Blog Post #2: What defines a “violent” video game?

I was very impressed with Ferguson’s analysis of student violence and video game exposure, particularly because I have always felt there to be a rather poor connection between the two.  Yet far from simply telling me what I wanted to hear, Ferguson provided a significant amount of empirical research to back up his claims.  I have read many social commentaries on video games as they relate to school violence in which a majority of them use simple satirical analogies to strengthen their argument; such as how forks are the leading cause of childhood obesity (Ferguson’s own analogy with peanut butter on page four was particularly funny because of my own peanut allergy).   Yet what struck me most particularly about Ferguson’s work was his general admission that there is truly no way of profiling students who commit violent acts in school.  He admits that targeting certain demographics such as race, social status, parent status, or video game consumption can reveal an occasional trend, but goes on to say that the reason so many people are quick to assume these demographics are “dangerous” is because the media presents them as such.

In his discussion on video game-related aggression laboratory tests, Ferguson states that “[t]he media dutifully reports on the most negative results, as these results ‘sell’ to an already anxious public” (Ferguson, 8).  I agree with this statement, as it reflects a similar local example from the Portland-Eugene area: news reports rarely talk about the bicyclists who passively obey the laws of the road; rather, we only hear about the ones causing trouble and endangering other commuters.  As a result, bicyclists now have a poor reputation because the public is quick to assume the worst of every bicyclist they see.

Yet as far as stereotyping goes, Ferguson’s analysis gave me pause to question what exactly is being defined as a “violent video game”?  In Matthew Thomas Payne’s article on pseudo-realism in contemporary war games, he considers games like Halo and           Black Ops to be set in a world of “future combat and dystopian spaces” (Payne).  This, he argues, contrasts sharply with Medal of Honor’s use of real-world locations and historical events.  However, I would still consider all three of these games to be related to human (or at least humanoid) violence.  If taken from this point of view, where then does a game such as Super Smash Brothers fit in?  For those unfamiliar with it, this game brings together various Nintendo characters and pits them against each other in all-out fights.  As this is Nintendo, the character design, game mechanics, and fighting sequences are all rather cartoonish.  That aside, the point of the game is still to kill other players.  What then becomes of a child’s reaction to this game compared to, say, Medal of Honor?  Violence can appear in many forms, and I believe the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not needs to be more sharply defined before anybody can begin to argue its influence on school violence.

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One Response to Blog Post #2: What defines a “violent” video game?

  1. cstabile says:

    Your post answers the question I posed to another post — e.g. if the link between video game consumption and violence is so dubious, why do we continue to hear so much about it? It’s a familiar narrative and it sells an answer to an anxious public.

    But I think the main gist of your post — how do we categorize and quantify violence in video games? Is, moreover, the violence in a fantasy game like World of Warcraft that is perpetrated on non-humanoid characters the same as the violence in Medal of Honor or CODBLOPS?

    Now, that would be a great topic for a final blog post — to come up with a system that would allow us to categorize this violence. And something better than the Videogame Rating Council’s vague descriptions that I’ve pasted below. What does “blood” mean, anyway?

    VRC GA.JPG GA — General Audiences: Appropriate for all audiences. No blood or graphic violence. No profanity, no mature sexual themes and no usage of drugs or alcohol.
    VRC MA-13.JPG MA-13 — Mature Audiences: Parental Discretion Advised. The game was suitable for audiences thirteen years of age or older. Game could have some blood in it and more graphic violence than a “GA” game.
    VRC MA-17.JPG MA-17 — Mature Audiences: Not appropriate for minors. The game was suitable for audiences seventeen years of age or older. Games could have lots of blood, graphic violence, mature sexual themes, profanity, drug or alcohol usage.
    NYR or, Not Yet Rated: This rating only appeared in advertising and indicated that the game had not yet been rated by the V.R.C. The modern equivalents would be ESRB’s RP (Rating Pending) rating and PEGI’s TBC label.

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