Last week yet another parents/morality group decreed its list of the "10 Most Violent Video Games" that parents should not be buying their children. Here it is (in alphabetical order):
1. Doom 3
2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
3. Gunslinger Girls
4. Half Life 2
5. Halo 2
6. Hitman Blood Money (not even released yet)
8. Mortal Kombat: Deception
9. Postal 2
10. Shadow Heart
Of course, part of their rationale is once again blaming video games for all sorts of violent acts. I believe, and always have believed that this is patent nonsense and yet another way for parents to absolve themselves of responsibility in raising their children. Blame video games, blame movies, blame music, blame George Bush's Oil Wars Episode V: Halliburton Strikes Back (Notorious basketbrawller Ron "Where's the camera at?" Artest and some of his NBA allies actually tried to blame that incident on the war in Iraq), but don't blame the parents for not paying attention. The Columbine killers weren't evil and misunderstood, video games drove them to do it! This is way of thinking is so rooted in passing the buck, it's amazing.
I take an extremely dim view of this abrogation of responsibility, in part from being a Republican, but also because I've grown up with video games, as have all my friends, especially many of my conservative friends. When peoplw come out to denounce video games, I generally agree with the thoughts
of the guys at Penny Arcade
I do have to say that at least this time around the groups urged parents to pay attention and not buy violent video games for their kids, which is exactly what should be happening. What parent in their right mind, even in the absence of video game reviews (which are abundant) and a ratings system (which exists), would buy a game titled "Grand Theft Auto" for their kid?
But the real problem is an almost complete ignorance of even the most basic idea of video gaming among those in the media and the public eye. As our generation begins to assume positions of power, I think this will gradually vanish but it's still a major annoyance today. PBS has a good bunch of essays on video gaming here
, but I think the most important is Henry Jenkins' "Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked"
. This type of piece is really long overdue outside of video game journalists (who have been saying it for years). Jenkins' eight myths:
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
3. Children are the primary market for video games.
4. Almost no girls play computer games.
5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
7. Video game play is socially isolating.
8. Video game play is desensitizing.
I agree that these are all myths that are perpetuated and Jenkins does a fair job of debunking them, but I'd like to add to some of his responses.
I think the consideration of video games as "meaningful" forms of expression is an interesting one. Whether or not you believe video games have artistic merit, I think the Constitution is properly interpreted that they are a form of expression, and sometimes free speech. I mean, if pornography, violent movies, and modern art all fit the bill, then surely video games do. I think it takes a heck of a lot more artistic talent and vision to create games like Myst and Warcraft than to put a cross in a bottle of urine and pretend it's art so you can get public funding. I don't think all video games are "artistic" or "creative," as derivative crap and copycatting is just as common with video games as in any other product, but there are the standouts that do deserve recognition. I don't necessarily think Grand Theft Auto is a work of art (though many of the Vice City scenes were pretty), but I do think it's a fun and unique gaming experience which is clearly not for kids.
That brings me to the question of whether video games are for kids or adults. They're really for everybody and with such a huge selection, anyone can find things they like. A company that has always been friendly to kids is Nintendo. I've had evey Nintendo system since the original NES, and I've always been happy playing excellent games in the Mario Bros. series as well as Mario Kart, the Zelda games, the Metroid games, and many others. All of these are perfectly suitable for kids, as long as parents know the content and know the kid can differentiate fantasy and reality. But if you're an adult, you can still get mature video games for the Nintendo systems. The other main systems at the moment, the PS2 and the Xbox, are really marketed at people 18-24, which is my demographic as Mary kindly pointed out.
There are planty of adult video games, inlcuding everything on that list above. People are beginning to realize this, and something I took as a good sign was when The Lileks and Hugh Hewitt spent an hour of Hugh's show taking calls on Halo 2 and video games in general. Lileks happens to be a Halo fan, though he dislikes the idea of Grand Theft Auto. Again, there's something for everyone. Video games are as diverse in subject matter and content as movies and books. There are shoot-em-ups like Doom, puzzle games like Tetris, story and character-driven Role Playing Games like the Final Fantasy series, strategy and tactics games like Warcraft, Railroad Tycoon, and Command & Conquer, and sports games like Madden. I'm partial to strategy games myself, and I think the best games ever made are Civilization
and its sequels.
The point is, I'm tired of people who don't have the slightest clue about video games assuming the worst about them and using those assumptions as an excuse for their lax parenting. Just like anything else in this world, video games aren't bad if they're enjoyed responsibly and remember, responsibility is one of the necessities in order to live in a free society.