What Good are They?
Discussing the positive effects of video games.
Death, destruction, incontrovertible mayhem. A team of fifteen young men sweep into a closed off building and open fire on another team of fifteen young men guarding a flag. Both teams are practiced, their reflexes sharpened through hours of training and procedural memorization. After a brief conflict, bodies litter the urban battlefield, and a lone soldier is running for his base triumphantly waving the enemy’s flag before him. This is the scene that plays hundreds of times a day on thousands of computer servers throughout the world, and when the game is over, players return to the game selection screen, congratulate the winners and console the losers. As technology progresses, video games become more complex and realistic looking. Opponents of violent video games and video games in general, see this as a bad thing, claiming that it is turning the players into killing machines. This essay will show how any concerns that parents have regarding what games their children are playing can be calmed with just a little involvement on their part; that violent games are not all bad; rather, video games are becoming a valuable teaching tool in classrooms where children have difficulty getting interested in the subject being taught; they are a convenient and sometimes necessary form of stress relief for both children and adults. Finally, they help strengthen the international social structure by bringing together groups that may not otherwise willingly interact, providing a medium for the discussion of topics that are important to the individuals within the gaming society.
Opponents of video games claim that the violence they contain are teaching players to emulate the actions they see, turning them into violent killers. David Grossman, author of “Teaching Kids to Kill,” compares the violence in media to the pavlovian conditioning that Japanese soldiers went through during WWII, saying that:
Their young, unblooded soldiers bayonet innocent prisoners to death. Their friends would cheer them on. Afterwards, all these soldiers were treated to the best meal they've had in months, sake, and to so-called "comfort girls." The result? They learned to associate violence with pleasure (Grossman p. 4).
He calls video games “murder simulators” that create “homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill reflexively and show no remorse” (Grossman p. 5). In “Make Meaning, Not War,” Henry Jenkins states:
The problem with Grossman's model is that it leaves no room for meaning, interpretation, evaluation, or expression. Grossman assumes almost no conscious cognitive activity on the part of the gamers, who, in his view, have all of the self-consciousness of Pavlov's dogs (paragraph 11).
Gerard Jones, author of Killing Monsters, describes an encounter he had with a young Quaker, a strictly pacifist Christian sect, named Richard who ran a youth center in the Shankill district of Belfast. Jones interviewed Richard over a game of Quake, an undisputedly violent game. When asked about the potential conflict between Richard’s pacifist beliefs and playing a violent game, he simply said, “It’s just a game.” The problem lies, not in whether or not positive messages exist in video games, but rather which games they can be found in (Thomas). Grossman focuses solely on the negative affects that video games can have, completely ignoring the possibility that the players realize that what they are witnessing is not real, or they might actually learn something that will be beneficial, either to themselves or to the world they interact with.
The concerns that parents have about what their children are doing is quite valid, especially in light of Grossman’s claims; however, a better option exists that will help relieve parents’ worries. Thomas points out that “just like with books, film, music and theater, some of this content is not intended for children” (paragraph 11), but that does not mean that all video games are detrimental. Ratings exist specifically for the parents who are purchasing the games, and even though ratings may not help as much as some people may think, they do provide a springboard for parents to get involved. It should not stop with the game ratings, though. Since every person reacts differently to game contents, parents should spend some time with their children, both while they are playing their games and when they are doing other things, so that they can remain aware of how the games are effecting the children. When parents know what their children are doing, they have more opportunities to teach and guide them, discuss what is good or bad about the games they are playing, even shape the choices they make about future games that they will purchase (Thomas). If they are compelled, they may do as Thomas suggests and go so far as to sit down and “play with [their] kids” (Thomas paragraph 14). With this knowledge in hand, parents can feel confident and calm when their children go out and interact with the world.
In the classroom, teachers are having to discover new tools to get the attention of students. In his essay, Jenkins describes an incident where a social studies teacher used the popular game “Civilization III” in his classroom to get his students to participate. Jenkins says, “The students largely hated social studies, which they saw as propaganda” (paragraph 18). When the video game was introduced into the curriculum, though, the students had the opportunity to see how diplomacy and violence affect the economies of the nations they control, and as a result, they became more interested in social studies (pp. paragraph 18). Gaming in the classrooms is not exclusive to popular games either. Start-up company, OnRamp Arts, created a game that uses violence to teach historical events. Describing the game, Jenkins reveals:
The player assumes the role of the sole survivor of a 1981 massacre in El Salvador, attempting to investigate what happened to this village and why. In the process, the player explores some 500 years of the history of the colonization of Latin America, examining issues of racial genocide, cultural dominance, and the erasure of history. Winners of the game become "Heroes of the Americas" and in the process, they uncover the name of another victim of the actual slaughter… Rather than romanticizing violence, the kids dealt with… political violence and human suffering (Jenkins paragraph 37).
