The devil isn’t in the TV

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

Video game violence has been a volatile issue in recent weeks, leading to a stream of rhetoric, name-calling and destructive actions from both sides of the debate. The reason for this renewed interest has rested on the back of one man, US attorney Jack Thompson, and his crusade against violent video games. What both parties fail to see is that the whole maelstrom around video games will not be solved by the outright banning of violent content as Thompson would like to believe or by silencing censors as video game proponents suggest. The issue of youth violence digs deeper than video games–it burrows to the root of American society.

The latest controversy has centered around a proposal Thompson made to the video game industry. Thompson suggested a “Modest Proposal to the Videogame Industry” claiming he would donate $10,000 to the charity of Take Two’s (the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series) chairman Paul Eibeler’s choice if someone made a game based around Thompson’s concept. The would-be game tells the tale of a disgruntled father who goes on a rampage against video game executives to claim revenge on the people who provided his son’s killer with murderous training.

This inflammatory and hipocritical idea led to significant backlash from members of the video game community. Unfortunately, this has been done in a derogatory and slanderous manner, discrediting many of their valid points. The reaction has caused Thompson to revoke his proposal–and presumably the promised donation–claiming it was intended as satire.

Immature dialogue aside, both sides of the debate make strong points while missing the larger one. Thompson is correct when he argues violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Killer 7 should not be available to children. Video game advocates are equally correct when they point out there is no evidence linking youth violence with video games–in fact, the US Surgeon General has recently published an article suggesting youth violence has been decreasing since 1993, a time when ultra-violent games were first emerging.

What everyone seems to miss is why these types of games exist, regardless of whether they are detrimental or harmless. A video game simply tells a story of a protagonist dealing with and, usually, overcoming a conflict. The reason why these conflicts frequently happen to involve graphic violence is because violence is usually a very stimulating way to overcome a conflict. The video game industry contains many successful games involving little or no violence, as well. The best selling game of all time, The Sims, is violence free–the reason there are so many violent games is because there is an insatiable demand. Like violent movies and dangerous rock ‘n’ roll (which critics similar to Thompson have rallied unsuccessfully against in the past), the American public wants their video games littered with gratuity, be it sex or violence.

When looked at in this light, the whole debate seems silly. The problem isn’t self-interested game developers who are only doing what is profitable, nor is it uptight, social conservatives who would love to see society regress to the hyper- idealized ’50s nuclear family. The problem is a culture that clearly condones violence as acceptable. Youth violence doesn’t exist at high levelsin the US because of video games, music or movies. It exists because the culture allows it to, because it’s encoded in the very fabric of America. To rectify youth violence don’t look to violent video games, look to the culture that creates them.

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