Saving the town, slaughtering peasants on the way

Every so often I find a news article detailing a murder, assault or suicide perpetrated by some disturbed male teenager.  Almost invariably, the article prominently displays the fact that the boy had a history of playing “violent” or “war” games, and almost invariably I stop reading.  Certain parents and certain parts of the media have long been concerned with the way videogames affect the morality of children, which is understandable.  But stories like are absurd, and often for more than one reason.  First and most minor, oftentimes the game mentioned contains violence which is highly pixelated or otherwise non-offensive, is staged in a war setting (i.e. a situation in which it is generally acceptable to kill people)etc.  More importantly, as Koster explains, “Running over pedestrians, killing people, fighting terrorists, and eating dots while running from ghosts are all just stage settings, convenient metaphors for what a game is actually teaching” (p. 84).  Killing Russians in Modern Warfare 2 is not teaching you that slaughtering people is fun, Modern Warfare 2 is teaching hand-eye coordination and awareness of one’s surroundings.  Though the “dressing” does affect the appeal of any game, the underlying patterns, as Koster says, not only remain unchanged, but are largely the reason why we play them.

And besides, a normal human, even a child, is able to discern the nip from a bite, as it were, and understand the potential implications for bringing a game-situation to real life.  I have played violent games my entire life.  In fact, after posting this I will likely go down the hall and begin to slaughter enemy soldiers for several hours; I am also, at the same time, unable to watch bull-riding at rodeos out of fear I’ll see someone get hurt.  If you are someone at risk for psychotic behavior and might be influenced by violence in videogames, the games are the least of your problems.  If they don’t push you over the edge, something else will.

One thought on “Saving the town, slaughtering peasants on the way

  1. ET

    There seems to be a pretty strong trend of disagreement with a few of Koster’s points in chapter 5. I’m really liking what I’m reading here about games being a whole newly defined kind of narrative waiting in the wings, about games forcefully incorporating beauty and delight into the gameplay, and also about games not teaching gamers to be physically violent. I agree most strongly with the latter: Koster makes an intriguing point when he point-blank shuts down the argument that violent games teach players how to loot, rape and pillage, but instead merely teach underlying patterns. Unless I’m unfortunately mistaken, I’d bet no one here would have the first idea of how to go about committing murder. Vague hormonal illusions of grandeur maybe, but something that mimics sincere intent? No way. We learn the patterns of a classic video game murder, but the illusion goes no further.

    But allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Ahem. Video games aren’t just played by well-adjusted and self-aware college students. Kids play them too. Young kids. The kind of kid who watches a casual Superman cartoon and then tries to leap headfirst down the basement stairs wearing nothing but blue underwear and a red towel. Kids are impressionable, and seeing even a digitally represented avatar of a human running up to a digitally represented avatar of another human and inserting what looks like a digitally represented avatar of sword into his digitally represented avatar of a face WILL give the kid ideas. He may not act on them, but they’ll be there. Thanks to graphics becoming less and less “abstract” with every passing month, he can now see actual people running around committing graphic murder and theft without the real world consequences. It’s not people who know right from wrong already that we’re trying to save, it’s the ones who don’t, who can’t, know any better.

    This is of course where age ratings come into play, trying to protect the underdeveloped among us, but this gets off topic into the nitty gritty. Do video games make us, gamers, violent? I still say no. It’s just like Jamie says, if you’re already at risk for being influenced negatively (ie. very young, already somewhat mentally unstable, horribly pale basement-dweller who feeds on mashed Cheez-Its and the chilly glow of a computer screen, etc) anything could nudge you over the edge into insanity.

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