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Xeno's Thoughts: Video Games under Fire




It’s something that I always have heard of and have attempted to avoid the conversation because it feels as if I am being lead by a blind horse over to a cliff side with no control of its movement. By know you all know this sentence, “Video games are the cause for mass shootings in America”, especially in High School or College. That sentence will never get old since of course here in America, the level of gun violence is astronomically high when compared to other major countries in the world, either Canada, Australia, Germany, or England. Note that there are other countries that do have a high rate of gun violence and murder, but here’s the thing, some of those countries that we know either don’t have the backbone to create gun laws to prevent these people from having a gun, since drug lords and other criminal activities are usually the ones that partake in gun violence. And most of all, the biggest problem in America is Mass Shootings, meaning some maniac would go over to a public domain area, take out a loaded weapon, and fire at will with no regard to the well being of anyone who happens to be in the line of fire. So why is it that video games are the target of these tragic events? Why do people feel that an entertainment of some sort, should be held accountable for these shootings? Why is it that people feel violent video games brainwash our children into becoming massive murders?


Go to about this we need to take a look at the history of violent video games first. Violence in video games has been a controversial act for a long time, in fact, the first game to be acknowledged as violent is a game called Death Race in 1976. Death Race have players take control of a car and run over stick figures to score points. Once a stick figure gets crushed, a tombstone appears in place of their dead body. This in turn gave question of whether video games are becoming too violent. People felt this game was helping gamers who to take control of a car and kill people with it since the stick figures resembles a human being. Creators would retort the claim, saying that players aren’t running over people but rather gremlins. This argument can go either way but can’t be difficult to argue whether the game is violent or not because of the graphics at that time. Thus the debate of whether or not video games are becoming too violent would slowly drop...for nearly 20 years.


In 1992, Mortal Kombat was released in the arcades, making waves for a new style of fighting game with graphical blood and shocking fatalities, a way to kill off your opponent after beating them twice in a fight. The game was set to be released for the home consoles a year later, with the blood and fatalities to be removed for both the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, but Sega would include a blood code to allow gamers to play the game’s true nature. This caught the attention of the US Congress as one of the members done research on Mortal Kombat following a hearing of a fellow member who looked it up before purchasing it for his son. The US Government held a meeting with various video game company representatives, asking questions as to why video games are becoming increasingly violent with no control as to who it was intended for. Nintendo would claim that their games has always been family friendly, and that games such as Mortal Kombat was stripped down to appeal to all target audiences. Meanwhile, Sega has claimed that they have a rating system in place to address the audiences what game is rated and who it is intended for. Although video games were being targeted at this point, both Nintendo and Sega would butt heads with one another rather than working together. This lead the congressmen to demand the video game companies to fix the issue now or they’ll fix it themselves. 


Thus the ESRB rating system was born. The ESRB rating system is a way to inform people, especially parents, of the rating on the game shown on the cover of the box. It’s easily detectable, and determine whether the game is safe for their child to play. On the back the game also describes what the game contains to further evaluate if the game is appropriate for their children. Congress also take a step further and penalized any store that sells a Mature rated game to any minors without any proof of ID or without their parents around. This help distinguish games and help educate parents about the dangers of violent video games. And it worked! The ESRB not only help parents with acknowledging what games their child wants and whether it is safe for them or not, but people have stated that they feel more confident going shopping for games and know what to get them without having to do extensive research on the game. Without the rating system, parents wouldn’t know what the heck their kids are playing until they see it on the television screen. Now, by all means the ESRB rating system isn’t perfect. Parents still purchase M rated games for their kids, despite sales associates warning the content that the game has, and even I have purchased an M rated game when I was a teenager long ago, Halo 2 special edition if you would like to know. 


After the release of the ESRB rating system, game developers have little to worry about when making games, and companies such as Nintendo and Sega have the free will to acquire certain games and sell it to their audiences. So, more violent games were created with an M rated label on the box. Games like Doom (1993), Grand Theft Auto (1997), and Call of Duty (2003) were made but not without any controversy. People still believe that games have gone far too violent as games like Grand Theft Auto have you kill people in an open world setting either by mission or by free will, and Call of Duty Modern Warfare II has you partake in a mass shooting at an airport with the level called “No Russian.” Which leads to one important theory as to while people feel that games are becoming too violent. The graphics. See, in the late 70’s and early 80’s the graphics are just too basic. Sure you can make out a human being in 8 bits, but some games make it hard to determine who you are controlling and what you are up against. It isn’t until the fourth generation of gaming that we do get better visuals and better graphics that lead to the idea of how violent video games have become. If you compare to games then to games now, you see a massive space of how games look to the human eyes and how far we have come to make games look and feel as realistic as possible. Granted, some of these acts, like the fatalities in Mortal Kombat, were just cartoonish, but the theory stands, graphics and looks help made people feel concern about violent games. 


