In the aftermath of the child-killing tragedies involving the Jamie Bulger case, and the Columbine massacre, anxious parents and authorities looked for an easy scapegoat. It became clear in both cases that there were similar circumstances, namely that in both the killers had viewed violent films and video games, and therefore a nai?? ve assumption was created whereby the killers had merely copied what they had seen to be acceptable. In the course of this essay, I will be examining whether children have become desensitised to violence, and what possible effects this may have on the individual.
In particular I will be examining the role of video games in this debate. To support my arguments I will examine several video games: primarily Dead or Alive 3 on the Xbox to support the claim made in the title, and Medal of Honour on the PC, which I shall utilise to counter the claim. Dead or Alive 3 is a Japanese ‘Beat ’em up’ which was released earlier this year to great accolade from the computer press. Boasting incredible graphics and addictive game-play, the game successfully reached the homes of one million people, a huge milestone for a video game.
However, the game contained gratuitous violence, and carried no certificate (video games now carry the same ratings as seen on videos and DVDs). The violence in the game, whilst being often horrific at times, comes across as almost slapstick. The more obscene and painful moves in the game are rewarded with extra points, and the game also involves inter-gender match ups, whereby a man will engage in a fight with a woman, a definite taboo within western societies. To make matters worse, at the start of each fight, the characters will say a certain insulting phrase to their opponent.
Some of the phrases included are ‘Fighting is the only option’, and ‘Your death shall be my gain’, hardly morally sound advice. The game does contain a disclaimer warning about the perils of violence, but it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss it. The developers of the game, Eidos, argued that as the majority of the game is based in a fantasy world containing mystical characters, then the gamer will find it difficult to relate to anything that is happening within the game to reality.
Ironically, Eidos has just released an already notorious game called Backyard Wrestling, which runs rather contrary to their defence of Dead or Alive 3. The desensitisation towards violence within children is not the only negative aspect that apparently presides within video games. Several observers have made comments about the behaviour they witnessed in children who regularly played video games. Waddilove1 noted that children could learn nothing relevant to life from computer games, and Brod believed that a child’s ability to learn would be hampered through exposure.
He suggested that a youngster may even turn to crime to support his habit of video game addiction. He cited the example of a 13 year-old boy who became a serial burglar to support his Pac-Man habit. Whilst these symptoms may not directly be related to desensitisation, they are certainly warning signs of the negative effects that video games can exert on children. Video games often inspire films and vice-versa. Through these two mediums we can see further saturation of violence into children.
The Resident Evil film, an extremely gory and graphic film was originally conceived from a video game released on the Playstation, which contained many of the attributes I just mentioned from the film. Weizenbaum argued that video games, especially violent ones, were far more ‘subversive’ than violence on television because it ‘engaged the participant interactively’. Therefore, this ‘follow-on’ that the film industry creates from the video game industry may not be as influential as the original game, but there is certainly the opportunity for more children to become engaged in the violent world of video games.
Without doubt the most compelling evidence in support of the claim made in the title is the findings of the investigation into the Columbine killings2. On April 20th, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 13 dead and wounded a further 23 before turning the guns on themselves. Although the investigation was reluctant to firmly lay the blame on one singular issue, violent video games cropped up as a factor. Harris and Klebold enjoyed playing Doom, a classic, gory ‘shoot ’em up’ from the mid-nineties, which was also used by the US military to make their soldiers more efficient killers.
On Harris’s website they found a modified version of Doom, in which there were now two shooters (as opposed to the original one), each with extra weapons and unlimited ammunition, and the other people within the game are unable to fight back. Video games gave the youngsters an opportunity to practice their massacre, before they launched it upon the real world. It seems entirely plausible that without this game, the two boys may never have dreamt up such an awful atrocity.
The film Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore brought up an interesting number of points regarding the influences on the two boys. First, while the boys did play violent video games, they also occupied themselves with many other activities. On the morning of the killings, the boys went bowling for two hours. So why do people not turn their blame to bowling? Or perhaps books? Films? Music? Secondly, apparently 90% of children in Britain count themselves as regular video game users.
Common sense will tell us that that this percentage does not equate into violent crime committed by children. Of course being desensitised to violence is different to actually committing a violent crime, but it is difficult to measure how someone’s mind adapts to violence after viewing it in a video game, so it is therefore easier just to assume an obvious link between children who play violent video games and then commit a violent crime. While we looked at the negative psychological effects that violent computer games have on children, it is important to investigate counter arguments.
Egli and Myers both agreed that arcades (a building full of video games, mostly violent shooting or fighting games) acted as ‘social centres’ and places for ‘social development’. Similarly, Shotton noticed good friendships and social skills between those who shared various games between one another. She then claimed from her interviews from regular video game users that the computer was often implemented in order to relieve stress, but that there was little evidence to suggest that ‘such behaviours were caused by the computer itself’.
Bowman concluded in his research that the competitiveness found within games created an ideal environment for the ‘development of competence, self-determination and status’. Finally, Nicholson remarked that ‘In many ways, playing with a computer may be preferable to a whole range of other activities a socially isolated child might pursue’, perhaps the strongest and most likely remark yet in defence of violent video games. On November 17th, 2003, Gerard Jones, writer of the Batman comics, told the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) that children need violent imagery to become healthy adults.
His words were directed at parents, educationalists and television executives. He said: “Adults forget how small and powerless children feel. They realise there is an adult world of violence and conflict but they see screen violence as a safe form of entertainment”. Mr Jones then laid blame on adults for censoring too greatly their child’s watching habits, “Parents do more harm than good trying to excuse children from the role fantasy violence plays in children’s play. This caused an immediate backlash from John Beyer of Mediawatch UK, a viewer organisation with a very conservative policy on the contents of what a child should be viewing, “This theory goes against every piece of established research. We need to stop violent crime and yob culture in Britain and validating violence by getting young children used to it cannot be the way. ” If the creator of Batman, who has been in the business for over 50 years, is calling for less restriction on material for children, and essentially prepare them for the real world, then we should definitely take these remarks seriously.
As I briefly mentioned before, video games now have BBFC ratings, and in that sense it is difficult to obtain violent and offensive games if you are under age. You could argue that if a child wants a game then he will eventually obtain it, through his parents or an older friend. But how is this different to buying alcohol, cigarettes, or videos? Violent video games should be the least of a parents worries. It would be ignorant to view all violent video games as disruptive and harmful to a child’s life.
The game Medal of Honour is a 1st person shooter set in WWII, from the standpoint of the allies. The action is very graphic as you shoot numerous Nazis, but behind the violence the game very carefully educates the gamer on the history of the war, as well as warning future generations the perils of evil within the world that led to the outbreak of the war originally. From a personal standpoint, I find it extremely disappointing that there are some who link crime and violence involving children, with the content of the material which they have seen.
When I was six I saw Aliens, a violent sci-fi film which carried an 18 certificate. In retrospect, I suppose that I had become, in a sense, desensitised to a small extent towards violence as I had never seen anything like it before. But I did not feel the temptation to commit and act of violence. From a broader point of view, we live in an ever changing world where violence and aggression is accepted as the norm. Has there ever been a more apt moment to give children an indication of what really lies ahead for them?