Every now and then the world outside of gaming locates a big problem, thrashes about for something other than itself to blame, and grabs ahold of the scapegoat of violent video games.
And there the focus rests as media and government personalities make outrageous claims, deny reality, and cast confusing aspersions on the gaming entertainment medium as well as the people who enjoy it.
I won't waste your time running down the list of ill-informed politicians or “news” personalities who have lambasted violent video games since the tragedy at Newtown but will instead focus on the awkward approach recently taken by ABC's Katie Couric and my response to it.
As reported here at PSXE the host of “Katie” asked gamers to tweet her about the topic of violent video games with a very particularly worded request: “Passionate gamers upset [with conversation] whether violent video games can contribute to [violent] behavior. Tweet the positive side of violent games?”
Thankfully there are some thoughtful comments and not just the usual flame war that doesn't make gamers look good, but I wanted to address the defense of violent video games from another angle. As we know, all efforts to gauge the impact of violent games on young people are futile because they all reach the same conclusion (yes it's a problem for developing minds) and violent games are not meant for them. Therefore the negatives concerning the effects of violent games on young people are 100% immaterial to my argument that violent games are a good thing. Instead we can look at such games from a stark and realistic standpoint minus the controversy which thrives in environments where stereotypes and mischaracterizations reign supreme.
Just a few examples should help. Infinity Ward employs over 100 people, Treyarch does too; to date the Call of Duty franchise has sold over 100,000,000 copies of its games. Naughty Dog employs as many as 200 people and the Uncharted franchise has sold roughly 18,000,000 copies. Ubisoft Montreal employs over 2000 people and the Assassin's Creed franchise has sold over 50,000,000 copies to date. Starting to spot a trend?
Studios that develop violent video games employ many talented people with a range of specialized skills that they honed while piling up debt so that they could attend colleges to learn about what they love to do. Those studios contract with others for software engines, they work under publishers, they work with advertising people, and all of these people employ countless others.
Now that games have become more realistic the industry also employs professionals in voice acting and motion capture. Who could forget Andy Serkis or Nolan North's contributions to violent video games this generation? By the time the latest installment of Assassin's Creed or whatever violent game you enjoy comes to shelves a lot of genuine human beings with families to feed and ambitions to reach for have been employed in a thriving industry that is so popular and full of potential that it threatens to unseat film and television for the top entertainment spot.
I'm sorry but this could not happen with E and T rated games only. When it comes to fantasy worlds adults seek what is exciting whether that is HBO's Game of Thrones, an Alex Cross novel, or the latest Bioshock game. These violent video games made for adults drive the industry forward in very much the same way that violent movies drive the movie industry. When creators are happy to make violent games and publishers are happy about the money they rake in there is more money available overall to fund other projects that might be more innovative and risky, or even more games that are okay for kids. And these new projects give rise to new talents, new studios, new actors, and more growth.
As gamers we are inclined to argue about the necessity of the drama for the narratives we enjoy, about the creativity, about the passion, about the fun, the evils of censorship, and yes even the hilarity of inflicting violence on virtual characters. All these things and more are important to understanding violence in video games but they are the finer points which outsiders on soap boxes simply cannot understand. They believe we are training to kill real people whether we mean to or not. The problem with this is it understands gaming to be as simple as satisfying blood lust like the gladiator games of ancient Rome. This is not the case. We play games for entertainment, for camaraderie, for laughs, for thrills, to relax, and for anything else we get out of it. Violence is really just a small part of what gamers are actually seeking when they buy these games, and it doesn't help anyone to put others in a box.
What are the positive sides of violent video games? The question is easily answered when we drop all pretense that the goal of targeting violent games has anything to do with protecting our youth. If it did then all forms of violent media would also need further review, and sensible people have already concluded that those things are within the purview of the parents, not the government or the media.
I can see the positive sides of violent games every time I hear an artistic visionary passionately discuss the product they plan to bring to market, every time a voice actor answers questions on how they brought their character to life, and every time I read the “thank you” section of ending credits where the creators show their appreciation for the patience their families have showed while they worked to create an entertaining, violent product that helped to feed and house those families.
If you keep your eyes open you will see human beings, jobs, careers, success, and economic progress, if you shut them you will only see what you want to see. And in darkness we are haunted by our fears.
Related Game(s): Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Assassins Creed, Bioshock Infinite, Uncharted: Drakes Fortune