Although games have been able to look astonishing and entertaining, real life events have helped shift that terrible turn. That is of course the mass shooting. And no debate has started it so much then the Columbine Shooting in 1999, where two high school students took arms and attempted to massacre an entire school. Within hours after the shooting, and the two committing suicide, an investigation was immediately followed. After finding out that the two had played Doom and recreated a level with the school and turn every villain in the game into helpless students and teachers, law enforcers and congressmen howl in anger at the cause and felt video games were the reason for the Mass Shooting. This sparked the debate on whether games are teaching kids how to kill. The debate escalated as mass shooting increase during the 2 decade year, with shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the current shooting last weekend. Many people who have done the investigation, officers mostly, and politicians quickly pointed out that the suspect were influenced by violent games to cause these heinous acts of crime.


One of the most obvious questions is how can a video game teach someone to kill? Video games do come with an instruction manual to help gamers understand the control setting of the game, and games today have a tutorial mode to help gamers in actually experiencing the game, should they choose to take it or not. The idea of gaming actually teaching people how to fire a gun sounds very absurd, since in gaming it’s usually a two to four step act on shooting a gun, involving a controller in a video game, and in IRL it’s about 8+ more steps on shooting a gun, no accounting the recoil on your arms, the weight of the weapon, and the fire rate the weapon delivers. In fact, owning a gun requires people to have a license, meaning they need to be trained first before owning a gun, and hopefully have been. I’m no gun owner, so understanding this feels pretty beneath me since I feel guns are pathetic to have. Despite this, the ones who see that video games are a major threat or in fact attempt to benefit from the debate are three types of people.


First off politicians, either lawmakers or congressmen. People here in the US would find these people as a source of protection, as of course these are the ones who decide what we need to have in our country and what we don’t. Common Sense tells us that these people would gather together and see eye to eye. However, there are those who feel that they are the ones who can rally others into stopping video games from being violent and thus get on the good side of the Presidential hand or more importantly, receive a high rating number of approval. It’s the approval status quo, the idea that they’ll be having a high rating and even seen as leadership quality that energize them to push for stricter laws against violent video games. Others include the NRA, a gun rights advocate group, that push for stricter laws on violent video games. However, most of the politicians who are anti-violent games feels pretty out of date or out of touch, as each year games have changed in terms of game-play and of course graphics, and more importantly that the ESRB rating system has always been on game boxes and trailers of all games.


Second comes from those in the Media or in other words major news media such as CNN and Fox News. These are the group that not only cover tragic events but hold debates and reasoning towards violent video games. These tragic events and debates help drive viewers to their networks and persuade audiences into their beliefs. Although coverage of tragic events is inevitably, debates that have people argue against games seem pretty acute, in that they only seen game-play or trailers, judging a book by its cover, instead of playing the game itself to have a better idea. This of course may mean that they are protecting their images in their network, like demonstrating the same attitude and ideal their target audience is mixed with their own personal beliefs. They produce a mental shell on what others have to say and would want to push their personal beliefs and ignore the changes or what can be evidently true.


Lastly comes the scientist. These are people who do research and find out if the hypothesis is true and how accurate it is. They’ve been given a grant to perform studies in various ways and search for clues or better yet answers that may help solve the trouble we are having today. While this means that the studies may help further push the troubles that this country has, sometimes it doesn’t lead to that way. Some studies that are conducted for the subject are both obtuse and hysterical. With one study, they allow people to play violent video games for said amount of time. Afterwards they’ll allow participants a chance to pour x amount of hot sauce of other people food. They feel that those who pour hot sauce in food to those who doesn’t like hot sauce are subject to become violent in real life thanks to violent video games. Why that help scientists conclude the theory is true? Unfortunately, no clue. The idea is just like the ice cream theory, in which when there is more ice cream being sold, there is more crime being held. It doesn’t help prove the suspects influence of mass shooting since of course mass shooting occurs sporadically and can occur on different intervals. This also mean about the games the subject plays, if any, and if games help them drive them further into killing people and training them in using weapons.


Overall, it’s hard to find out what we really need in this country, either stricter gun laws that many have demanded, a stronger study in violent video games and their influence on people’s mind, a study on mental disease, or sadly ignoring the issue until another mass shooting happens.  While it has been proven that video games do not cause mass shooting, the problem will never escape from the clutches of politicians, media, and scientists until a definite answer is made. For now, we just enjoy gaming and give support to those who are affected by the tragic events until there is change.


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