Video Game Forum

Discrimination, violence, prejudice, body dysmorphia, shall I continue? All are social problems that are undoubtedly fueled, at least partially, by the ubiquitous media and increasingly video games have been identified as a prime culprit. Whether it be cop-killing (via sniper rifle, chainsaw or flames) and car-thieving in Grand Theft Auto or the more stealthy vigilantism of Manhunt, complete with graphic executions and uncensored carnage for maximum points, the more blood, the better, it is undeniable that video game users are exposed to a level of violence unlike that of any other form of media. Although not all video games lead to propensities for violence (or for that matter, sexism and racism), the possibility that some might is an impetus for serious discussion. Thus, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the video game forum was that the future video game programmers, computer scientists and “high priests of information” themselves mediated the discussion and were able to voice their own opinions. Positive elements of the forum were the knowledgeable panel members (to a certain extent, since opinion tended to dominate as opposed to straight facts) and the level of audience involvement whereas the broad and idealistic scope of the forum tended to be a drawback because the issues could not be thoroughly explored.

Overall, I found the session panel to be informative and engaging. The setup of two opposing viewpoints in addition to audience engagement via comments both on the web and participants voicing opinions was a great way to mix things up and include as many viewpoints as possible. It seems that the general categories addressed were gender representation, race and violence, though there were no clear distinctions delineating each topic. One of the most disturbing arguments made was that the predominance of the heterosexual, white males as protagonists was justifiable by the fact that it is a male-dominated industry in which male users are in the majority. The female panelist even went so far as to compare it to the emergence of automobiles, how at first these were only available to the wealthy and now is a common possession, essentially concluding that the game industry will “improve over time.” Of course, that is my hope as well, but merely creating excuses and justifying the problems with the status quo bandaid was certainly not a promising way to open the panel. Furthermore, the industry has been around for quite some time and the fact that virtually no progress has been made, which panelists readily admitted, is a telling sign.

Thus, I had a fundamental problem with the repeated assertion that violence and lack of female representation (or mere inclusion as eye candy, see Lara Croft) in video games is “ok” just because it is present in other forms of media, as one panelist stated, “You cannot blame videogames alone but the almighty media.” In my opinion, the validity of this argument is flawed because video games are a distinct form of media that invites the player to actively participate in the violence, it is your hand pulling the trigger (or more accurately, pounding the A button on the controller) and it is you who embodies the protagonist in his quest to execute enemies, kill cops or steal cars. In other words, video games position the player within a virtual reality in a manner unlike the way music or movies portray violence, with the viewer positioned not as the singer or actor but as a third person observer.

Hearing feedback and opinions from passionate video gamers in the audience was a definite plus. In particular, one audience member articulated the benefits of escapism and “craziness” in video games and believed that tough, masculine protagonists are required to fulfill gamers’ requisite desire to be a hero. “Who would want to be the average Joe killed off in the second scene? No one.” he concluded. Others voiced arguments in favor of video games as a stress-relieving outlet for aggression. I do not argue with these functions, and I believe that many do utilize video games as an escape from everyday reality, much in the same way I watch a movie or read a book. However, children and young adults can be easily swayed by depictions of violence/sexism which may be obviously fantasy in the eyes of the educated adult gamer. Rating systems attempt to relegate what ages are exposed to different content levels but whether it be parental negligence or simple ignorance, many children are able to get their hands on games with graphic content and the effects can be drastic, so much so that “video games made me do it” defenses have been raised, most recently in the shooting deaths of three Alabama police officers.

According to Devin Moore’s defense, the obscene amount of time he spent playing Grand Theft Auto was partially responsible for the eighteen-year old’s actions: after being arrested and taken to police headquarters on a stolen-auto charge, he commandeered an officer’s gun and fatally shot three in the head before fleeing in a patrol car. Shortly after his second arrest, he uttered the following chilling statement, “Life is a video game; everybody has to die sometime.” Whether or not his inability to distinguish fantasy from reality is the result of extensive game play or indicative of an underlying mental problem is beside the point; the fact that video games may have in any way contributed to these deaths is deeply disturbing.

Some would say the video game industry is still in its infancy but I think its time for it to grow up fast. With the tide of public opinion often swaying against the violence, sexism and racism portrayed, the industry must break the mold of the media’s status quo. Throughout history, other forms of media have aggressively pursued effecting social change, for instance television’s success in diversifying programming in the 1970s and 1980s. As one professor in attendance noted, if sex (and violence?) are the only thing that sells, the Mario franchise would have gone nowhere. It is my hope that discussions like these will continue raise awareness and stimulate some changes in the industry.

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