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Non-Playable Character: Video game violence

by Archives March 9, 2005

This past week has seen a resurgence of the video game violence debate. The ‘age old’ question has resurfaced: “Do violent video games really make you more prone to violent acts?”

It seems that Grand Theft Auto (GTA) is being blamed for the deaths of three police officers in an Alabama police station. The rationale (and the lawsuits) behind this blame can be linked to the similarity of the crime to a scenario from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in which a character escapes from a police station, shoots officers along the way and steals a police cruiser.

In an interview on the news program “60 Minutes”, Jack Thompson, the attorney in charge of the civil cases against the makers, marketers and the vendors of GTA, stated that the game’s creators are responsible “at least civilly.”

At least civilly? Tell me now, are we to criminally charge developers for the actions of a minority of the population?

In another interview done by GameCore, a weekly column by CBSNews.com’s William Vitka and Chad Chamberlain, Thompson likens it to serial killer Ted Bundy’s pornographic escapism.

I had large problems with the “60 Minutes” piece. Whenever anything about games is reported in the media, it’s painfully obvious that the level of research put into it is obviously sub-standard. I noticed several glaring mistakes, omissions, and misconceptions in the story. Gaming is still very much a niche in modern society, and not many people would be aware that these errors even exist.

I have several problems with our collective tendency, as North Americans, to systematically point the finger elsewhere when most of those doing the pointing should be pointing at their children and, even more appropriately, at themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that violent games have no place in the hands of young children. But after a certain age, most people realize there is a line between fantasy and reality that should not be crossed. People who say they commit violent acts because of video game violence were disturbed individuals long before they ever picked up a controller. Often, a suspect’s claim that the violent act is caused by a video game is a way to escape culpability on their part.

The trend is for a media outlet to pick up a particular angle, in this case, that the developers are at fault, and then have it become the media’s “norm”.

I hear rumblings of a large campaign to make sure stores card minors to prevent them from buying games. Parents buy their kids games anyway, and some don’t particularly care about the content. When a story like this breaks, they’re the first to be up-in-arms, calling for the heads of those monsters responsible for making a game like GTA. Anything to take the blame away from themselves, I suppose. It’s easier to blame children’s behaviour on an outside influence rather than on bad parenting. And just what is “violent content”? If you handed me a hundred different games, I’m sure most of them would have something that someone would consider violent. One has to ask: Where does the slippery slope flatten out?

If a case like this sets a precedent, it will probably open a Pandora’s box: if the legal precedent is there, there’s no telling what could happen to censorship,virtually everything could be fair game.

So until next week, remember: be careful around us gamers. Years of playing “death simulators” have obviously left us unpredictable and ready to snap into a violent frenzy at any moment.

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