Violence and sexual content in video games is not a recent phenomenon. It’s been prevalent since the late 1970s but it didn’t really become a hot button until the early 1990s when games like Mortal Kombat hit the home console market. All of a sudden mom was afraid that Billy and Jimmy would start trying to rip each other’s hearts out after seeing Sub-Zero do it too poor Raiden after losing a match when in reality, said kids should not have been anywhere near the game. Mortal Kombat was clearly not a game for kids (Midway’s flyer certainly didn’t help matters) and some companies took steps to make sure it stayed out of the reach of children. Sega had it’s own ratings system in place for any and all games on it’s console, and Nintendo had strong policies against violent games at the time, but this still wasn’t enough to appease congress. Things escalated to the point where the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings board was established, making ratings for all games mandatory.
|Death Race (1976, Arcade), one of the earliest violent video games. Despite it’s primitive graphics today, it caused huge controversy when it was originally released.|
Things seemed to be OK for a while. There was the occasional outcry from parents and politicians when a violent title hit the scene, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that things really got bad. By now pretty much everyone, gamers and non gamers alike are familiar with the Columbine High School shooting that took place on April 20, 1999. When it was over, 13 lives were claimed, 24 injured and the two teens behind the massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had committed suicide. There was already plenty of evidence to inform us that Harris and Klebold were two highly disturbed individuals. You’d think most would just be able to accept that they were screwed up and let that be that. When it was discovered that they were really into Doom, it seemed like angry parents and crazy lawyers like Jack Thompson had found the perfect scapegoat.
|Midway’s arcade flyer for Mortal Kombat did little to keep the game away from minors.|
|Mortal Kombat (Arcade, 1992) is one of the reasons the ESRB exists for games today.|
Now let me just say that like many of you, I feel the Columbine shooting never should have happened and I was just as shocked as anyone when I heard. But really, to say or even think that Doom made those two lunatics do what they did is just ludicrous. Yet whenever there’s a school shooting and it’s revealed that the killer was into some type of violent first person shooter, video games always are the prime target.
So why is it that the finger is always pointed at video games when there’s a violent school shooting or any violent act done on school grounds and the doer of the deed was into Grand Theft Auto III? Why is it that gory games get far more heat than violent movies? There have been a plethora of violent flicks in the film industry, and film predates gaming by nearly a century. I think this has to do with the fact that people actually play video games. They are in control of their character’s actions. It isn’t like a movie where you watch what’s going on. No, in a game, you are the one making things happen. Granted, there is some watching involved in gaming, but for the most part, you’re controlling the on-screen action. So if you spend hours running over pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the next thing you’re gonna when you stop playing and get in your car is run down as many chumps crossing the street as you can, right? Of course not, and anyone that does is probably already damaged in the head to begin with.
|Grant Theft Auto III (2001, PlayStation 2) takes the gaming world by storm. Politicians and angry parents load their shot guns once again.|
When I was in high school, some of the most fun my friends and I ever had was playing GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. That game practically owned our gaming lives from the summer of 1999 to mid 2000 until Perfect Dark replaced it. Running around in a maze, shooting and blowing each other up brought unfathomable amounts of joy to our lives. We lost sleep over that game and I’ve no doubt we’d do it all over again if we could. When we were finished playing, never did we have the urge to recreate the violence we’d seen in the game. GoldenEye was also a T rated game, and one released before the Columbine Shooting, yet I’ve never seen it slammed by parents and politicians. Sure, the game doesn’t have the same level of violence in a title like Manhunt, but there is blood and plenty of killing and it was insanely popular. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was released on a Nintendo system. Those same parents and politicians must have been asleep when House of the Dead Overkill and the No More Heroes series hit the Wii because there’s no shortage of blood and maiming in any of those titles. But then, they never achieved the level of popularity that other violent games have. Only the really popular violent games catch the attention of the PTA and politicians. Increased popularity equals more people playing the game, hence their fears of these games getting into children’s hands. More on that later.
Here’s a question that never really gets asked whenever people cry foul against video games for violent acts: Why is it that no one ever bothers to ask how these teenagers that go on killing sprees are so easily able to obtain guns? Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre was in his twenties, so for someone of that age, getting ahold of firearms should be relatively simple. Yet it seems we’re always hearing stories where the 14 and up crowd have no problems finding a gun and shooting someone with it. By no means am I trying to place the blame of killing squarely on guns because guns alone do not kill. Someone has to pull the trigger. The thought of kids having no hassles getting guns is pretty scary and it always escapes those that shout against gaming when inicdents come up.
One of the most memorable episodes of Gargoyles is when Eliza Maza is shot with her own gun by Broadway, one of her new friends, still learning much about the modern world. Though Broadway was only playing with her gun, what he didn’t understand was that guns are not toys. Broadway was to blame, sure, but Eliza was just as guilty for leaving her gun out, granting easy access to Broadway or for that matter, anyone who came into her home. On top of that, her gun was loaded. The episode portrayed a very good message without being preachy: you need to exercise extreme caution with guns, especially when you have kids in the home or those that don’t fully grasp the concept of guns.
|Gargoyles (1994), largely considered one of the greatest cartoons ever. In the episode titled “Deathly Force” Eliza and Broadway both learn an invaluable lesson about gun safety.|
The aforementioned ESRB system exists so parents can know what games are appropriate for their children. At the same time it should go without saying that the rating system alone is not going to keep violent games out of the hands of minors. That’s up to the parents. Of course this hasn’t stopped soccer moms from scapegoating games when little Mac stabs one of his fellow students. They don’t care how Mac got the knife or that he got it so easily. It’s all the fault of the latest Grand Theft Auto. Mac’s mom possibly couldn’t have made a mistake by not watching what her kid plays and explaining to him the difference between fantasy and reality. I mean, it’s not like Mac’s mom could have made an error in judgment. She’s only human and we all know humans never make mistakes, right?
We live in a world where it is so easy to blame others and the media for our problems. Video games take the heat for school shootings. Fattys blame McDonalds when they put on more weight from eating nothing but Big Macs. Miley Cyrus will probably be blamed when little girls start smoking and doing drugs. We have so many people that don’t want to take a long, hard look at themselves and admit that they made a fumble. Parents should be watching more closely what their child is doing. It’s common knowledge that eating McDonalds all the time will not turn you into a toothpick. Miley Cyrus is an actress, not the person she pretends to be on Hanna Montana or whatever her latest Disney program is.
Parents, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers. Please. Explain to these kids what’s right and what’s wrong. What’s real and what isn’t. Make sure they can’t get access to your guns and knives that are in the house. If there are signs that there’s trouble, seek help. Don’t wait until it’s too late. In short, do your job. Video games, ratings boards and role models are not going to raise your kids for you.
I realize everything I’ve said has been said before in some form or another over the last 15 years but some things need to be said more than once. To paraphrase George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”