Reply To: The ESRB and video game violence

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(re: The ESRB and video game violence) There is no doubt in my mind that people learn from the games they play. It’s tough for me to believe that anyone argues against this.
Sierra didn’t make violent games because I didn’t like them. I did ultimately approve Half-Life, but it was a tough decision, and not one that I would make today (post Columbine).
I saw the lawsuit. I am anti-censorship, but I have very different feelings about what is appropriate for a mature adult, and what is appropriate for a 10, or 13, year old child.
Theoretically, if the rating system is working, games can be published with mature, or violent, content and their distribution restricted to adults. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Store clerks don’t check IDs, and many parents don’t care what games their kids play.
I am VERY opposed to censorship. However, I have come to the point where there needs to be some common-sense legislation. The tricky part is who decides what is appropriate, and who defines what is appropriate.
For instance, It seems clear to me that films such as Shindlers List, or Saving Private Ryan should exist, yet these are just as violent as most computer games. I spent much of my life arguing that telling stories on a computer is just as important as telling them through film, and that the same rules of content, and breadth of content, should apply.
There are important distinctions between violent films, and a game in which the player runs (or drives) from place to place killing everyone in sight. In a film, there is a greater level of abstraction between the viewer and the characters in the film. Great films do make you identify with the characters, but not nearly to the level of a computer game. A great computer game makes the player a character within the game. Done correctly, a computer game becomes a simulation. It’s like a story-based version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Just as film works best when there is a “suspension of disbelief”, games work best when you literally become the protagonist in the game. Games are MUCH stronger than film, in that deep down, when watching a film, you know that ultimately the film is going to end the way that it ends. Nothing you can do is going to change the outcome. This is not true with a game. Games can be realistic simulations of synthetic worlds.
Films can, and do, change opinions. Computer games have even more power to do so. If you take a kid, particularly one whose value system is already a little out of whack, and then place them into a simulator (computer game) wherein they are given a gun, and told to shoot everyone in site, and then they are rewarded by both the computer simulation, and their fellow gamers, based on their success as a killer, and then send that kid out into the real world where they are perhaps teased by those around them, you have a VERY dangerous situation.
I do not intend to say that a normal kid can be turned into a killer by a computer game. Most of our value system comes from our parents and our peers. If 99% of what a kid sees/hears is sending the right message, then a violent computer game (or song, or book, or film) is not going to change their lives. On the other hand, if a youth, who was borderline anyhow, finds themselves respected, as the hero in a violent computer simulation, it could easily be the straw that breaks the camels back.
I am not a psychologist, nor am I a politician. I have no idea what a law would look like that I could support. For me, the key issue is the goal of the game or movie. Creators must understand the power they have to shape opinions, and the responsibilty that comes with this. If they reward, or glamorize, indiscriminate killing, then they shouldn’t be surprised when this conduct is repeated on the streets.