Violence in videogames and Moral Panic 17 replies

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#1 13 years ago

I realize that this is a somewhat old topic, however it is one that has been constant and unresolved throughout video game history and seems to be getting a lot of press these days. I am going to offer a new perspective to this argument that may answer the problem for some people and may create further problems for others. What I am talking about is, of course, the age-old argument; do videogames cause violence?

Firstly I should point out that I have just completed my master’s thesis on this topic and parts of this post are taken from it. That said I do not presume to have a greater knowledge of the subject, only that it is a topic that I have scrutinized as an academic subject. I do not present this as a solution but as a topic for public discussion.

I would argue that there have been three periods in history where video gaming violence has been brought into the public eye. The first was with arcades in the early 80s where the Surgeon General warned of there addictive nature and suggested that they where the cause of aberrant behavior among youths. The second was in the early 90s with the release of Mortal Combat that lead to the introduction of a standardized ratings system set up by the videogames industry (ESRB). Finally, the current problem that arose in the early 00s with the release of the GTA series and a surge of school shootings.

While the specifics have changed, the question has remained constantly polarized. Do videogames cause violence? Parents and public officials in a position of power suggest that they do, video gamers and industry insiders suggest that they don't and that there is a clear line between fantasy and reality in videogames. The problem is due to irresponsible parenting.

I believe that both arguments are inherently flawed because of the motivation behind them. The parents want to prevent their children growing up in a way that is radically different to how they were brought up. They have no frame of reference of how a child that is brought up on videogames should act. Therefore any abnormal behavior can be attributed to an influence that is most alien to them. The videogames industry is one of the largest in the world and the industry insiders and gamers will do anything to protect it. Videogames have not yet reached a point there they exist with a common identity in the public eye where video gamers can say that “GTA causes violence” without feeling as though they have somehow damaged the reputation of the industry.

This polarity is due to the fact that often the answer is presented within the problem. For example: “A 12 year old killed his friend after playing violent videogames for 12 hours straight”. The reason why video games have to be mentioned is because it is very difficult to explain why a child, by definition pure and innocent, would want to kill. The reason has to be that the child has been influenced by something else, like a videogame. The alternative suggests a much broader and deeper-rooted social problem that is much more difficult to deal with. For example, America’s attitude toward Guns or the use of violence as a means to solve disputes with foreign nations.

The concept of Moral Panic was developed in the late sixties by Stanley Cohen in Britain around the emergence of “The Teddy Boys, the Mods and Rockers, Skinheads and Hippies.” He developed the concept to explain the panic associated with the reaction to these patterns of youth subcultures. He defines the theory as follows:

‘Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of Moral Panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates... Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself.’ Cohen states that ‘One of the most recurrent types of Moral Panic in Britain since the war has been associated with the emergence of various forms of youth culture whose behavior is deviant or delinquent’

The most useful thing about the theory of Moral Panic is that it suggests that when the dangers of video gaming are presented to us as an urgent crisis, we should prevent ourselves from immediately taking sides. We should distance ourselves and realize that there are social realities to which these panics refer but they are being skewed in representation. This is to allow them to conform to an argument where the problem is seen as a pernicious threat to the social order and where one is forced to take sides.

By doing this we can order and manage broader social problems that cannot be acknowledged explicitly. These problems are then disavowed by blaming entities that exist on the margins of society. The media then fuel the panic by sensationalizing it by presenting the answer within the problem. Looking at the argument as a Moral Panic allows us to go looking for causes that are being disavowed.

To prove that there is a deep social problem being disavowed in America I will take the case of the videogame America’s Army. What is blindingly obvious from the game is that it is a piece of military propaganda directed towards children. It, arguably, reinforces violent actions with positive feedback and aids the desensitization towards a military lifestyle. Most importantly the game is freely downloadable. This bypasses any ratings system and delivers the game directly to a child. Given the warnings made throughout history by the U.S. government of the harmful effects of video game violence on children, one could surmise that this is a deliberate attempt to cause psychological damage to children for the benefit of the military.

This more sinister problem has not been identified because of the general social affirmation that military advertising is acceptable for children. This is possibly reinforced by the fact that military advertising is a daily occurrence in the U.S. Thus it represents the level of acceptance of violence within society.

What are your thoughts about looking at the problem as a Moral Panic? Do you agree or disagree with it? Does it help or does it just cause further problems?




Spiffy

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#2 13 years ago

No, I don't believe it is a moral panic, mainly because after going to work/school and getting chewed out by god knows how many people I get pissed. Not only that, but I have a few dogs that never shut the hell up. Video games are my way of chilling off and not bringing a gun into school and recreating Columbine. And besides if video games did cause problems, people from the pacman era would be walking around in the dark eating yellow balls and listening to repeating techno music (some Nintendo representative said that, but it's true). Also, we'd see thousands of children, teenagers, and adults walking down the street carrying guns and murdering people for no reason thanks to grand theft auto. Video games help, I've learned more about guns, cars, electricity, physics, etc., via video games than in school. But parents today feel that video games are causing problems with today's youth... You know why? Because the parents don't spend enough time with the children to fix these problems. They try to shield the kids from "foul" language, it's inevitable that they'll learn to use it. If parents would allow the kids to become familiar with it, it won't be such a shock to them later on in life. They need to teach them about all of the hardships and difficulties that they're going to face in life, not how Fluffy the bunny goes to the market and comes back with milk. Believe it or not but video games have taught me more than my parents have. My dad was always on the road, and my mom was always at bars. I only had my sister to do things with, and she played video games with me. She told me about the stuff that was possible, and the stuff that wasn't. I went on from there and studied video games more intuitively and learned from them. Video games don't cause problems, the parents do. I sorta went off topic, but I had to say that somewhere as it was building up inside of me.




metal_militia

Killing is my business...