Even games like “The Oregon Trail” contain mild amounts of violence, which attracts children to play them. Because children are comfortable playing video games, they can be used to get children’s attention so that they will gain interest in a particular subject, and, as a result, learn about it.
Video games are primarily a source of entertainment, so it is not surprising that many people use them to relax and relieve stress. In his book, Jones explains that children use fantasy violence, such as comic books and video games, as a means to feel powerful in the face of their fears so that they can learn to deal with their problems (Jones pp. 2-4 and 12-15). Using himself as an example, Jones recalls that “[his] first memory is of tearing the monster’s arms off” (Jones, p. 1). As a child being cultured in the classics, his favorite story, and the only one he still remembers, is “Beowulf”. He insists that he was not a violent child, but rather a “mama’s boy” (Jones, p. 2), but when he imagined standing in the shoes of the hero it was the only time that he felt strong. Jones says that after September 11, 2001, many adults worried about how children would deal with the terror of the event. To Jones’ surprise, most of the children he encountered were already dealing with it by playing games and talking about it. Jones says, “This isn’t a failure to react appropriately to tragedy: this is how children deal with it. When something troubles them, they have to play with it until it feels safer” (p. 12). In many cases, acts of violence are unfamiliar to children. Jones says that after the Columbine shooting in 1999 the most popular video games were the most realistic looking shooter games. Jones maintains that the reason for this increase in popularity is because the players had never before dealt with the tension that the school shooting produced in the world around them. As gamers played these violent games, the events became more real (Jones pp. p. 99-100). After they understood what happened, the gamers’ anxieties diminished, and they were able to continue with their lives, better prepared to stand up to their fears.
This particular form of stress relief is not exclusive to children, though. In a personal interview, Jeremy Anderson said that violent video games are the only devices that can bring peace to his troubled mind. At the age of twelve, Jeremy’s parents kicked him out of his house, and, not knowing where else he could go, he spent the following year on the streets of downtown Denver, Colorado. He never joined a gang, and as a result, he had no protection from the many predators that surrounded him on a daily basis. After Jeremy’s grandparents found him and took him in, they tried to get him counseling, but it never worked. The only solace Jeremy found as a teen was in his video games. Now that he is an adult, Jeremy still turns to violent video games, rather than acting out against people when he is facing a problem that causes tension. After he has played for a while, he becomes collected enough to face his anxiety in a calm and rational manner. In a study submitted to Simile, many adults admitted that one of the primary reasons they play video games is to relieve stress and relax (Funk, pp. paragraph 25). They realize that a computer is a much better medium for blowing off steam than a wall or another human being.
Aside from stress relief, video games are also a popular group activity that, when used in the proper circumstances, can help prevent anti-social behavior. In Jones’ interview with Richard, he learned that the youth leader wanted games like Quake for his youth center so that more teens would come and participate in fake violence rather than the bloodshed that surrounded them in Belfast (pages 110-112). After this experience, Jones wrote:
People want to play with what matters to them, what excites or fascinates, or scares them. That may be something they’ve imagined, something they’ve seen on TV, or something they’ve lived. For Richard, playing Quake was a power fantasy, but the power was to remain calm in a frightening reality… He wanted the angry, frightened boys at his youth center to have the same fantasy world in which they could kill their own monsters (112).
One of the values of using video games in this way is that the players do not need to have anything in common to have a good time together, and because of the ways that technology is changing, this is often the case.
The most common occurrences of inter-culture mingling involve massive multiplayer online games (MMOs), both role-playing and shooter games. MMO players join in a wide variety of activities that require teamwork in order to succeed, and the gamers come from many backgrounds as Sue Hoye writes:
Games have hit a tipping point... More than half of all Americans play games now, and that's across the board, from middle-age soccer moms to teenagers on their cell phones. With the pervasiveness of the Internet and the ease of distribution, games have become an excellent new vehicle for serious content (paragraph 4).
Games such as the military’s “America’s Army,” though designed as a recruiting device, has attracted many civilian players and military veterans. When these players started talking, discussion included the seriousness of real life war. One incredible phenomenon that takes place in these games is that while players enact violence on each other in the game, they are actually bonding through the in-game chatting system (Jenkins pp. paragraphs 21-22). Multi-cultural gaming has provided an opportunity for discussion amongst many groups of people who may not seek each other out in different circumstances.
