The ESRB and video game violence

HOME Forums Ken Williams Questions and answers / Thanks Forum The ESRB and video game violence

Viewing 2 reply threads
  • Author
    • #24888 Reply

      Ken, this debate has been ongoing for some time, and I’d like to know your take on the situation since you have been tightly involved with the gaming community.

      For years now there has been a lot of talk about video game violence and its effect on children and adults. By some standards we have become a more violent society, and that has some people pointing fingers at the video game industry. In 1994 the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was established as a self-regulatory group to rate video games on their violence and adult themes. Yet, in the wake of tragedies like Columbine and cases of children blaming his/her behavior on video games, some are lobbying for stricter controls or all out censorship of video games.

      I know that in the past Sierra put out a lot of great titles that were enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. Did you make a conscious effort to makes games as family friendly as possible and shy away from using violence unless it truly fit within the storyline? Did you or Sierra have any part in the formation of the ESRB?

      And on the broader topic, what do you think of lawsuits like the one in Knoxville, Tenn. alleging that a violent video game caused two boys to commit criminal acts? Do you believe that the ESRB ratings are working, or do you think we need stricter controls on video games?

      A link to the Grand Theft Auto lawsuit

    • #24889 Reply

      (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.

    • #24890 Reply

      (re: re: The ESRB and video game violence) I think this really does depend on who plays the game. Myself, I probably played many violent games throughout my life and I was not affected enough to go out and hurt people.
      However, violence is not ‘essential’ towards making a game creative and popular. Games like Mario and King’s Quest managed to remain very popular games without hardly any use of violence….at least not excessive killing (unless you really like turtles and are offended by jumping on them). There are tons of games which use non-realistic violence and can do a better job than games were you are told to decapitate a victim in full detail.
      No-one should take games too seriously anyway. You should treat it as Ken said, a movie, and just enjoy it and have fun. You don’t need to actually start acting like the game character or anything. Maybe parent’s should not give really young kids violent games like shooters until they are old enough to know better.

Viewing 2 reply threads
Reply To: The ESRB and video game violence
Your information: