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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Video Games, Violence, and “Natural Born Killers”

<m a gamer, and have been for essentially my entire life. These days, though, I do some news reporting on the internet, and I often find myself reading up on the debate about videogames and violence. As such, these days I am generally unfazed by articles decrying violent videogames as hurting our children and other such things. When I read the editorial regarding Grand theft Auto IV in last week's Carletonian, however, I was markedly disappointed; the editors-in-chief had clearly made no attempt to understand the medium they were editorializing on, and in two instances, there was outright, horrific misinterpretation. A couple of statements in particular caught my eye above all else:

“This game defines the American Dream as violent, morally corrupt, dangerous…”: This statement is highly erroneous and is one of the two major misinterpretations. The editors cite a line from an IGN article, which I read as soon as it was published, and I have to wonder how they cannot understand sarcasm when they see it.

“The game’s suggestion that an immigrant can only ‘get by’ with the use of violence…” I honestly can’t believe this even made it to print. Grand Theft Auto IV’s main character is pointedly meant to be an exception in regards to immigration, and the fact that Niko Bellic is an immigrant is fuel for his more complex backstory more than anything else. To turn it around and claim it is a general statement about immigration is downright shameful.

It is a human tendency to generalize and decry media they do not understand, and violent videogames in general seem to have fallen into this. This was first made clear to me in my Intro to CAMS class last year, where Michael Griffin explained it in regard to the general response to the movie Natural Born Killers, which got similarly misinterpreted as glorifying and romanticizing violence. Like the editors did last week, critics of such games often perpetuate claims that 1) violent videogames are glorifying such horrific acts as can be performed in such games, and 2) the fact that you are playing these games instead of watching them is doing damage to the human and social psyche.

The first argument is not as popular these days as it used to be, but still gets a fair amount of attention. It certainly is an interesting question, and Grand Theft Auto IV makes the issue even more ambiguous; throughout the game, there are several points where you must make decisions of morality, and as you proceed, the more immoral you are, the larger toll it will take on your character, and the story. Combine that with Niko’s motivation for coming to America (to escape demons of his past), and you have an interesting juxtaposition: a game that allows you to do all sorts of violent acts is actually downplaying them at the same time.

What exactly makes a game “glorify” violence? This can be hard for people to understand with such a unique, and new, medium as videogames. If you are ABLE to perform certain actions, does that do it? If you are encouraged to do so, does that do it? This debate is a rather difficult one for non-gamers. The interesting thing, though, is that no actual gamers are arguing this, because to them, it honestly doesn’t matter.

Gamers have a distinctly different perspective on the whole issue, having a rather clear understanding of it. Put simply: if you are a gamer, violence actually matters far less than everyone thinks. Certainly, twelve-year-olds will get excited over playing such ultra-violent games as Manhunt (and if they are playing, shame on their parents), but in truth, a gamer will get just as excited over Mario Kart Wii as they will over Grand Theft Auto IV, because all that matters is how a game plays. There are plenty of violent videogames out there, but GTA is the only major series that gets notice because it is among the best of the best. Gamers play it because it’s extraordinarily designed; generally, they could care less about how you can run over the guy whose car you just stole with said car. So why are all the non-gamers getting so worked up about the violence?

This brings us to the second argument, that violent videogames have negative effects on our view of violence; in many cases, people claim that such games desensitize us to violence, or even worse, are the causes of major school shootings. In reality, there isn’t very much evidence to support this; studies can’t agree on the issue, but many gamers use them more to relieve stress than to harness violent thoughts. As further proof, I offer myself: I have played pretty much all major violent videogames ever since I was six years old, from DOOM to Resident Evil 4 to Grand Theft Auto. In the videogame world, I have no problem with using rocket launchers on crowds. In reality? I can’t bring myself to even kill insects.

I find it rather unfortunate that, rather than do some more research into the issue, the editors decided to jump on the anti-violence bandwagon backed by a series of outdated, flawed arguments. Hopefully this article offers a bit more perspective on the whole issue.

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