So New York is about to pass a bill hoping to help keep children from being exposed to violence in videogames. It’s probably going to end up in courts on grounds of violating freedom of speech, and that’s as it should be. It’s completely ridiculous for these legislators to be regulating something about which they know nothing*.
But honestly, I do think there is a problem there. Kids are impressionable, and as much as we (meaning gamers) joke about how they’ve had minimal if any effect on the way we act in the real world, we don’t really know how we would be affected if we were kids now. There was violence in videogames when we were kids, too… but it seems to me that Contra and Gears of War may have different degrees of influence on young minds. At the very least, they certainly have widely differing levels of graphical realism.
Violence will have its place in videogames for a long time to come (definitely for the forseeable future), because as game designers have said, it is the easiest type conflict to model, and without conflict there is little to a game or story. Many games attempt to soften the impact of their violence painting the world in black and white (like most entertainment-oriented films), with absolute “good guys” and “bad guys” (and the more alien the “bad guys” look, the more acceptable the violence is to the general populace). The ones that don’t attempt to soften the blow, some of which are the ones that may arguably contain some interesting social commentary, are the ones that are considered the most controversial.
But violence in games is a crutch. There will be less of it when we start to figure out good ways to model more complex forms of conflict in games. It will not be gone entirely in the same way it’s not gone entirely from film, or novels, and it probably shouldn’t be. It would be good for us if there were stories presented in games that more accurately portrayed the consequences of violence. And as the game industry matures, we will see more and more different kinds of stories being told.
That said, the government can’t make people be good parents. They had a panel at GDC last year called “Murder, Sex, and Censorship” and if you haven’t already, you should read this excellent article about it.
I like the quote pointed out by Matthew Sakey in the article. It is true:
There will be a time when video games will be recognized as saving lives…
— Joseph Saulter
*I’ve been going back and reading the Penny Arcade archives from the beginning, since I didn’t actually start reading it until fairly recently. Great stuff! : )