Video Games: Catalyst to Violence or Innocent Bystander?

In the new American age of materialism and getting bigger, faster electronics, the role of video games as entertainment and American past time has developed rapidly. As the industry moved from the millions into billions of dollars in revenue, along came the scrutiny and finger-pointing. The first generation of gamers was composed mostly of kids, and although some chose to drop the childhood hobby, many kept on playing into their twenties and thirties. In the new millennium, less than 45 percent of gamers are children under the age of 18 (Children and Teens).

People want sex and violence; after a long day of school, eight hours of consuming information, most people aren’t content with educational or informational games. They want to be excited and get their nerves pumping. A compelling game of football could do that, as would a classic shoot-em-up thriller. A simple game of solitaire or chess just doesn’t entertain like it used to.
In order to understand whether or not children turn violent playing video games it is important to understand what titles they are playing, as well as the content in those games. Mature rated games are becoming more and more popular and currently about one-third of all video games purchased carry the “M” rating. The description given to a Mature “M” rated game is as follows: “Content may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older.

May contain mature sexual themes or more intense violence or language.” An “M” rated game is intended for a mature audience as the title instructs, but that doesn’t mean that youth have a problem purchasing such material. The Federal Trade Commission conducted a survey in 2001 and found that seventy-eight percent of unaccompanied children ranging from thirteen to sixteen were able to buy Mature-rated games and the figure remained above seventy percent even in stores that had programs to stop underage buyers from doing just that(Children and Teens).

Those unsuccessful at the retailer “carding” them could easily maneuver around this minor inconvenience by logging onto EBay or any other online store where age restrictions are very difficult to enforce. These ratings are not laws enforced by the government; they are merely guidelines, as the video game industry in the United States voluntarily rates its own games (Zarozinski). If kids are given the choice, they want to play the games that are high stress, up-beat, and action-packed.

A study done amongst seventh and eighth graders showed that forty-nine percent would choose to play a violent game. Another twenty-nine percent would rather play a sports related game; while a mere two percent of children surveyed preferred to play an educational game (Hatcher). Perhaps our culture’s move toward a more academic school day has pushed these children to steer clear of informational games, or maybe it’s just part of our human nature as kids to want to do what we’re not supposed to; maybe the problem runs deeper into the decay of an entire country.

The real world and the virtual world are two very different places, or are they? Graphics in computer related games have become jaw-dropping over the past thirty years. “The Fact is that games today are about more than just providing gameplay; they are about creating digital worlds and characters that can transport players far away from our often-dreary day-to-day lives”(Helgeson). The point has been reached that viewers can hardly distinguish the variants between an actual NFL broadcast and a game of Madden NFL 2005 being played by their son in the family room on a Sunday afternoon. People want to escape their lives and take on the role of another character in another world.

They want to experience things they never would in an office space cubical or in a college chemistry class; most of all they want to have fun. Sure, the picture may seem real, but that image in the television is no more real than your reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“I suggest that those concerned with video game violence attend a boxing match and watch people cheer as a man is hammered to the floor, then watch children sitting on a couch, pushing buttons as animated gladiators die on-screen. Perhaps then people will realize that an animated spear is better than a real fistâÂ?¦” (Herold)

The fact still remains that there is a significant violence issue in the United States. In 1992 handguns alone killed over 13,000 people in the United States; compared to thirty-six in Great Britain and thirteen in Australia (Youth Violence Statistics). The United States also can shamefully boast the highest juvenile homicide rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Not only are children harming others more, they are committing suicide at a rate 400 percent higher than in 1950.

The rise of electronics and the integration of video games into an every day activity for youth has caused blame to fall on the increased violent nature of video games (Violent Kids Statistics). Violence has increased and violence in video games has increased so these ideas are exceptionally rational, but is this a mere coincidence? When the entertainment industry began to rise, the role of family in childhood development began to demise in American culture. Who really educated the youthful generations in morals and who raised them to be a good human?

The parents were nearby in some cases, but MTV and Comedy Central had a more dominant role in their development than the parents even considered. Contemporary parents don’t want to have and raise a family; they want to build a friend who will keep them young. That alone may seem tragic, but often times that’s a positive and best case scenario compared to the alternatives. In this world, children are lucky to end up with one parent present physically and the others presence felt financially. “The odds that children will come to harm increase the further away they are from the care of their biological parents” (Violent Kids Statistics).

To say that violence in video games and in the media is the soul cause of the rise in the violent nature of children is absurd and uninformed. To say that humans have become more barbaric is quite simply false. Today kids play games about samurai warriors, football stars, army soldiers and Roman gladiators. This is a giant leap forward considering that it wasn’t all that long ago that thousands gathered at the Roman Coliseum to witness the live duel to the death between to living creatures. Despite this, violence is not good for kids to see or take part in, but there are stages in human development where more mature themes can be appreciated properly.

The younger the child exposed to extreme and mature content they cannot handle, the more costly the damage will be on their development as a human. There is a rating system for a reason and the system simply sets guidelines. It should be up to the government to make sure that minors aren’t allowed to purchase questionable content in a media unless their guardian is present and approving.

The problem in American culture is not in the content of the media; it’s the fact that for the vast majority of American households the media and electronics have completely replaced parenting and quality family relations, rather than just supplementing it. There is no substitute for a loving family environment and parents who want to raise a fine human being, rather than build a buddy.

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