Video Games and Violence - Sense and Nonsense

The other night, my computer game designer son sent me a link to a You Tube video of a television chat show, during which Tim Ingham, editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, was subject to a barrage of suspect statistics and ill founded accusations about the game industry. This programme was, I gather, shown in March of last year and caused a certain stir in the world of video games.
Ingham pointed out calmly, clearly and with a certain amount of good humoured grace, that the vast majority of computer games are neither violent nor sexist nor racist nor unsuitable for children.  That games are given guidance certificates in the same way as films. That parents need to take a little responsibility and refuse to give in to infant nagging, without first informing themselves of the nature of what is being nagged about. Unfortunately, it's the handful of ultra violent games that tend to get the tabloid publicity.
I don't much care for gratuitiously violent movies myself. And I'm not an avid gamer, although I'm fascinated by games, and their creative possibilities. So I probably wouldn't care for gratuitously violent games either. As far as violent movies go, I get squeamish and then I get bored.
But the programme's earnest disapproval of all 'violence as entertainment ' smacks of hypocrisy and must limit the participants' options a bit. Let's face it, Star Wars could be described as violence as entertainment, and where does that leave us with masterpieces such as Pulp Fiction and American Beauty, all the Bond movies, all the Alien movies, every Western ever made, Speed, the Matrix, most of Shakespeare, all of Marlowe, just about every opera ever written, hell, even my all time favourites, Some Like It Hot and Carousel.
It strikes me that, as the present generation of gamers grow older and become parents, this is an issue which will, to some extent, resolve itself. We're in an interim period here, where many parents of teenagers are largely ignorant about the world of games.
But another, perhaps more interesting aspect of this struck me while I was watching the clip, and cringing a little.There was a certain familiarity about it. Looking at it as a novelist I could catch in the solemn listing of spurious statistics and illogical arguments, an echo of other complaints: a long list of activities which have been condemned by an older generation, frightened by something they didn't understand. These included reading for pleasure, which was condemned selectively by the upper classes who loathed the very idea of the lower orders bettering themselves and paradoxically, by some members of those same working and middle classes who felt horribly disturbed by their children wasting valuable work time on books. Read the wonderful Diary of a Nobody for a brilliant depiction of parental disapproval of youthful obsessions, in this case amateur theatricals, from 1892. Then came film, television - still seen as a Bad Thing by some people -  all kinds of music, and a long list of other activities about which people become happily obsessive while others look on with disapproval.
The truth is that the world of computer games is huge and diverse, wildly creative and utterly enthralling. It is, besides, as wonderfully varied as the human beings who create the games. And for the vast majority, games are in no sense a solitary obsession. But most of us know that, already, don't we?


Unknown said…
I can see both viewpoints with this. On one hand, I see so many parents who just don't care (or what else the reason might be, I'm not sure actually) and allow too young children to watch extremely violent movies and play extremely violent video games, along with other innappropriate parenting decisions. Then, the children themselves are violent and sometimes toward other children. But what can be done? After all, the parents are never held accountable for such behavior. On the other hand, it should be a personal decision... I just don't know.
Good points - it's a difficult problem!
Laban said…
Two points.

a) just because throughout history older people have tended to mourn the good old days (there's a great quote from some earl in Tudor times lamenting the state of the country and wishing for the times 'before this learning came up'), that doesn't mean that there were no periods in history when things actually WERE getting worse. Sometimes those people will have been right.

b) playing video games or watching a lot of TV is IMHO different from reading, in that you both learn from reading and bring something of yourself to it. Everyone's idea of a literary character is different, which is why people say things like 'no way is Natassia Kinski like Tess'. In video games, TV and film you're immersed in the imagination of the creator, with no room for your own input - indeed in a video game you're the rat in the creator's maze. Learning is much reduced, in that great literature can teach you how to write better - and how to read better. Unless you keep rewinding, a film won't teach you how to talk (although to be fair, when we have a frank exchange of views I do think my 13 year old daughter's picked up her debating style from Eastenders or Neighbours), and I'm pretty sure video games teach very little.
Good, interesting points, with which I find myself disagreeing quite profoundly! There are many games now which leave plenty of room for the imagination of the player, but the best suggestion I can give is to try the amazing, poetic, deeply involving Flower, for PS3, by Jenova Chen. Play that and then tell me that you're the rat in the maze!I won't believe you. Quite simply, this is the game that changed my life. Also, as far as films are concerned, try By Child, by Bernard MacLaverty, from the poem by Seamus Heaney for a piece of work which doesn't just interpret a poem - but illuminates it, in an utterly stunning fashion. Both of these are, I feel, works of art - each in its own way. But there are many more. It's not a question of learning, and I think I almost never read fiction to learn. I read it for illumination and identification and entertainment and sheer pleasure - and there are some games I play for the same reason, and some films and plays I watch for the same reason too!