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#3 13 years ago
eople from the pacman era would be walking around in the dark eating yellow balls and listening to repeating techno music

One of my favourite quotes ;) As for video game violence if i am not mistaken there are two main theroies; social learning and catharsis. The former being children learn from their experiences and may try and immitate voilence seen in games. The latter that latent aggression may be channeled into games instead of real life. Personally i support catarsis. Many times i have been able to release some anger onto an anonymous, computer generated mercinary instead of of another human bieng. Many people believe that social learning is correct but if so why are there not 12 million (aprox sales of GTA3) crazed murders walking the streets? The answer to this question must lie in the fact that other forces converge such as neuropsychological behaviour, parental failure, impoverished environments, violent environments, or even the profusion of guns in society. The real causes of voilence often take a back seat to what the media has decided to target, i.e. usually games. To debunk the theories that games are a majour contributor to violence you just have to take a look around. Violent games sell just as well in switzerland and japan as they do in the US but yet their murder rates pale in comparison to to those of the US. Inversely countries which consume very small quantities of violent media are plauged with horrrendus violence. How many Talaban grew up chuckin' quaters into a Mortal Kombat machine? how many rwandans grew up playing Doom2? I woubt many rwandans have even heard of Manhunt and yet you would be lucky to go a day without getting your head split open with a machette.




GreatGrizzly

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#4 13 years ago

games are an outlet for anger, or frusteration. Games dont make people killers. Whats interesting is that i learned more from playing games then any other source




Stahlbrand

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#5 13 years ago

Games would not make me kill. I would kill if I wanted to. I don't need a game to teach me or give me the idea. It's in my damn nature fucknuts (speaking to "the man"). Get a general aim and pull the trigger... wasn't so hard. Everyone needs scapegoats. Seeing how many people who play games in America are give the title geek or looser, it is only likely that the geek or looser will shoot up the school. Games simply delay the shootings. This sudden surge of school shootings is due to harsher peer-peer relationships. This scapegoat is nothing more then a small statistic. A classification of people who do something to vent their anger, however, cannot vent it all. But, www.pwned.nl (I know its a repost). Has a very funny look at why violence might be because of games. Word, shoot up your school when your HD gets fried. :S




General Rommel

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#6 13 years ago

Ive played games for many years and surprisingly i haveant killed someone yet. I play games mainley for the factor you can kill people. In real life you cant, so I take the oppurtunity :)




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#7 13 years ago

The general feeling seems to be that videogames are an outlet for aggression rather than a cause of it. I would question their long-term cathartic nature given that any social issues I have will remain unresolved after playing a videogame. I don't think that single player games apply to social learning theory either because I believe that that kind of learning requires interaction with people.

However I think videogames do desensitize. What are your views on this?




*Soviet.Power

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#8 13 years ago

I don't think video games cause violence, except in extreme cases, where there are other factors involved which have resulted in the violence - like family problems/school problems etc. My point here is, games do not make you kill people. Other situations/ problems make people kill other people, but video games allow some people to believe that killing others is perfectly fine. These people are insecure, and should not be playing video games depicting violence. However, the media does take things out of proportion when an event arises where video games can be blamed.

MasterFunkThe general feeling seems to be that videogames are an outlet for aggression rather than a cause of it.

To be honest, that is really quite scary :uhm: Of course, its better than having everyone who ever played a violent game running around shooting people, but the fact that people see games as an outlet for their aggression, and use them this way is scary. I myself play video games for enjoyment and entertainment. I don't judge a game by its violent content, but rather by how much it makes me think. And when I play a game over the internet, I don't play it to show off my supreme skills (cough :lookaround:), or to laugh at everyone I kill, but to be challanged by other people, and also to talk to people. When I play online, I much prefer an online gaming session where I have talked to some people who are funny and interesting, to a session where I have completely owned the whole server.




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#9 13 years ago

I like to kill in games, to practice for real life. What feels better than ripping someones head off and shoving it down their ass? Sometimes we have to help people, but a real job is to end lives.




Μαjïç MushrøøM

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#10 13 years ago

I wrote a paper on the effects of video/computer game violence on children and teens for my high school graduation, and I concluded that it is not the violence that is the problem, but bad parenting and the lack of perspective that people have between the fiction in such games and the real world. On one hand I am quite annoyed by people who go through such a moral panic over these games and petition to have them banned, whereas on the other I worry very little over it, as they rarely ever get their voices heard enough to the extent that these games will be banned.

I myself have played some extremely violent games ever since I was a child, and I have never once committed an act of violence, especially not one that has been influenced by the content of these such games.

glock21I like to kill in games, to practice for real life. What feels better than ripping someones head off and shoving it down their ass? Sometimes we have to help people, but a real job is to end lives.

As if there is a high probability that you will ever have to do such in your life. :rolleyes:




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