The first thing is the "right" part. Let me get straight to the point: featuring something doesn't mean you think it's right. Take the 1998 game One Unit Whole Blood. There's more to this game then the strange title. In it you play as Caleb, a former senior member of demon worshiping cabal, which he is now trying to destroy. The game is one of the creepiest and scariest things I've ever played. In it, there are shocking depictions of of horrible, horrible torture, frequent cannibalism (it's implied that Caleb is a cannibal as well, since "health" comes in the form of beating hearts that you presumably eat), demon worship, and despicable, highly immoral acts, both by you and your enemies. Add in a copious amount of blood, from enemies and the random torture pits you'll find in levels, stick it all in a blender, put it on the "90's pixelated graphics" setting, and you get Blood. It's a game with revoltingly strong content. Truth be told, I'm not really a horror person, and as such I've given up on playing this game because it's too scary for me (which is actually too bad, because it's an amazing game from a design perspective). Now with all that said, tell me; how many people who were teens in the late 90's have turned into demon worshiping cannibals who torture people and commit horrid acts of violence and cruelty? Hmmm? Blood doesn't teach the people who play it that it's content is "right." In fact, if anything, it does the exact opposite. The game is full of pop culture references and dark humor. One of the enemies is the severed hand of Bruce Campbell's character in Evil Dead II that says "I'll swallow your soul! I'll swallow your soul!" over and over in a nigh comical voice. Caleb can kick zombies off a train and say "Get off my train!" when he does. The game knows it's over the top, and that shows. This is a very subtle artistic element that helps the player know that, no, the game isn't saying that it's "right." As a player, I was revolted at the horrific things I saw in the game, but I knew that what I was seeing was "wrong," morally, ethically, and in every other way, and the game showed me it knew that too (the dark humor wasn't quite enough to stop me from being too frightened to play it. Those fish monsters...). I would never do anything I saw in that game (as much as I'd like to that I, too, could take down an evil cabal), despite supposedly being taught that the things in it are "right."
Now, another variation of the statement says "okay" instead of "right," which makes the meaning differ somewhat. When something is "okay," it's not morally/ethically "right," but it's not "wrong" either. I say that this is also wrong. I clearly knew in the case of Blood that those things were outright "wrong." Again, as evidenced by the lack of demon-worshiping, torturous, cannibalistic college students, I'd say that other people knew this too. But what about different games, like, say, Unreal Tournament, which is set in a future where gladiator fights have started again and people fight for corporations. Though you never actually see these things in the game, supposedly the back story is that all the gladiators are fighting (and consequently killing) each other either for money or freedom from prison. But does it teach that those things are "okay?" There isn't really much dark humor to offset it, so is this game actually "sincere" in its message, unlike Blood? Well, the first thing to point out is that many of these games rarely have a "message." I know that's only in there because of my own statement, but since you'll also often hear people say "games message of violence," I thought it okay to include. You see, games (often) have narratives, stories, plotlines, whatever. But, just like a short story or a book, games don't have to have a message. These aren't fables giving kids a moral lesson, they're games. Just like Blood doesn't have a "message" of demon worshiping, Unreal Tournament doesn't have a "message" of gladiator violence. But this is an aside. You can tell just from the fact that the player never sees any money transfers, prisons, or anything along those lines that the game isn't saying these things are okay. The game never even acknowledges them outside the opening cutscene! It isn't saying that they are right or wrong. They're just there.
On to the second most important thing, the "teaching" part. In the last section, I tried to to focus more on the right and wrong side of things, but perhaps right and wrong have no meaning if they aren't being taught at all. And that's something I really want to stress here. Games don't teach anything. As I said at the end of the last section, they just are. Games just exist. Does Assassin's Creed teach gamers how to assassinate people? Um, someone should try apply what they've "learned" from the game and tell me how well it works out. Does stealing something in the game Thief somehow teach me that stealing is the right thing to do? Not really. It's the objective of the game (aside from sneaking around and just being generally awesome). It's what I do in it. Does the fact that the game includes stealing mean that I'm being taught stealing is right? No, of course not. Humans are smart enough creatures to know that just because they see something happen doesn't mean it's right, or that they'll know how or be able to (psychologically, I mean) do that same thing.
Something I haven't mentioned up till now is the issue of desensitization. To define it real quickly, basically when something that should bother you (like violence) no longer bothers you or bothers you less, you have been desensitized to it. Now, for all those gamers in denial out there, I'm sorry. Desensitization does exist. Accept it. However, desensitization it hardly the problem it is made out to be. Yes, I have less of an averse reaction to seeing someone get shot. Does that mean I'll go out and shoot someone? No. Does that mean that the millions of other people who play video games with shooting are going to go out and shoot someone? No. Desensitization is not a stimulant. It doesn't make you more inclined to do something. It's the opposite of a stimulant. It reduces your reaction to something. For example, I'm desensitized to swearing and bad language. Its use in media and by High School/College students is so ubiquitous that it'd be impossible to not be desensitized. And yet, I don't swear, not even in anger. Just because it's being done in front of me doesn't mean I'm going to do it too. And furthermore, desensitization is not just present in games. A typical action movie these days has just as much violence as a typical FPS. Heck, it's possible that my own desensitization has been more the result of TV shows than it has games. Tying this back in, though, games may contain objectionable content. They may desensitize us to things. But they don't necessarily encourage or teach us to do those things.
|Baccano! How on earth did YOU get in here?!|
For one, the game tells you that you should skip that level (and gives you the option to) if you're uncomfortable with that kind of stuff, but that's not why I facepalm at people complaining about it. People say that kids shouldn't be exposed to that. You know what? I agree. And so does the ESRB. That's why:
|See that? "M." IT SAYS "M" FOR MATURE RIGHT ON THE BOX.|
|Say no, kids.|
What do you think? Is violence in games unacceptable? And if so, why is it okay in movies (or do you just think that it shouldn't be in any media)? Do you have a different reason for disliking violence in video games than the reasons in the statement? Or do you agree with me? Sound off in the comments!