Ever since video game designers were able to put red pixels on their imaginary characters that had recently deceased, there have been people crusading against their subversive ways. The outrage at video games seems to be cyclic, fading very briefly before exploding into the public eye once more with renewed frenzy. The controversy seems to have sparked up again in recent times, with numerous crimes being blamed on the corruptive influence of video games.
There have also been various "controversies" surrounding recent video games and their content in the areas of both violence and sexuality. The first game to receive widespread criticism and media attention was the martial art fighting game "Mortal Combat". This game included large spurts of blood emitted from attacks and also "Fatalities" that could be performed on stunned opponents after their defeat. These Fatalities were gruesome animation sequences showing the victorious player killing their defeated opponent in a vast variety of ways. Gamers reveled in this new experience and the controversy surrounding the violence caused mass hype that informed the less informed gamers that the game was out there. Consequently gamers played the new game just to find out what all the talk was about, thereby greatly increasing revenue.
One of the largest sparks of controversy has been the recent "Hot Coffee" modification for "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA: SA)". This involved unlocking a sexually oriented mini-game that had been removed from the game before release, although evidently not from the source code. The creators of the game, Rock star Entertainment, obviously realized that this particular part of the game was not appropriate for the video gaming public and removed access to it. An enterprising fan of the game found out and modified the original code to give access to the content once again. Lawsuits were brought against Rock star for including such content in their game, although the validity of the lawsuit has to be questioned. If the game is simply purchased and played as intended by the developers, this admittedly tasteless and inappropriate mini game would never be encountered.
It is not until the user-made modification is downloaded and installed that the player is able to access the content. Regardless of who's to blame, "GTA: SA" was re-rated in America and banned from sale in Australia. Oddly enough the gratuitous and encouraged violence in the game went largely unnoticed in the wake of the "scandalous" sex scenes involving clothed, cartoonesque people.
When examined objectively almost all games contain a certain amount of violent content. The kid-friendly bright and colorful "Mario" games by Nintendo feature a character stomping on animated creature's heads. In fact the majority of games, even children's games, involve the protagonist crusading against an enemy horde of some sort and generally "disposing" of them in some manner, whether it is striking them with a weapon or body part (feet, hands, possibly a tail depending on the nature of the character). The only real stand out difference is that in a children's game the 'bad' characters will generally bounce backwards in a cute manner and explode with a humorous puff sound (or simply disappear) whereas in a game oriented towards older mature players, the characters are more likely to be (somewhat) realistic, spraying a gusher of red upon their demise.
Whenever some young person somewhere commits a violent crime these days it seems to get blamed on a video game, from "Duke Nukem" and "Quake" being accused for the Columbine High massacre, to a more recent incident involving a group of minors attributing their violent actions to the "Mortal Combat" video games. Without any solid evidence either way it's hard to say whether or not video game violence actually has much of an influence on players. To really be sure you'd probably have to have a control group of isolated children that have never seen a violent movie or played a bloodthirsty video game. History does however show that brutal crimes were committed long before video games or even movies came into existence.
Children are quite easily influenced by something that they're excited about and I've seen this happen a lot. Playing a wrestling video game with a group of eight year olds often leads to the eight year olds screaming raucously and trying to pin each other down on the ground. Pre-teens will often punch and kick their way out of a cinema in terrible combat stances after having viewed a martial arts movie. The current content rating system in place is not geared towards consumer restriction; it is largely aimed at simply informing the public about what they are going to experience. Legal restrictions are not actually put in place until the higher, more severe ratings like in x-rated films.
Parents, guardians, and society in general need to start taking an interest in who is viewing certain types of content. Instead of complaining about the entertainment a child is enjoying, the parent could be there at the beginning looking at the rating that is printed clearly on the packaging of all entertainment. A simple "I don't think that's suitable, how about this game? It has a lizard!" distracts the child a surprising number of times.
In my experience, children genuinely just want people to take an interest in what they're interested in, not just murmuring indistinctly, "Yes dear, that's nice." as the child installs the newest violent game. What about the children that are playing the games in the restricted ratings categories? The only way that they can even get the game into their possession is if a parent (or someone of legal age) purchases the game for the child or if the store disregards the rating guidelines in place and sells it to them regardless. Either way the fact that a game's content has fallen into a minor's hands is not the fault of the game developer. I'm not out to defend the integrity of artistic vision presented in video games as many other gamers are. Frankly there seems to me to be little artistic integrity in rendering blood that is ever more liquid in appearance.
I do however enjoy playing some games that are quite violent in nature and in many cases the violent nature of the game increases my enjoyment. Video games are escapism, there's (arguably) no point in playing a video game that simulates something you can just walk outside and do (and yet sports games somehow consistently sell in large numbers. curious.). Interestingly I have never yet felt the overwhelming desire to break down into a kung fu stance and commit murder.
Perhaps more important than simply banning questionable content in video games would be studying why this content is so appealing to today's society?.
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