I play a lot of violent games-in fact, looking at my shelf of PS3 and 360 games, 14 out of 15 of my games contain at least “Cartoon Violence.” I have a ten year old brother who plays many of these games, but I also make sure that he avoids the worst of the bunch. Some (California State Senator Leland Yee for example) would say that I have no relevant opinion in this debate. I would agree, but not because of my consumption of violent media. I have no relevant opinion because I am a legal permanent resident, and therefore have no voting power. Nonetheless, I will voice my opinion, in the hope that it will influence others.
Violent games are different from violent movies and music. In the movies and music, and just about any other form of media, the consumer is witnessing the violence. In video games, the consumer is directly causing the violence, and taking joy from it. When I killed Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, it was personal. I wanted him dead. I wanted to take my pistol’s bayonet and gut him with it. I hate Handsome Jack, and killing him felt good. After killing him I went downstairs, got a bowl of cereal and watched Nickelodeon with my brother. A little while later I hugged him and told him goodnight and that I love him. I went from a deep, satisfying rage to a calm loving feeling in the space of a few minutes. I was able to do this because I have a (somewhat) mature mind, and I am able to separate the game from reality. I understand, not just on a logical level, but instinctively, that the image on my screen is a separate reality from the one in my home. Yes, that image can illicit real emotion from me, but a healthy, adult person can separate those emotions from real life. The issue is not with the games, it is with the players.
The massive majority of people who play violent games are able to separate the game from reality, but there are some who can’t. For the most part they are young children, but in some cases they are adults with mental health problems. The children are, for the most part, protected from these games by their parents and the stringent regulations of the ESRB and video game retailers. There are, of course, exceptions. I have seen parents buy Saints Row: The Third for a five year old. It is a decision that is undoubtedly unhealthy for the child, but if a parent is that apathetic towards the games their children play, then violent games are the least of that child’s problems. The problem becomes much more serious when adults who experience no restrictions when buying games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto cannot separate the game from reality. In those situations, we have to ask: Is the solution a more stringent regulation of the entire video game industry, or would an attempt to improve our mental health care system be better?
Would regulating the video game industry even prevent those situations? What regulations would be imposed? A tax on violent games? That would only anger everyone who plays the games. A legally mandated age requirement? That would not only fail to solve the issue at hand, but it would be redundant. The ESRB already regulates the industry based on age. A ban on violent games? That would solve the issue, but at the expense of a massive industry that pushed the boundaries of technology, entertains millions, and is incredibly stubborn. Prohibition didn’t work on alcohol, and it won’t with violent games either.
The only viable solution is to look at our mental health care system. We need to do what we can to help those who need it, rather than blaming video games. I won’t claim that shooting virtual representations of strangers over the internet is a glamorous hobby, or that it is productive. What I will say is that it is fun, and harmless to the vast majority of us that enjoy it. It sickens me that video games have been scapegoated the way they have, not because I believe video games should be regarded as literature, but because by blaming games, we are overlooking our real problems-real problems that are far harder to deal with. Telling parents that we need to ban games because they corrupt their children with sex and violence is easy. When good parents hear that, they instinctively protect their children. Telling a nation that we are allowing some of our citizens, often those that need the most help, to fend for themselves is hard. Especially when those citizens, as a result of the mental illness that went unnoticed or untreated, walk into a school and kill small children.
We need to be raising awareness about mental health and trying to help those who really need it, not playing the blame game.