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Violence in Videogames, Part 1: The Early Medium

© / 2003 All rights reserved


This article does not attempt to resolve the debate on either side of the issue of videogame violence, but rather attempts defining a different context in which the debate might be discussed or viewed. The author claims no superior academic or authoritative expertise in the subject of videogame violence, thus this article is written strictly as an opinion piece.

The author hopes to show the game design community, as well as the public at large interested in the subject historical, market and design criteria in which violence (in videogames and in general entertainment) would be seen in terms of dramatic development criteria and market sensitivity, perhaps shedding light on why particular design choices are made.

To avoid being misconstrued or having my opinions taken out of context let me state for the record I do not advocate violence of any kind, but accept and tolerate the lawful application of force when all other reasonable attempts to remedy an issue justly and legally have been exhaustively attempted and have failed, and that violence occurs in humans naturally as a result of our evolution, cultures and environments. I recognize violence has a vast historical precedence of use both lawfully and not, and the statements herein attempt only to understand it and share my views on the subject.

I had been working on this article for awhile, and thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject, but recently, events occurred casting the subject material I had been gathering perspectives on and researching in a new light. Last June, in Tennessee, two teenagers who had been playing Grand Theft Auto took shotguns out of their home, drove to a local highway, and shot people to death. They told police they had been emulating that game. Emulating. It was a behavioral term before it was a technical one.

Violence in videogames is the subject of much discussion, debate, legislative and legal action. It is undergoing the same vetting process that violence in TV, and violence in other media such as the world wide web, film and music have experienced before it.

Videogames are like other media, but with one difference. Though media had enormous influence on young and old for centuries, videogames have something other mediums don't: interactivity.

Does interactivity make violence in videogames more influential than violence in other media, or does it just more pronouncely reflect behavioral choices a player would make anyway in other entertainment media or sports/recreational activities that contain violence as well, as in the historical examples I will cite? Let's take a look.

This question simply can no longer be ignored, legally avoided, marginalized or misconstrued by critics anymore. If there was one art form that needed to be taken more responsibly by its creators, it is the greatest one that has ever come along, interactive computer entertainment.

There is no question that interactivity, considered by credible experts to be the reason for computing in the first place, is one of the most powerful tools for perceptual experience ever invented, which has positive and negative applications.

You could say the same is true for living. But we have a long way to go with both, as we shall see. The question in my mind is not when will we start - we already have - but when will positive effective results manifest?

Results that will not affect our industry negatively in ways it has other industries, like tobacco, petro-chemical, asbestos, automobile and tire industries, but will affect our customers postitively like healthcare, education and public service industries do.

The Early Medium

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