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On Violence

by Craig Ellsworth on 02/28/12 08:53:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Growing up, I played DOOM, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros., MYST, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The 7th Guest, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Warcraft, and a ton of other videogames without much in common.

I made no discriminations, no categorizations based on genre, because genre was a foreign concept to me. I didn't care what the rating was (half of my childhood was spent without a videogame rating system anyway), and I certainly made no distinction between violent and non-violent games.

I played DOOM and Mortal Kombat when I wanted to, and MYST when I wanted to. DOOM has you mowing down zombies and demons with machine guns and rocket launchers, and MYST is about a hair more violent than a Sunday crossword puzzle.

The violence held no attraction or repulsion for me. The middle-of-the-road games, like Sonic the Hedgehog games, where you stomp things, but with no blood, were just as much fair play. There was no road to be in the middle of. Only now as I write this am I placing these games along that line.

And as far as I can tell, the violent games made me no more aggressive than the non-violent ones. No difference. In fact, I was hardly aggressive at all, ever.

I was bullied, not the bully. I never killed anything larger than a spider, and usually at that age I'd have to call my dad in to kill it for me.

When I dreamed of killing, which was extremely rare (and I think didn't happen until my teenage years), I always found myself physically unable to kill. My body in my dreams would not cooperate and allow me to kill, and I always felt a sense of dread while trying. I don't know what that says about me psychologically, but there you have it.

I'll pause here to say that, yes, plenty of studies have been done to show no correlation between videogame violence and youth aggression, but since so many people distrust science these days, and put their faith in anecdotal evidence, this is my own eyewitness testimony to put on the heap.

So for me, violence meant nothing. Indeed, I was allowed to watch rated R movies when I was young. I remember walking into the living room at about age six while my dad was watching Conan the Barbarian, full of blood and heads being chopped off. That Christmas I got an NES.

As far as I can tell, I didn't turn out too bad.

When I was that young, I didn't care about the graphics or the level of detail. The family that babysat me had an Atari 2600, and I enjoyed the games on that just as much as I enjoyed the latest games for Sega Genesis or Windows 95.

Violence was something I simply took no notice of, and I bet none of my friends noticed either.

Recently I heard a story about how some parent with an adopted child was playing Portal 2 with said child, and at one point a robot made fun of the player for being adopted. The parent was taken aback. The child "swore she didn't hear anything." I doubt that, but I think it's her way of saying "It's not a big deal, dad, let it go."

Children simply don't have any problem with videogames the way parents do. They don't have a problem with music, movies, or any other form of entertainment. No child is going to object to Harry Potter for having witchcraft in it unless their parents drill it into their head to be scared of it.

Parents hear about school shootings, and the old media blames videogames, so parents are quick to do the same. Then it always comes to light that the children who commit mass murder aren't fans of videogames, or play them no more than anyone else.

Maybe it's the fault of overprotective parents that shelter their kids from the real world. Maybe when kids suddenly get a taste of life, they are so unprepared that they go nuts.

I'd like to see research done onthat.

But that's beside the point, I think.

Because lots of people will still object and say "But but but when my kid plays games, he gets angry!" Yeah, maybe he does, but it's not the violence that does it.

Here's my hypothesis: it's the difficulty of the game being played, not the level of violence that makes kids aggressive.

I get pissed off when I'm playing a game and can't get past some spot that's way outside of the difficulty curve. It frustrates me, even as an adult, so much that I want to smash my keyboard or throw the controller at the TV. It's just the same as if you're watching a movie, getting really into it, forgetting you're even watching a movie, and suddenly the DVD starts to skip. That's basically what it's like to get stuck in a videogame: your game essentially gets stuck at one spot, breaking your flow, breaking your enjoyment, breaking your suspension of disbelief, and you get angry.

If you pay attention to kids playing games, maybe you'll find out that that's the case with them, too.

That would be an appropriate study. Have kids play the same game on different difficulty settings and see if they get angrier as they lose more often. Frustration is a big cause of aggression, I can tell you that.

Don't blame game makers for putting too much violence in their games; blame game makers for making games too difficult and frustrating. Or better yet, don't blame them at all, just don't let your kids playing games that are too difficult.

Maybe we should redesign our rating system to be based on difficulty, so kids can't buy games that will make them scream in frustration.

To read this article with pictures and jokes, as well as to read other articles, reviews, development logs, etc., stop by

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