Handling violent video games

By Amanda Hu

While the war between gamers and computer-generated enemies wages on consoles around the world, another battle is being fought irl (in real life, for all those non-gamers) as the argument surrounding the increasing popularity of violent video games and their effect on those playing them is coming to a head. With the media and critics making the connection between aggressive events, like the Columbine High School massacre and the shooting in Taber, AB and video game play, the general public is quick to point an accusatory finger towards first-person shooters and other violent games.

The jury is still out on whether the content of video games plays a significant role in the real-life behaviour of those playing the games and there is a lot of research supporting both sides of the issue. Game developers claim that youth violence rates haven’t shown a significant increase since the advent of violent games, chalking up a lot of the controversy to media sensationalism, while cognitive psychologists propose that children’s tendencies towards aggressive actions increase if they are exposed to such images in their formative years. They also assert the ever-more realistic qualities of first-person shooters blur the line between fiction and real life for young gamers, causing even more aggressive and violent behaviour, not to mention extreme desensitization to similar images.

In order to deal with growing criticism from parent groups and researchers, the industry is attempting to put restrictions on games with rating systems such as the one instituted by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, as well as place filters on websites for violent games such as Call of Duty which requires viewers to enter their age and redirects them to the developer’s general website if they do not meet the requirements. With that said, images of children holding well-known violent games with “M” ratings clearly denoted in billboards, advertisements and mall displays are common and don’t help quell the problem of rated content reaching those that are technically restricted by the rating.

Overall, researchers agree the majority of flaws are not in the use of rating systems themselves, but the process used to create them and how parents utilize them in an attempt to regulate what kind of content their children are being exposed to. There are valid questions to be raised in regards to these ratings, namely surrounding who assigns the ratings– for example, if parties with financial holdings in a company provide the ratings– and how useful they actually are to parents. Even with these systems in place, and assuming they do provide enough information about a game’s content, many parents seem to underestimate the actual level of violence or inappropriate content in their kids’ favourite pastimes, often gawking when they discover little Jimmy has been killing hookers and stealing their money or shooting and maiming Nazis from the trenches all day.

Blaming the industry and developers is, in the end, a futile effort in the war against youth violence, as violent video games are here to stay, regardless of the validity of video games’ influence in this problem. Ultimately, consumers educating themselves on the content of video games and the specific meaning of ratings like “M” for Mature or “T” for Teen is the best and most effective way to wade though the vast sea of video games and fight the problem of kids playing inappropriate games.

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