games are teaching kids to be violent!"
tell you the number of times I've been accosted by people (usually older
women) about "How can I create games that are so nasty?" and "Don't I
think these games make the kids more violent?". Granted, for a while I
was doing user group tours while wearing a company tee-shirt that said
"I like to kill things. It makes me happy.", so maybe I was asking for
it, but still it always pissed me off. I knew there was no connection
between violence and video games, so I felt comfortable about what we
The same arguments have been made about media being the cause of the world's
ills since mass media was created. EC Comics was brought before Congress
for contributing to the violence of Juvenile Delinquency during the 50's.
And in the early 80's, the stick figure video game of Berzerk was
hauled up and given the same dire warnings of child-brain corruption that
was given to Mortal Kombat 15 years later.
If video games contribute to violence why is it that Japan and Canada
have had the same, or in the case of Japan, much worse video-game violence
drilled into pre-pubescent games for a generation and a half now, yet
they don't have the street violence we have.
Violence wouldn't be caused by, oh, I don't know, let's say extreme poverty,
family history, or other horrible circumstances.
My favorite trump argument in this debate is the legal one. In a country
where sleazy lawyers have tried every defense under the sun to weasel
people out of admission of responsibility, up to, and including the famous
Twinkie defense, where the defendant claimed that an excess of processed
sugar was to blame for his murder of a San Francisco mayor in the late
70s, we have never seen the video-game defense. "Your honor, if my client
hadn't spent his formative years in search of the double shot-gun, he
never would have picked one up in real life." (Actually, that doesn't
sound so bad…) If there had been even the most pathetically poor-science
report with anything resembling a correlation between real violence and
video-games, we, and some poor judge, would have seen it.
Recent Events Lead to Some Fresh Thoughts
But, a realization came to me last week that made me really question my
preconceived notions on the relationship between violence and a specific
subset of games and their particular interface.
The recent set of kids going after their class-mates heavily armed has
disturbed me greatly. I still don't believe that the games are the trigger
for that kind of behavior. When a mind is stretched to the edge, you can't
blame the form that the insanity chooses to express itself. The Beatles
were not the cause of Manson being insane, he did that all on his own.
But there is an issue of skills.
When one of these kids snaps, I find myself thinking that there is also
blame on the things that facilitated that expression of insanity being
so amplified in it's effect. For example, it's a lot easier to kill a
loved one in a moment of anger with a gun then with hands. That these
kids were able to get weapons is terrible, and that they were skilled
in their use is something that we need to take a look at.
Games like Quake are not the ones that I have problems with. What
dangerous skill set is being learned here? The ability to fly across the
numeric keypad never killed anybody. But Viruta-Cop is another
matter. Creating accurate reproductions of Guns and the skills necessary
to fire them…is it really necessary for the game? Is the game worse
for creating proxies that still fire, that still require skill, but that
the skill that we imprint in these minds doesn't map onto something that
none of us want to see expressed into reality?
This is the conclusion that I find myself coming to: We do have a real
responsibility here. Not for influencing the behavior of others, but for
using our games to train a skill that none of us particularly wants filling
Think of a better way to build the game…
with a Theater Degree from Brandeis back in 1984, Ben Calica has been
making a living in the computer and gaming business in various incarnations
since then, Including: Founding Editor of New Media Magazine, First Toys
Editor for Wired, one of the few single boys to write for Parents Magazine.
Product Manager for the multimedia authoring system, SuperCard Director
of Production for CyberFlix; (design credits on Lunicus, Creepy Castle,
and conceptual design for Skull Cracker) Product Manger for the ill-fated
modem for the Sega Genesis, the Edge, for AT&T [which, by the way,
we decided stood for All Tiny Testi---maybe I'd better tell that another
time]; Worked for NeXT long enough to get into real good argument with
Steve Jobs; And recently was the guy behind Apple Game Sprockets...
He did a bunch of work on interactive drama (wrote script for MacWorld
CD-ROM game of the year in 1993), before he decided it just didn't work.
Spends a lot of free time now lecturing on multi-player/virtual world
stuff. For a day job he works as Director of Product Development for ThinkFish,
an artistic rendering company that recently merged with Viewpoint Datalabs.
He could show you the secret desktop software he's working on, but then
he'd have to kill you.