Violent Video Games are Good for Our Culture.

I don’t think I could have made a more controversial title if I tried.

I am almost certain that I pissed off half the world’s population with that statement alone.And, since I am on a roll, I will go ahead and engage you all in a thought experiment that will gleefully piss of the other half of those who will read this article.

But before I begin this experiment, let me make it clear on how utterly clear my stance on video game violence and censorship is; if I wasn’t against it, I wouldn’t even be writing here. The fact that I am making an article like this on a WordPress site like Tech Circuit almost makes my stance against the idea of censoring and/or banning violent video games intrinsic in and of itself.Also understand that the question I will pose next is not me changing and/or going back on this opinion. I know for a fact that even undeniable proof to the contrary of my beliefs would never truly undermine them. I doubt that your beliefs would be so easily persuaded either. This is not surrender; this is the temporary laying down of arms to a war often fought all too viciously and for the wrong reasons. This is a chance to reflect on a possibility that too many are trying to desperately deny and even more are trying to prove right. For those of you who agree with the censoring of video games, I will allow myself to take your point of view seriously for the sake of reason, respect, rationality, and the benefit of a fair argument to those I would otherwise disagree with. For those of you on my side, this is your chance to prove once and for all that you are not merely a bunch of cowardly geeks with no life who are only whining about their favorite toy being taken away. This is your chance to show how valid our opinion is, why we feel the way we do, and give the rest of the world a reason to shut the hell up about it. Video games are an art, and the only half-way rational thing that even makes the banning of art considerable at all is the fact that psycho killers who take innocent lives say that they were inspired by this art. That’s the only reason this is even an issue. If you troll this post because I even suggest the opposing side has a point, you help make this an issue.

This is the most painful article I will ever write.

Allow me to show you why.

So here it is. Here’s the possibility that I have withheld up until now for no other reason then to make my stance clear and provide a counterpoint to the title of this article;

What if video games do make people violent?

What if Grand Theft Auto really did convince the shooters of Columbine high school to go on a murdering spree? The kids who perpetrated it did like the video game Doom, and GTA was a popular game at the time. What if they really were inspired by both to become serial killers? What if the Sandy Hook shooting was a result from Adam Lanza killing his mother, and then murdering elementary school kids, due to becoming a learned sociopath through exposure to interactive violence? What if it became a proven, scientific fact that someone who plays violent video games experiences a catharsis effect that makes him or her associate violent behaviors like ripping a man’s spine out from his neck (Mortal Kombat), car jacking (GTA) or shooting somebody in the head (pick a game) with the pleasure you feel from beating a game and/or getting a high score?

It’s more likely then you might think; psychologists already proved that. Ever hear of the Skinner box? It’s basically a pigeon in a box with a button inside. The pigeon pressed the button, and it dispensed food. Experiments done with this machine proved that animals could change their decision based behavior based off of offering rewards for an action.

And what’s worse, it was proven that human beings are susceptible to this. Especially if the reward is delayed. In fact, the big reason why games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are so addictive is due to the Skinner box effect. Call of Duty could condition someone to choose to shoot someone. It’s still considered a possibility!

What would happen if all of this was indisputably proven right?

First, the obvious would take place; the cases against censorship would become null, and all violent media (especially video games)

would become banned under federal law. The franchises of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Halo,Gears of War, and the like would cease to exist. After a constant series of lawsuits, hearings, and criminal charges to studios and publishers of violent media, Rockstar would be among the first game studios on the chopping block, followed closely by Bungie, 2k games, Blizzard, Ubisoft, and even indie teams like Ska Studios. For those of you reading who don’t play video games, all except the last name are HUGE figures in the game industry; think Google to the internet or Microsoft to computers. The lone survivors would be studios like Nintendo, and Sucker Punch, who own successful franchises that aren’t rated Mature . EA would probably survive too, although it would become a shell of its former glory. The only thing EA publishes that isn’t your typical violent shoot ’em up are their many sports games and simulators. Thus EA games would become more of a small studio who publishes sports games, Sims style games, and historic RTS titles-non of which could feature combat. The ESRB would become the modern day equivalent of the Comics Code Authority back in the 1950s, except they would target violence in video games exclusively; maybe even as a branch of the Federal Government or NSA. Indie game developers who make violent content would be hunted down by law enforcement, and creating such games would become the legal equivalent of growing pot or manufacturing weapons. Game designers who break the new laws will become information terrorists, and propaganda will vilify them though the internet, television, radio, and through advertising. Violent images themselves would become criminal, as would violent sounds, music, and other sensory information.The world would change in a way no one thought possible. And become somewhat duller for it. But once the dust settles, and the witch hunt days are either dry routine or long gone, the same kind of marketing geniuses that made Nintendo possible in the first place would realize something amazing. It would probably be either clever entrepreneurs looking ahead on a new future or dissatisfied remnants of the game industry trying to move on, but someone would eventually realize the obvious.

They will realize that video games had the power to change a human being.

