- Sam Hawkwood
Over the past several years, games have received a lot of attention because of their content. Ever since the advent of the truly interactive video game – especially first person shooter games – people have been looking for signs that such media has a negative effect on. Games that are seen as violent have come under a lot of scrutiny and never more so when some tragedy happens and the perpetrator is known to play violent video games. In this paper, I will be looking at the effects that video games have had on society and I will come to the conclusion if they are good or bad for us.
Gaming has gone from something that only nerds do to an activity that more enjoy than not. Rather than something that was regarded as the domain of ‘computer geeks’, it’s become a common activity that people of all ages are finding not only fun but acceptable. During the 80s and 90s, most games were generally all child-friendly and puzzle based, with little in the way of variety and realism, however over the past twenty years, gaming has taken a big leap into more mature games. This can be easily seen in the leap from games like Pac-Man and Mario Bros to Halo and Grand Theft Auto; such a change in little under a generation has had a big impact on society.
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The largest impact more modern games have had are in how they are perceived by the public. With the rate of tragedies such as shootings rising, the media has often blamed video games. There have been several shootings that have been blamed on video games in the past decade; for example, the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut was initially blamed on the popular game series Mass Effect. As stated some time after the shooting, in which 28 people lost their lives, 24 year old Ryan Lanza was named as the killer (US News). In reality, it was his brother who had stolen his ID card on his way to the school. As soon as Ryan Lanza was wrongfully named the shooter, Facebook users found his profile and learned that he was a fan of the massive hit from Bioware, the previously mentioned Mass Effect. Immediately, thousands of people went to the game’s Facebook page and blamed the shooting on the game. Even after Ryan was cleared as the killer, Facebook users continued to blame the game, despite the fact that the true killer, Adam Lanza, had had a history of obsessive-compulsive behavior and a fascination with mass shootings, and had not even been a serious player of video games and didn’t consider them as particularly interesting. When it comes to a situation like this, video games were wrongly attacked. Although we could assume something else would be blamed if the wasn’t any gaming involved. In the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, when Adam was 16, his mother took him out of school and supposedly started to homeschool him, although it was later found that he was not getting any education after his removal from school (US News).
In 2011 the Valve game Portal 2 was accused of making fun of adopted children (Pcr).
With no real violence, guns, swearing or nudity to speak of, you would have thought that this game would fly under the radar of the media. But unfortunately for Valve, this was not the case. Part way through the game, the primary antagonist taunts the player and says “fatty, fatty no parents”. This is clearly meant to be a joke and Valve has said that no offense was meant. This is very understandable since the voice actor for this character is the English comedian Stephen Merchant. According to WBTV News, the adopted daughter and father play the game often and when the father heard the line, he immediately turned off the game, hoping his adopted daughter didn’t hear it. In a game that is very education and rated E For Everyone. WBTV News even contacted Sony, the distributors of the game. Sony told WBTV News to contact Valve, the developers of the game. But WBTV has said that Valve has not responded (Pcr). With most people of the gaming community blaming the father for overreacting to a joke, it is hard to say how this has effected society. As small of an event as this is, who knows how this could effect the future of the Portal series.
In January of 2010, the British Medical Journal published an article about how video games are causing rickets to effect UK children (Cnet). According to the research, more children are staying inside and lacking vitamin D. The inactivity causes their bones to soften, leading to a physical deformity. “Kids tend to stay in more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air. This means that their vitamin D levels are worse than in previous years,” (Cnet). According to an article by online information technology website www.cnet.com, video game developers should make their protagonists “losers” (Cnet). Matyszczyk asked, “How about we talk to the makers of Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft, and the rest into making versions in which characters with vitamin D deficiency, in one way or another, losers?” While there is no real evidence to support this idea being fake, there isn’t any evidence to disprove it. So while this idea could be true, most of the gaming community brushed it off as an excuse from parents who don’t know how to teach their child. This effect of society has the potential to be big, but it was a small story to begin with and unless this can be proven, we will likely never hear of this again.
So far, I have given examples of times where games have effected society, in a negative way (regardless of a story’s popularity). There have still been multiple articles written about how video games are good for society and even your health.
According to a Forbes article from November 2013 (Shapiro, J., 4 Reasons Video Games Are Good For Your Health (According To American Psychological Association), p.01), there are at least four ways that video games can improve your health. The article written by Jordan Shapiro states that playing “First Person Shooters” can improve your cognitive skills. In controlled tests, people who played “First Person Shooters” showed faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation. Apparently, the improvement in spacial skills that game players develop are comparable to those developed in formal courses designed to teach the same skills. There also seems the be convincing evidence that playing enhances problem solving skills, and improves creativity. “Among a sample of almost 500 12 year-old students, video game playing was positively associated with creativity.” (Forbes)
Another point made by Shapiro is that “Contrast to stereotypes, the average gamer is not a socially isolated, inept nerd.” (Forbes) Many of today’s gamers are not loners at all. In fact, gaming brings people together. The whole point of online gaming is working with other people to accomplish a unified goal. The Mario Bros. games have a strong co-op mode for people to play together and work together. There are other parts of online gaming that put you and your friends up against other players.
When it comes to violence in gaming, there is no scientific evidence that proves that playing violent games makes you violent. In fact, there is a lot of proof showing how playing violent video games can make you a better person. A study from the University of Buffalo led by professor Matthew Gizzard, PhD, states “Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity.” (TheDailyBeast) Gizzard points out that when the player’s gaming session was over, he worked to identify and assess players’ feelings of guilt. “The research with video games is so polarizing,” Gizzard said. “You see people arguing that video games are the worst thing that ever happened to society. You have some people arguing that it it leads to school shootings. On the other side of the equation, you have people saying video games are going to be this cure for all sorts of societal ills.” (TheDailyBeast)
It is still hard to say whether or not video games have been good or bad for society. There have been many many moments where games have done some bad, but there are also many times where games have been great for people. The effect video games have on people can vary. Most people would see it as a fake world where nothing in there is related to the real world. Some people see video games as simulator of real life. When people wrongly blame video games for a shooting, it is almost just like saying that television would melt your brain in the 40s and 50s. It seems to be pinning the blame on something that you don’t fully understand. I do not believe that video games have been bad for society.
In fact, I believe that they have allowed us to go into a new age of technology. But if people continue to see video games as evil, then maybe it shows that we aren’t ready for that type of technology.
My conclusion is that I believe video games have been, and, for a while to come, will be beneficial for human survival. I have given several examples of how video gaming has been given a ‘hard rap’ for many negative aspects of society, and how studies seem to show this is in fact not the case. We must realize we are leaving the analog age of entertainment and entering the digital age. Video gaming is a very big part of this digital age we must be careful not to quickly put blame onto something in society simply because it is not fully understood or appreciated.
Fox, L. (2013, Nov. 25). Report: Sandy Hook Shooter Adam Lanza was Obsessed with Mass Shootings. U.S. News. Retrieved from URL http://www.usnews.com/
Magnusson, H. (2014, Mar. 02). Report: 5 Riediculous Things the Media Blamed Video Games for. Cracked. Retrieved from URL http://www.cracked.com/
Zawacki, K. (2014, Jul. 04) Report: Playing Violent Video Games Makes You a Better Person, Study Says. TheDailyBeast. Retrieved from URL http://www.thedailybeast.com
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