Over the holidays I spent some time writing for Angry Black Lady Chronicles about video games and violence in light of the rekindled “debate” about the supposed link between the two in light of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school. My initial post, “No, Video Games Don’t Cause Violence,” led contributor Nicholas Wilbur to respond with his post “Video Games Don’t Kill People, ‘Gamers’ Do.” I responded to this in turn – perhaps a bit too harshly – with “Video games still don’t cause violence.”
At heart was the research that’s been done over the last decades on the possibility of violent video games inspiring kids to act out the kinds of fantasy violence they see in video games. So far, no research has shown that this happens, although there are some indications – as well as many studies that show null effects – that playing competitive (or violent) games leads to spikes in aggression.
I have my own problems with some of the banner studies now being bandied about, and I hope I’ve explained my objections sufficiently in the posts linked above.
President Obama’s announcement this week that he was directing, the Centers for Disease Control to study the effects of violent media – including games – on youth made me roll my eyes a bit. Sure, let’s spend more money looking for a link which, even if it exists (which it almost certainly doesn’t), would be nearly impossible to prove as causal. And this to provide “tools for parents” that already do exist: see the E.S.R.B. or Entertainment Software Rating Board. This independent and non-profit advisory group assigns ratings to all games published in the United States based not only on violent content, but also on depictions of or references to sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and even “comic mischief.” The idea is to provide parents with an at-a-glance assessment of whether a particular game is suitable for their kids.
But anyone reading this blog – which has remained dormant for a regrettably long time – already knows all this. And you probably know very well that video games do not cause violence. It’s frustrating to keep having to have this “conversation,” because it detracts from what I think would be more constructive conversations about what the gaming community is doing poorly, and how the games industry at large is failing women and minorities.
Ironically enough, however, it was only last week that Dead Island developer Deep Silver decided to promote the European “Riptide” edition of their zombie slashfest with a gore-soaked statue of a severed, bikini-clad female torso. [Warning, graphic image of the statue behind the link.]
After almost universal outrage and disgust from gamers and games writers following publication of the promo image [again, it’s included behind this link], Deep Silver issued a rather frank apology to Twitter (although as I write this, it’s still unclear whether they’re still going to sell the “Collector’s Edition” of Riptide with the statue).
There are those that do not agree that the statue is itself misogynistic, but the controversy over the piece has at least reignited the discussion of how women – and specifically, women’s bodies – are treated in video games. There’s little question that gaming still has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to sexism, racism, and homophobia. But it gets more confusing when it comes to actual content. If it’s true, as I’ve repeatedly claimed, that violent video games do not actually cause real violence, then why should it be different for, say, misogynistic content?
I haven’t settled on an explanation yet, but my gut tells me there’s an important distinction. I think it has something to do with the fact that video game violence is fantasy violence, whereas misogyny in video games is actual misogyny.
That thought needs time to jell, though, and I know there are some accomplished scholars out there who have taken this question up already. In the meantime, though, a couple updates:
– My YouTube “Let’s Play” series of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is currently on hold until I decide to play the game again. After losing my squad, I kind of ragequit.
– However, I’ve got another “Let’s Play” planned, this time with a co-host and a very clever marketing gimmick. More on that when I know when we’ll be able to get some playtime on camera. This won’t be XCOM, it’ll be the rather goofily self-aware Diablo parody Magicka.