Video games wield significant influence. Therefore, developers and publishers should take great responsibility in how they deliver their content — especially when it’s violent.
Since childhood, games have encouraged me to read more. They’ve often asked me to consider a perspective or a philosophy different from my own or emulated real-life events, placing me at their center in such a way that I could understand these situations and empathize with the characters. Many games have also helped me to temporarily escape my reality when its burdens overwhelmed me. In some small way, they’ve had a hand in shaping the man I am today. I’m no psychologist. I’m not an analyst or a researcher. I’m writing to you today as an observer, a participant, and a fan. In other words, I’m not trying to pass off the following observation as empirical evidence for some asinine case in support of or against game violence. These are merely my beliefs based on what I’ve experienced in my life and the lives of those around me.
We’re no longer playing Pong (well, some people probably are). Games now allow us to experience virtual representations of things that happen in real life. While we know that these experiences are rooted in fiction, games — like no other medium — allow us to see, hear, and feel the action along with the emotions that come from the decisions we make. I also believe that games, along with movies and other entertainment, can introduce us to scenarios that will influence how we deal with them in real life.
For example, when I watched Robocop, the scene where villains murdered Alex Murphy troubled me quite a bit. I was a kid then, and it was the first movie I’d seen with such explicit violence. I look back on it now, and it’s almost laughable. It seems that as we are exposed to an action like violence over time, we become more familiar or comfortable with it. By the time I saw real combat, I had already seen so many virtual reenactments of it. So much so that many of the horrible things I saw didn’t phase me as much as they could have.
Let me pause to say that I’m not attempting to make a case against violence in video games. I know that’s a popular if tired argument right now. From my perspective, violence and struggle have driven our world for centuries. It makes sense that our entertainment mirrors what we experience over time. However, I’m very directly saying that the creators of our beloved games must consider how they deliver their content to us, and the narrative — whether implicit or explicit — that surrounds it. This responsibility should not be exclusive to violent video games but should be more heavily considered when a game does center on violence or tragedy.
The first time I held a .45 caliber pistol, I was 11-years-old. My father used to keep one in a case on the desk in his bedroom. One day, I asked him if I could hold it. Surprisingly, he said yes. As he pulled the weapon out of its case, he paused before handing it to me and said, “This weapon is made for killing.” Dad went on to say, “You are never to point it at yourself, your friends, or any member of this family. If you ever do raise this weapon or any other weapon to point it at somebody, you do so with the intent to kill.” I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but what my dad was instilling in me was a sense of purpose. He helped me understand that this handgun was not a toy. It was not something to be handled lightly. He taught me how to hold it, how to clean it, and how to take care of it so that it would never fail if I ever did need to use it to protect myself or those I care about. He showed me that carrying a weapon involved tremendous responsibility.
I took that mentality with me into adulthood both as a soldier and now as a civilian. As soldiers, we were called upon to harm and even kill others, but I never escaped that sense of consequence for our actions. To this day, I pray for the families of the fallen on both sides of the battlefield. Unfortunately, many of the video games I’ve played that focus on violence don’t do enough to convey a significant reason for killing or injuring the bad guys. That’s not to say that games have not attempted to take responsibility. I honestly believe that many developers just don’t know how to address it. How many developers have actually killed people or had to order other men to? How many of them have had to live with the scars that come from ending someone’s life? I think they don’t know how to properly address it because they don’t have that perspective.
With that said, developers can’t just stop making violent games because there is too much money to be lost. I would, however, caution them as we push forward into the next generation of gaming. Violent games — and ones that deal with other serious topics — are only going to become more immersive thanks to the constantly advancing technology. Developers must help gamers perceive the weight that comes with dealing with these issues. Take Far Cry 3, for example. I didn’t care for this game much, but let me applaud the developers for at least trying to develop Jason’s (the main protagonist) character around the violence he commits throughout the game. Ubisoft didn’t do a great job of it, but again, at least it tried to address the issue the best way it knew how. More developers need to take this bold step and, by nature of experience, get better at it through practice.
Let me also say that I’m in no way advocating a future blanket ban of games whose developers don’t consider and embrace this responsibility. In the end, it’s truly up to us (the consumers) to ensure that we and our children consume entertainment that meets our standards. I’m not looking to the government or any other established organization to keep suggestive material out of the hands of my kids. It’s my job to check that they are playing games, watching shows, and listening to music that does not breach the morals I’m working to instill in them.
Much like my father did for me, I’ll make sure my kids grow up understanding the gravity that violence and other serious matters hold. However, I think members of the games industry could make some serious progress in getting the government and activists off their back if they could show they’re making more of an effort to add weight and purpose to game violence that goes beyond this tired “good guys versus bad guys” basis we’ve so grossly overused. Developers wield far too much influence to ignore this responsibility. I can only hope Far Cry 3 and titles like it will convince these companies to reexamine how they handle violence in games.