This is not exclusive to a single age group either. The first gaming generation has grown up, and they have children of their own who are old enough to play. The responsibilities of parent-hood limit the amount of time that is available for gaming. These adults really enjoy their time consuming hobby, and “for the generation that grew up with [video games], those virtual worlds have become a part of their everyday world” (Struck, paragraph 7), so rather than ignoring their children, these adult gamers have chosen to incorporate one of their favorite hobbies into their relationships (Struck). Multi-generational gaming has not stopped with the younger generations; Nintendo, the oldest console manufacturing company in the business, has recently released their fifth non-portable system, the Nintendo Wii. In an interview with Nintendo President and CEO, Satoru Iwata, one of the console designers says that the Wii was designed to be “fun for the entire family” (Nintendo, paragraph 39). The designer wanted to make games that he could play with his grandmother, and, as proven by several videos on the Nintendo Wii website, the company has succeeded in creating such a system. Now that parents can play with their children, and grandparents with their grandchildren, the generations are “bonding through a shared culture” (Struck, paragraph 7). More importantly, video games have gotten parents involved in their children’s lives, providing opportunities to talk and teach so that they will grow closer as a family.
Video games have become an integral part of society, literally millions of people in this nation alone play on a regular basis, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Even though video games have been a suspected aggravator in school shootings, this does not mean that the entire populace will have the same reactions to the violence they interact with. If a parent is unsure about whether a game is appropriate for their child, all they need to do is a little research to find out about the game’s content, and with game ratings and in depth game web sites, this research is very easy to do. If any questions remain, sitting down and playing the game, either on their own or with their children, will provide the information they seek. When the parent knows the contents of their children’s games, they will be able to monitor the affects that they have and ensure that they do not get corrupted. With the proper guidance and supervision, video games are a valuable tool in the classroom, facilitating the course subject matter, and in some cases getting students interested in something they previously did not enjoy. In the home, the electronic medium supplies a convenient distraction from the problems of the world, giving the player a sense of power in a world that can feel completely out of control. Children escape to entertainment because it sparks their imagination; it shows them terrifying circumstances in a safe way so that they can learn to cope in the real world. For adults, especially those who grew up playing them, video games are an alternative to television at the end of a long, stressful workday. The varying styles of games can help relieve the tension of the day by either letting the player completely shut down and automatically play a game, or the game will provide puzzles that will consume the player’s concentration, therefore taking their mind off of the struggles of the day. When people come together over a shared interest, it strengthens relationships, both in and out of the family. When bonding occurs inside the family, parents are provided opportunities to teach their children and show them that they are loved. With all of the turmoil in the world, it isn’t surprising that game forums are used as a means to discuss the hottest issues in today’s news, exchanging personal views on current events in a safe, non-threatening environment. All in all, video games have provided many positive advances for society, and rather than pointing the finger at the few people who are affected negatively by them, it’s time to look at what they can do to help people.
Anderson, Jeremy. Personal Interview. 3 March 2007.
Funk, Jeanne B, Chan, Margaret, Brouwer, Jason, and Curtiss, Kathleen. "A Biopsychosocial Analysis of the Video Game-playing Experience of Children and Adults in the United States.." Simile. 6(2006): p1.
Grossman, David. "Teaching Kids to Kill." Killology Research Group. Fall 2000. Killology Research Group. 3 Mar 2007
Hoye, Sue. "Game Plan." Chronicle of Philanthropy 25 Jan 2007: p40.
Jenkins, Henry. "Make Meaning, Not War." Independent School Summer 2004: 33-48. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Red Rocks Community College Library, 20 Feb. 2007
Jones, Gerard. Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
Nintendo, "Wii.Nintendo.com - In-Depth Regional Coverage." Wii.Nintendo.com. 2007. Nintendo. 18 Mar 2007
Struck, Shawn. "The Gaming Generation." PC Magazine 20 Feb 2007: 109. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Red Rocks Community College Library. 23 Feb 2007
Thomas, David. "Games won't Create Monsters, Just Engaged Players." The Denver Post 08 Aug 2006: F. 02. ProQuest Newspapers. ProQuest. Red Rocks Community College Library. 03 March 2007
That's it, let me know what you think, comments and such. In the next couple of days I should have a review of The Godfather for the Wii, opinions shaped partially by this project.