all have a choice and a different “tolerance” level of what we believe is acceptable and what we think is okay to let our children play.

  18. Dan, kids don’t need video games to tell them that violence is the way to solve issues, the government does that every day. Unfortunately violence is how many issued are solved.

    I haven’t played GTA4, but the first couple were pretty fun. Kind of a playable version of Godfather or Goodfellas. I have Wii now, so most of my videogaming involves my daughter and I trying to collect stars in Super Mario Galaxy. I have no problem with violent media for myself though, it hasn’t made me a violent person.

  19. Eric,

    Dan, considering that the alternative is not knowing when to shoot your weapon, that can only be a good thing.

    True, if you actually need to use a weapon. I don’t see a need for a weapon in the kind of society we have been creating here, where the state holds the monopoly on violence—or should at least—so that I trust my safety and the safety of my family to the police (which is what we pay them for). Most problems can be solved without the need of weapons, and for the ones that can’t, I leave it to the Lord to protect me and my family beyond my capabilities. He says to put our trust in Him. I don’t need weapons, or to learn how to use them. But that’s just my view. And it is tangential now to the main point here.

    Games like these two focus too much on the violent aspects of the lives they depict. Give me a game like Civ (which, yes, it does contain violence), where I can build, rather than destroy. I loved the game Settlers II from a while back (there is an open source version called Widelands which isn’t too bad). The best part I loved about that game was learning how to manage resources and how to best build the roads for all the materials to easily travel without jamming up too much in various sections. I find this kind of game much more stimulating.

  20. Hmmmm- something about being able to have sex with a prostitute and then shoot her/run her over/beat her with a bat makes GTA4 not something I want in my house.

    And there should be little dispute over the desensitizing effect that would have.

    That quote from Dan Houser, SG, does little to make me feel better!

  21. David J: Maybe I should have said “Oh my heck! They’re so AWESOME!”

    I would have gone with something more along the lines of “they are chock full o’ awesomely awesome awesomeness!”…

  22. There is something different about first person video games that gives me pause. When you’re controlling a character, it seems completely removed from you and “just a game.” When the character is you, not so much.

  23. I agree with MCQ, huge difference when the character is a “person” and not a cartoon character.

    Tracy – I’m right there with you!!

  24. I think people who exercise violent behavior in connection with video games were wired to be violent in the first place. The vast majority of people who play these games exhibit no increase in violent behavior.

    In fact, I believe in just the opposite. What little aggression I have in my life, I’m able to empty out into a video game. This allows me to live my life very peacefully. I also believe the same thing about “angry” music. I feel like listening to something that crystallizes some of my feelings end up helping me to address those feelings in a harmless way.

Comments are closed.