Is Video Game Violence Going Too Far?

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Answered by: Ashlee, An Expert in the Games - Matters and Culture Category
New Generation of Video Game Violence

Matthew Brennan dabbles in murder, warfare, and the occasional prostitute. His knowledge of weaponry exceeds his knowledge of any current political event but he can tell you with certainty how to get off a clean headshot when avoiding enemy fire.

At the tender age of 20, Brennan experienced all of this through the magic of video games.

"I'm able to be all these different people, you know. Different situations, stories, and whatever. Plus, they're fun."

Brennan speaks distractedly, pacing the shelves of his local game store.

"I've just beaten Call of Duty and the online play is getting a bit boring,” he says. I’m looking for something new."

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was the most popular game in 2009 and sold well over 10 million copies - and that's only in the United States. Its successor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, was released in late 2010 and is quickly becoming the bestselling video game of all time.

However, this gun-heavy video game has not drawn universal praise.

Its premise is an all-out nuclear war against countries such as Russia and Afghanistan, and the violence is brutal. In one of the game's most controversial levels, players control an undercover soldier who is forced to take part in a civilian massacre at a Russian airport.

Armed with a machine gun, they mercilessly shoot at women, children, and other civilians as they scream in horror.

Brennan recalls this level and admits the shock he experienced when he first played it.

"You know, you're usually killing people but not innocent people like that,” he says, grabbing a game off of the rack. “It was kinda weird. I feel better killing people who are armed," he says, grabbing a game off the sale rack.

"But you know, that level is optional. You don't have to do it."

Yet, according to the American Psychological Association, video game violence is connected to “increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect.” Craig A. Anderson, a professor and director at Iowa States University’s Center for the Study of Violence, is prevailing figure in the fight against violent media. In his book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents, Anderson tackles the “basic scientific fact that exposure to violent video games constitute a significant risk factor for later aggressive and violent behavior.” He argues that more legislative action needs to be done to protect children from overtly violent media, as numerous studies have uncovered the various negative consequences on an adolescent’s psyche and personality.

Tamara Stuart couldn’t agree more.

Her son, Elijah, is only 13 and she strictly forbids him from playing games that she doesn’t buy for him. “As a parent, you have to be concerned about your child’s interest changing from skateboarding to spending hours killing other people,” she says, “but there’s only so much you can do.” Tamara attempts to keep her house filled only with games she has chosen, but Elijah often plays violent video games at his friends’ houses.

“You try to keep them safe, but he’s getting more rebellious and knows way too much about things he shouldn’t, like different battles in different wars and such. I don’t think he’ll become too violent, but I do worry a little,” she says.

But Brennan believes it is unfair and biased to blame video games.

"You know," he says, "we're just being assaulted because video games are the newest form of entertainment and old people just hate that. You see the same violence in movies and books but you show someone's head get blown off in a video game and it's suddenly the end of the world."

But not all gamers share that view.

John Barsalou, 19, who has played everything from Super Mario to the nearly-banned Manhunt 2, believes that some games go too far.

"Okay, yeah, some video games are about killing people. It's war and it happens,” he says. “But a game about strolling the streets, sleeping with hookers, and then killing them for no apparent reason? It's portrayed in a way that makes it seem okay." he says.

Barsalou’s reference is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game where players collect weapons and kill anyone they meet, using the stolen money to upgrade their cars and sleep with prostitutes.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board's ratings strive to keep the more violent games away from the younger children, but Barsalou admits that he doesn't pay attention when he plays the more violent games around his friend's younger brother.

"I should be more careful, I know. But he wants to hang with us, do what the big kids are doing."

The controversy about his beloved games still bothers Brennan, who says critics overreact. “Honestly, there is nothing in these games that we have seen on the news or something – I don’t see the issue,” he complains, reading the back of a box detailing an upcoming game about a fictional war against a unified Korea.

Smiling, Brennan walks to the register to preorder the game, only to be told it may not be released due to the sensitive subject material.

Noticeably irritated, he turns around. “Some people,” he says, “like to ruin all of the fun.”

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