Gerard Jones is the author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence, as well as a former scripter for DC and Marvel Comics, among others.
the 2006 Montreal International Games Summit, Jones spoke about
repressing violence, and how video game gore can act as a release valve
for our unexpressed aggression. Following his speech, Gamasutra sat
down for a Q&A, to discuss violence, tension, and the acceptance
(or lack thereof) of games as mainstream media.
In your talk this morning, you mentioned you don’t really deal with
video games directly, yet you keep getting invited to these games
conferences. What do you think it is in your work that resonates with
the gaming community?
Gerard Jones: Video
games have been so much under attack recently, that I think there’s a
certain nervousness. Most people in this business are very pleasant and
non-confrontational and the fact that they are being reviled as the
causes of crime, causes of violence, is disturbing. On the one hand, I
think people want to know how to respond to those criticisms. But on
the other hand, I think there’s some genuine anxiety that maybe games
have a bad side, maybe there is a problem, and how do we deal with any
guilt or fear?
I think anyone who’s a decent
person but who finds himself or herself attracted to aggressive or
violent imagery is a little troubled. Why do I like this? It’s not
really something that we’re taught in life to examine. It just sort of
sneaks up. So I think a desire to understand what’s happening inside
ourselves is a big part of it. People in the games business are
particularly inclined that way, being, for the most part, a gentle
group in a medium where violence has become so prominent.
In your work, you use sociology to take a historical approach to this
issue. How do the current attacks on video games compare to attacks on
other mediums in the past?
like this are very common. It started in the mid-nineteenth century. As
that whole Victorian industrial complex was being pulled together, it
was suddenly a very popular opinion among the shapers of taste and
teachers that the material children or the uneducated masses were
consuming, their entertainment, was going to lead to major social
trouble. It makes sense in the context of a society trying aggressively
to pull together, to minimize the chaos and day-to-day confrontations.
first big attack in the United States was against popular novels, dime
novels, yellow backs, cheap five and ten cents bits of fiction that
were often romance stories with no real sex in them, but sexual
overtones, a lot of young women barely maintaining their virtue. And
then there were a lot of crime stories: dashing detectives, nests of
counterfeiters, sex and violence material. So there was a huge outcry
driven by teachers and doctors, bought into by parents and
politicians--who saw a way to generate votes. This outcry was probably
more virulent and widespread than the attacks on video games now.
find it about movies in their early days. You find it again about
movies in the late 20's and early 30's when they got sexier. You find
it again about movies in the early 90's when gore was coming up. And
certainly music too: ragtime, then jazz, then rock and roll, then the
whole goth rock, death metal thing, and gangster rap. Whenever there’s
a new medium, or there’s a distinct new style, there will be this.
you look at the way furors begin and play out, they’re very
predictable. I would say now we’re kind of at the tail end. If games
continue to push boundaries, particular ones could come under attack. A
lot of it’s just the medium being around long enough that people have
realized the world hasn’t gone to hell. It’s just something else people
are doing with their spare time. But somehow the bigger issues are the
same as ever.
GS: You say we’re at the tail
end of the attack. But in the past few months, anti-game fervor on the
part of the government has really grown. It was even a big topic in the
GJ: That’s rather
typical actually. First there’s this rising chorus of voices, say from
the clergy or some part of the pedagogical community. Then there’ll be
growing community anxiety, where you’ll find large parent or church
groups getting involved. Then the politicians start to catch on that
there’s material here and votes to be gained. What’s happened most
recently is first it was the cultural conservatives who realized they
could motivate their voters with the argument that once again the world
is going to hell in a handbasket. Then the democrats in the U.S., the
people sort of left of center, realized they were losing the moral high
ground, and they needed some way to say, well, we’re morally righteous
too, and since they’ve already come out for free speech and
contraception, video games was an easy way to do it. You get into this
sort of duel, who’ll come down harder on video games.