It can make them think differently, grow differently, learn new things, become something new, and even override the highest morals that would guide him or her through an otherwise ordinary life. It could cause mental diseases or promote happiness untold. It could corrupt a soul or shape it to its highest ideals. It could shape the life of a child, fix or break the life of a criminal, or even change the process of culture itself better then any medicine, therapy, propaganda, or education could. Video games, in the right hands with the right goals, could change humanity for the better.

The first studio to discover this would re-brand themselves, setting themselves up more like a new age healing center then a game studio or GameStop, and sell their products alongside things like skin creme or self help books. Much like Nintendo advertised their NES alongside the ill-fated Robot Rob to associate their console with the booming toy market of the 1980s. That’s how Nintendo started in the U.S.; Japanses marketers sold toy robots when toys like that were popular along with their first system. And like the boys and girls who tried the NES and fell in love with it, people would buy the new “good” games along with other products and see for themselves the benefits.

They would play games with the same competitive button combination mechanics as Street Fighter that are made to condition healthy relationship habits in couples who play them. They would play games with the same perspective and targeting interface as a Call of Duty game to train photo journalists and observational zoologists. Criminals would buy games that would rehabilitate their bad habits that include shooting up heroin and shooting up enemy gang members. With enough time, the positive effects of media would outrank the education capabilities of education as a whole, and parent would only need to ask their children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and pick an appropriate game based on that answer.

The same games that made shootings possible and so many perish at the hands of war would carve humanity in a way that was ultimately peaceful, productive, compatible, and capable of building a Utopian society.

That would actually be pretty awesome.

But the sad truth is, such games already exist. They are called serious games, and as I write this students in med school are probably playing one right now practicing their skills for their exam. I am not kidding.

Many games are made with positive messages, are designed to reinforce the learning of useful skills and even centered around social responsibility. a good sum of games with this in mind can be found here. I just Googled “serious games” just now to find that.

And yet we fail to see the kind of results you would expect from this kind of advancement. Sure, these games aren’t publicized half as much as the standard high-budget blood fest is. I will admit this. And we can all relent to the fact that it wouldn’t have to be extremely popular just to have an impact. The sheer number of games being developed without a PR campaign and publishing license are higher then they ever were before in history-and are still climbing.

Still, even on the Iphone with its limitless free puzzle games, most of us would rather play angry birds which depicts shooting projectiles to dismember army pigs and their homes. And yes, the promise of making non-violent games using the systems that made violent games popular has not been realized yet. I look forward to the days when that change.

But your missing the byline; the real question here is, “Why aren’t there stories in the media of people becoming Superheroes, or super doctors, or criminals reforming due to these games?” I don’t know. If I was forced to guess however, it would probably be for the same reason that no other form of information sharing has the same effect. Textbooks and documentaries alike are commonplace in the classroom, and they don’t prevent people from flunking. If they did, the requirement of owning a text book or DVD (which many classes do) would make the academic achievement in those classes spike. They don’t. Thus the conclusion for these things is the same as the conclusion for games made with the same purpose in mind; Their affect is minimal, at best.

No one can force you to view a source of information as interesting; even Skinner box effects do nothing expect make a player play longer then he wants to, then look back at how much time they wasted on a bad game. People quit World of Warcraft every day, and they usually do it for the same reason anyone quits anything; they become bored with it. Textbooks and Documentaries simply make you realize it faster because they force your to process information slower. It’s like hitting the breaks at full speed; your car stops for the same reasons, you just need more time due to the momentum. Video games have that kind of psychic momentum, and it stops once you are done with the game. That’s all most media is today; just a faster and more powerful version of same old, same old.

Now to point out something that all video game players know almost intrinsically, but something most newcomers to games seem baffled by. “Why defend video games that you know are so violent and vulgar with passion?”

I have a rather simple perspective on this that will hopefully illustrate everything I, and the rest of my community, have been trying to say for years. Lets go bad to that tragic yet hopeful melodrama that I just made up to explore the possibility of video games affecting violence. I admit I painted it a bit grim, as this is the way I viewed it initially. But the grimmest part of the story isn’t what happens to the industry. Nor is it what happens to the designers. No, the true horror exists behind the moral this story ends up telling without it’s tellers ever meaning to. The true horror is what the happy ending of this fable implies.

Think about it for a second; the people who became ostracized for controlling the minds and hearts of human beings in a negative way use the proven principles to affect human beings in a positive way. What does that say about humans, and their ability to be controlled? What does that imply about how free we really are, when the key to ending violence in culture is simply altering what it is we perceive? If all it takes to make a human being a madman or a hero a click of a button and color change, what does that say about their mind? Their body?

Their soul?

For those of you who don’t get what I’m getting at, either by being too much of a flagrant idiot or because of the true horror that this perspective implies, understand that the abject horror behind this twisted Utopian story is the reason why even violent media, interactive or otherwise, cannot and should not be to blame for our actions, and if they are why that is even more horrible then death.

This is why violent video games are a good thing. This is what I mean.

For to prove that violent media makes violent people, and ban it as such, is to deny the possibility of free will.

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