Ferguson’s article debunking any causal, or even positive correlational, link between violent videogames and real violence, spec. school shootings, based on existing data was applause-worthy. He spared no intellectual expense to categorically dismantle arguments made by “talking heads” from all over the spectrum of expertise to the effect of “videogames cause violence”. Most of his work is, if you’ll excuse the expression, bullet-proof – but he fails to define some central terms, chief among them that of the “violent” videogame. This drawback presents an opportunity to talk about the effects of videogames on factors besides aggression, and turn Ferguson’s article into less of an “all-clear” for the trigger-happy gamers in the room.
Despite the centrality of the “violent videogame” to the entirety of Ferguson’s article, Ferguson fails to define what constitutes a “violent” game. I had this realization when reading his discussion of correcting published data to account for school shooters who had committed their crimes prior to exposure to violent games. He names a number of “violent” games, one of which is Mortal Kombat. This was a surprise to me, since I doubt many people today would call Mortal Kombat a graphically violent game (at least not one that is morally reprehensible and a cause of youth delinquency). Though Ferguson’s arguments against a causal or even positively correlational relationship between violent videogames as supported by current data still stands, I think it’s worth noting that the change in perceptions of violence could, arguably, be an effect of the videogames being discussed:
In Ferguson’s discourse, Mortal Kombat is a “violent” game. And though we might not be able to argue that it causes violent actions, we do see that it has shaped our current perceptions of what constitutes a violent game. Today, Mortal Kombat is a throw-back, arcade-type game. When we compare it to today’s violent games, Mortal Kombat looks like a poorly rendered cartoon. You might say it’s a factor of the technology, but I would argue that the amount of violence in our “violent” games today is a factor of necessitated escalation based on consumer demand. Consumer demand is, importantly, molded by prior consumption and product, and the expectations created by those consumption experiences and products. Mortal Kombat might have been the high bar for violence then, but to be more enticing, today’s games had to set that bar higher. Why? Because that’s what consumers wanted – they’d had Mortal Kombat, they’d been there and done that. They wanted more. And maybe the increased violence, or violent games in general, don’t instigate aggression, but what if they’ve desensitize us, the consumers? What if there is some other element at play, something besides aggression – an element for which the trend of increased graphic depiction and severity of violence (based on consumer demand, or supplier expectation) is a symptom? Is Ferguson’s work still enough for us to wave our technophile hands at the worry-warts and the old people and assure them (and ourselves) that there’s nothing wrong?