my personal blog

August 22, 2005

The Great Videogame Debate Is Back

Filed under: gaming,news — Alfonso Surroca @ 3:54 pm

Well, folks, it looks like The Great Videogame Debate is on again.

Credit the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" mod for lighting the match underneath the latest incarnation of this debate. I especially find it interesting that this 85-year old grandma is suing the game's publisher over the "Hot Coffee" mod because it could expose her 14-year old grandson to explicit nudity, nevermind the fact that she found no qualms about purchasing the Mature (17) game for her underage grandson, knowing damn well that it already exposes him to a laundry-list of violent and mature situations.

And, in rare form for a "liberal" like myself, I'm pointing the finger at the the Democrats' great hope for '08, Hillary Clinton. She's found the political opportunity to stand out from the crowd by being the latest politician to promise to get to the bottom of the videogame violence issue. I suggest you take a moment to read this wonderful letter by Steven Johnson (author of Everything Bad Is Good For You) to Senitor Clinton, where he sarchastically points out that perhaps the millions of dollars in taxpayers' money being proposed on video game violence studies should perhaps point the finger elsewhere, such as pro football. I wonder how many people have been killed because of sporting events, whether during riots, or during a heated argument, related to how many homicides can be veritably attributed to playing videogames?

But, I digress. On to the debate.

If video games are polluting the minds of our youth with violent thoughts, then how come youth violence is on the decline? Take the Grand Theft Auto series as an example. The storyline basically follows your usual gritty Mafia (GTAIII), drug-dealer (Vice City), or street film (San Andreas), and includes frequent instances of violent crime (homicide, rape, aggravated assulat, you get the idea). Surely, there must be a causal relationship between the proliferation of violent video games and violent crime among youths, at least enough to warrant Sen. Clinton's usage of my tax dollars on the subject. Let's take a look at some US government statistics, shall we?

What's this? Violent crime is at an all-time low right now? We were talking about youth violence, though. Surely, even if violent crime is on the decline, youth violence must now be a larger part of the overall pie than, say, before violent video games existed? Those video-game addicted kids must be killing in greater numbers than before! After all, it's what the media tells us, and the media's never lied before, right?

Not so. Homicide rates among 18-24 year olds (read: gamers) is at about the lowest level in well over a decade, and still on the decline. How could this be? Dare I say, could Sen. Clinton be vying for political gain and media moguls for ratings?

Taking a look at the above chart, you see what this Surgeon General report refers to as a "youth violence epidemic", just like the media does, with one important distinction: According to that report, this epidemic occurred roughly between the decade of 1983 to 1993, and has since dissipated during the Nineties. Furthermore, the report finds that the major cause of ths upsurge in violence during the decade of this epidemic was not violent videogames or even violent movies, but the proliferation of cheap, high-calibur guns. The report also attributes the dramatic decline in homicide rates to restricted access to firearms during the Nineties. What's that? It's not the video game industry we sholud be targeting, it's firearms industry.

In nutshell, kids will be kids, but if you put a gun in a violent kid's hand, he'll be more likely to kill. Take it away, and he'll probably just get into a fistfight.

But, why are these video game publishers putting out all these violent games in the first place? You know, besides the fact that violence sells, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of films are "R" rated these days. In fact, this article points out that [emphasis added] "in 2004, 54% of games were rated 'E' for Everyone, 33% were rated 'T' for Teen, and only 12% were rated 'M' for Mature", and that "55% of movies [were] rated 'R' and only 8% were rated 'G'."

The debate will rage on, despite the fact that my generation is likely the least violent, most intelligent generation of youths to come out of America yet, and because we don't have the benefit of Political Action Committees and politicians don't feel the need to attract the youth vote (boy, we showed them when we… didn't show up at the polls in 2004) we'll continue to allow people entering their golden years decide our lifestyles based solely on media mis-representation. And so the world turns.

Let me end this with my own perspective: I'm on the end cusp of the 18-24 bracket. I find that when I get into a heated argument or political debate, I begin to get flusetered, I feel my adrenaline pumping, I become angry and agitated. And yet, when I'm killing pixelized representations of my friends in Halo 2, I'm alert and excited, but in the same manner you'd be during a friendly game of hoops. There's rivalry, there's shit-talking, but in the end, there's comraderie and fun.

But, then again, the only people on the news are the ones who do commit violence in real-life. Perhaps its time to take the debate into the other side's home turf and talk about how the media's sensationalist reports and dare I say, glamorizing of violent crime, leads to a lot worse societal effects than any video game could.

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