Violence and bloodshed and videogames, oh my

Good and thorough thoughts on video games and real-life violence over at the Empires of Steel developer’s diary. (A week or two ago, I was privileged to discuss this very topic with Mr. EoS Developer over a cup of coffee.) He’s tracked down some statistics about murder and other violent crime rates since Doom and its ilk kicked off the “violent video game” genre–go check it out. As they say, it’s hard to argue with the facts.

Video game violence and its relationship to real-world violence is a topic I feel strongly about, but I’ve resisted the urge to get on the soapbox here about it. This is a topic where I genuinely feel that people on both sides of the argument have something worthwhile to say–the relationship between game violence and real-life violence is correlative at best, but on the other hand there really is some disturbingly anti-social behavior depicted in games and I find it hard to believe that doesn’t affect our cultural soul, if not our crime rates.

But for over a decade now, the entire debate has been mired in the increasingly ridiculous debate over whether games “cause” real-life violence. Until we can get past this overly-simple idea, we’ll never have a meaningful discussion about the questions we should be asking, and which have a hope of leading to productive answers.

Why does gaming culture purchase and sometimes even celebrate games with extreme violence and anti-social content? Why does the gaming media often promote and review ultra-violent games without asking serious questions about their social value? What can the game community do to draw more attention to the many, many non-disturbingly-violent games out there? Can, and should, the game industry/community encourage developers to consider the social value of their games before making them? If gamers are willing to buy ultra-violent games, does mean that it’s morally acceptable to make those games, since developers are just meeting market demand? If parents are seemingly failing to perform due diligance when it comes to the violent video games their kids are playing, is it reasonable to ask the government to intervene? If violent video games do not cause crime, do they have any other negative societal impact?

Those are questions I’d like to see asked. But in the public/political sphere, at least, everybody seems to be content to have the same old “Video games turn your kids into killers!” “No they don’t!” “Yes they do!” argument. Wake me up in twenty years, when video games are either illegal, or we’ve progressed past this pointless bickering.

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