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By 16 January 2013 | Categories: news

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It has been a well-worn topic over the years, but in light of recent Sandy Hook shooting tragedy, the question of whether violent games cause violent acts has once again re-emerged as a hot button issue. Ryan Noik, TechSmart’s head journalist, gives his opinion.
 
Anyone doubting whether the powers-that-be are seriously looking at the videogame industry as they seek to make sense of the horrific shooting that shook the US and the world, need only consider that Senator Jay Rockefeller has introduced a bill asking the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of video game violence on children, while Vice President Joe Biden has been meeting with various game development companies to discuss the issue.
 
Recently though, none other than Joe Houston, the developer of Dishonored (review), weighed in with an interesting argument of his own in an editorial on Rockpapershotgun.com.
 
Complex considerations 
 
Houston’s complex, and well thought out opinion is interesting and well worth a read, particularly when considering the fact that while Dishonored could be unflinching in its depiction of graphic violence, it could also be played in such a manner in which players could opt for a completely non-violent approach.
 
In his editorial, Houston writes: “I don’t believe that game violence causes real world violence, but I do believe that it does little to prevent it. And games with meaningful (and potentially distasteful) choice just might do better because they stand a chance of making the player think about what they’re doing on screen.
 
And there are others that think so too: Dishonored is one of the few violent video games that has not been censored by the German government. One could argue this is largely because the game can be played without killing anyone. This doesn’t change all the things you might do in the game, but simply by knowing that it allows non-violence you find that every violent act you choose in cast in a sobering light.”
 
The usual arguments
 
While the argument of those blaming games for real world violence usually runs along the lines that violent games influence or encourage players to commit act of violence – which has been proved a flawed, if not false thesis time and again – a more valid argument could be made that a steady diet of graphic violence, whether in games or movies, could desensitise players and viewers to the plight of people in general and actual violent acts in particular.
 
Further, taking Houston’s view into account, it is entirely possible that games can similarly be used to do the exact opposite – making players more sensitive to and aware of the consequences of violence.
 
Indeed, the choice and consequences of violence have been successfully explored in numerous games for some years now, often to much acclaim from players themselves.  In Bioshock, for example, players could choose to kill the standout characters, called Little Sisters and their protectors, the Big Daddies or not – with each having consequences within the game itself, and the difficulty or ease with which players would experience the game moving forward.
 
Spec Ops: The Line challenged one’s morality and view of the ‘good guys’ versus the ‘bad guys,’ while Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 famously shocked its players by requiring them to choose whether or not they would open fire on civilians within the game.   
 
And then there have been titles where the violence depicted is so absurd and over the top that it becomes more comedic and cartoon-like for its unrealism, such as in Bulletstorm or Team Fortress.
 
To the point
 
The question remains: are games the villains when it comes to the rampant and senseless violence that plagues society? To my mind, abusing games as an inspiration for terrible violence by a sick mind rather than as a form of entertainment is not the fault of the medium. Rather, I believe that the fault rests, first and foremost, in the individual, and then perhaps with other socio-economic issues that have to be resolved. 

In a far less deadly, but still serious vein, this could be likened to the misuse of cellular technology or social media, such that those so embroiled in texting seemingly forget how to have a face-to-face conversation or a real life social interaction respectively. No-one would suggest that the right approach is to ban smartphones or Facebook, but rather, would encourage moderation and a healthy perspective when using each.

Clearly, society at large needs to critically address the issue of violence and take the necessary steps towards resolution; however, I for one am not convinced that a simple and convenient approach (such as banning violent games or clamping down on freedom of expression) comes close to being either the correct or the most beneficial answer to a disturbing trend that must be addressed. 

Main accompanying image is a screenshot from within Dishonored.

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