Hey you! Yea you - the student reading this -- want to write about stuff like this? Then sign up for ATEC 3353 "Game Studies" in the Fall at the University of Texas at Dallas and you can! These questions were asked of me just last week by a very astute and interested student for an assignment given in the ATEC "Intro" class. Enjoy!
13. Do you think violent video games influence people to behave violently in the real world?
No, and I'll kill anybody who says differently. -- Ok, so yea that's an attempt at humor, but the reality is a little more complicated. If you are asking do I think video games influence behavior then yes they absolutely do. This is because (some) video games are a part of narrative media, and story media is intended to elicit an emotional response. That's the point of a novel, movie, TV show, or yes - video game. If a game isn't eliciting an emotional response - whether that be a strong or a weak one is sort of irrelevant - then it isn't a very well written game. I would say the same thing about a bad novel or movie. Elysium comes to mind actually. So yea, games influence our behavior - I remember when Tetris first came out. I went through more AA Gameboy batteries than any teen has a right to, and when I wasn't actually playing it I saw imaginary tetrad blocks falling in the negative space of the furniture around me. Same with the games with story - I obsessed over Fallout 1 and 2. Even missed a few college classes. But I never thought about and certainly never acted on killing anybody or behaving violently, so I would have to side with the studies that seem to overwhelmingly show that those who act out on violent games have a bigger problem to begin with. It is an old urban legend that killers have a copy of Catcher in the Rye in their house. This could mean something, or it could just be that it is one of the best selling and most widely distributed novels in America. I know of no study which has concluded that the creepy and popular Dexter series (TV and books) has measurably increased instances of serial killers. So by and large no - I don't think that the influence that violent games have on well-adjusted adults (who are above the age limits described by the ESRB) is significant enough to matter. We only get upset about it because it's an interactive media form you realize. Not that I'd buy any of that for any kid of mine mind you - regardless of the media form.
14. What positive/negative effects do you think video games and video game culture has on society?
Tons! Games are cultural rhetoric, open culture, cultural resistance, and cultural environment. This means that games give culture vocabulary and elements that enrich and inform it. It is itself a micro-culture that can be entered and influenced by individuals and the masses including other elements of pop-culture, it provides push back on this same broad culture through criticism and commentary as does any other media form, and it provides a place for gamers to exist and form that micro-culture that is native to them. Nowadays the gamer culture has even fragmented into numerous sub-genres which exist only to give particular types of gamers a place to exist - and the reality is that game culture itself is bigger than video games be that RPGs, Larps, or Board --- just to name a few! Games reflect and transform culture! Salen says: “Games are always played somewhere, by someone, for some reason or another. They exist in other words, in a context, a surrounding cultural milieu. The ‘magic circle’ is an environment for play, the space in which the rules take on special meaning. But the magic circle itself exists within an environment, the greater sphere of culture at large.” I love and agree with this quote wholeheartedly. The other side of this coin is that games do promote violence and sex just like all the other media forms. Defining “child-safe” content therefore becomes extremely important! Fortunately the ESRB does its job, even if some percentage of parents don't. Game addiction and the debate surrounding it, political interest, influence, and advertisement in video games are all very real -- though the reality is that most of these issues are surrounded in misconceptions & ignorance, and the greatest challenge for us as game scholars is to combat this with intelligent, level-headed, and informed education and data.
15. Is there a specific video game that you think has changed the public's perception on video game violence?
GTA is the classic "troublemaker", though much of the hubbub has died down about it - in my opinion ironically since this most recent one (V) had all the graphic naughty bits in it. The reality is that the idea that games are for kids, and/or a toy is an old idea that is fading as the average age (37) of gamers goes up by about one year per year. -- that is to say my age. This is because my generation never stopped playing, and never stopped aging. Soon that will hit about 40 and plateau just because more kids will be born and the demographics will top out as my generation gets even older then eventually dies off in 35 years or so, but it is folly to think that "adult" themed games won't continue to be released. NYPD Blue Changed the way we view network TV and introduced the TV ratings system - and suddenly TV MA shows started cropping up all over. I think we have hit that threshold with video games too and soon the AO rating will not be as uncommon (there are about 35 games with that rating) and perhaps we will even see stores willing to carry them. Who knows really, but I think Rockstar has done as much to promote the public's perception of game violence as any game company, and GTA was the flagship for it -- though if I had to choose one that personally influenced me it was the understated Manhunt game and its botched sequel which caved to ratings and "censored" the kill sequences so as to make the dramatic moment of the horrible "what have I done?" that the first one gives the player into a comedic farce that is not worth playing. I still have an uncomfortable feeling about playing Manhunt 1 and that was what they wanted I believe. An alternate answer to your question -- Bully which was billed by the media as a "Columbine Simulator!" before release, when in reality it was just a great little game about a boarding school and how a troubled kid becomes popular and learns to take control of his life by bridging all the cliques and learning to fit in. Neat.
16. What do you think the future of video game culture holds? Do you think it can continue its rampant growth?
Yes games will continue to grow, but perhaps not as we now think of them! Myths abound about games. They are not bigger than the movies (ticket sales yes - but not Hollywood), some are most certainly art when looked at individually and not as a genre, and while games will most certainly change and adapt to the market (Mafia Wars is not the same as Medal of Honor and never will be) it will remain the only media form with this high level of interactivity (active agency) and therefore isn't going anywhere soon. Games are becoming more real-world. Gamification is a big industry for the future. I think that Jesse Schell's vision of the future at Dice 2010 (His gamepocolypse speech http://www.g4tv.com/videos/44277/DICE-2010-Design-Outside-the-Box-Presentation/) is a pretty good prediction as is Jane McGonigal's that games will become the vocabulary of change in the world (http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html?quote=667) but in all I think the most important question is going to be - now that we have a generation of game-savvy gamers with literacy for gaming and who want more gamification in their lives -- what are we the designers going to do about it? More on that later perhaps!
Adam L. Brackin, Ph.D - Doc to his friends - is an independent media consultant, writer, and sometimes professor. His teaching and research interests include: Social Media, Transmedia, & ARG, all forms of non-linear & interactive narrative, story mechanics models, and video game studies & design.