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July 13, 2005

Comments

Andrea

Word, Hugo. Never had linked the two, but it makes great sense. I feel identically about the two phenomena, and now it makes sense.

Pip

The parallel is compelling, brother. I'm still inclined to see porn as (even) worse than violent video games -- inasmuch as it involves the *perversion* of potentially positive human impulses, rather than merely the expression of intrinsically negative ones. Which is to say that there is such a thing as good and even sacred sex (the potential for which porn corrodes and destroys), but no such thing as good or sacred killing (a fact which violent games simply confirm).

Camassia

I have very little experience with the sort of game you describe -- I don't like them, since I tend to be nervous and maneuvering through a world where things keep jumping out at you just makes me more nervous. But they do seem to have few redeeming features. There's actually a book out arguing that video games are helping increase intelligence, but I would think that arcade games tend to be simple, since players don't have time to learn complex rules there.

I must admit I was kind of hoping you'd comment on the male-bonding aspects of mock combat that I mentioned at the end of my post. Obviously this doesn't apply to solitary video games so much, but I'm interested to know if it's as big an aspect of male socializing as it seems to be (not being all that privy to all-male socializing, of course).

Keri

In both instance, he's trying to overcome his insecurities and make himself feel big and powerful -- invariably at the expense of others.

I'll buy that this is true of some players of such games, but I don't think that sort of armchair psychology can be applied across the board. It doesn't take into account the fact that there are often reasons for playing video games that happen to be violent other than wanting to see a lot of violence. (For example, I play the Grand Theft Auto games because I enjoy the free-form gameplay and the driving aspects of the game. The fact that the game offers the opportunity to shoot people at will doesn't bother me, but it's not the selling point for me, and I know others who feel the same, both male and female.) Most violent video games that become popular have artistic or entertainment value that goes beyond the violence-- again, some gamers may be the types who will play anything as long as there's blood and guts, but I have to think they're fairly rare.

I also think it's a mistake to dismiss the growing number of women who are avid gamers simply because they're still a minority at the moment. Among the subcultures I belong to, female gamers are actually quite common, and any judgment of the games they enjoy affects them too. (And actually, according to some studies I've found, the insecure teen boys you're worried about are also a minority-- at the moment, most gamers are men between the ages of 18 and 34.) Do you believe the women who play these games are also working through insecurities and "making themselves feel big and powerful," or would you attribute other motives to them? (While I'd disagree with the former, I'd prefer it over some of the other justifications I've heard, which boiled down to "women play these games because they're trying to prove that they can be violent like men." Because we'd never enjoy such unladylike pastimes on their own terms, of course.)

Finally, I'm wondering-- how much violence is too much? Most games (with the possible exception of racing, puzzle and simulation games) incorporate some form of violence, anywhere on the continuum from cartoon characters bopping each other on the heads to super-realistic human disembowelment. The problem I have with a lot of arguments about "violent games" is that no one seems to know where the line should be drawn-- it's easy to see that there's a difference between the extreme cases stated above, but what about the gray areas? I spent a bunch of time over the past week playing the Batman movie tie-in game, which requires players to use a combination of stealth techniques and martial arts to beat the snot out of enemies-- is that acceptable or unacceptable? (I'm not asking anyone to justify the standards they'll use in their own households, of course, just the standards they use to judge whether a game is appropriate entertainment or a harmful indulgence in violent escapism.)

Hugo

I'm afraid I'm not qualified to address the male-bonding issues of the gaming world, Camassia. Playing sports together I understand. Playing video games together, well, it's not something that I've really ever done.

Keri, from a pacifist perspective, fantasy is problematic when it encourages us to see others as opportunities for us to exercise our power over them. It's not the level of violence that concerns me, it's the emotional gratification that I think a great many of the users derive from it. As for the age of those playing the games, I imagine that there are probably more men 18-34 using internet porn than boys under 18, too; I am obviously particularly concerned for the young, but not exclusively so.

Of course, I know so little about gaming. It really has no interest for me, so I'm writing based on one summer's worth of very intense experiences with one particularly violent game.

Pip, I'll accept your point about porn being potentially more corrosive, but only as long as that doesn't open the door to argue that violent video games are, by comparison, potentially redemptive.

djw

I'll accept your point about porn being potentially more corrosive, but only as long as that doesn't open the door to argue that violent video games are, by comparison, potentially redemptive.

I took his point to be precisely this--that the video games are not worse because there is no possible positive impulse they're corrupting--as such, the thing that makes them not worse is also the thing that makes them inherently unredemptive.

Hugo

Sometimes, DJW, I struggle to discern the obvious...

mercedes

Interesting connection between porn and violence.__I think of all the violent Clint Eastwood, 'Dirty Harry' type movies and 'Terminator' etc.. that I personally like. I wonder what the fascination is? Is it that we just love to see the bad guy get what's coming to him? Or is it the violence that makes them such a big hit?__Personally, I think you might be right about it providing a certain type of catharsis.__I suppose this would be true of porn also. Although, I never look at any porn, so I can't relate with that part of your argument.

Michael

One thing you are leaving out is the endorphin rush people, especially kids, get from violence and the playing of games with simulated violence. Probably a leftover tool our cave dwelling ancestors developed when being chased by predators. Fight or Flight.

I would think some similar mechanism happens with actual sexual relations vs. porn/sex addiction. Athletes also experience similar endorphin highs and can become addicted to the physical exertion, even experiencing “withdrawals” when unable to get strenuous exercise.

Hugo experienced this with his shooting game and sound like he might even be hyper sensitive to it. The adrenalin high wouldn’t let him sleep after playing. Do you have a “running addiction” Hugo? Have you ever experienced mood swings when you weren’t able to get a run in?

All I know is that after my kids play one of these shooting games, they are wired to the hilt. Worse than a suger high. I limit it for that reason, and not that I think they are going to become violent. Chew up the couch maybe, but not become serial killers.

Dave Shearon

Hugo, I'm always glad when I stop by your site -- such thoughtful posts!

I was thinking of the book mentioned by Camassia, mostly because I've both read and blogged a book note on it. In fact, it's sitting by me as I write this. Good book. He even talks about addicitve qualities, noting that video games with the myriad puzzles tag into the reward-seeking circuitry in the brain. Unlike Hugo's experience, he suggests the violence is pretty tangential to the game -- it's the puzzles that count.

Dave Shearon

Pip, you write, "there's no such thing as a good or sacred killing." I'm not being flip here -- this area is one I haven't explored a great deal. But, that raises some questions, at least regarding the Old Testament. It suggests that one responding in faith to God's presence could never kill. David and Goliath? Joshua and Jericho? And that's setting aside the tremendous amount of killing God does, e.g., the first-born of the Egyptians, the Egyptian pursuers in the Red Sea, etc. What should I be considering here?

Keri

Keri, from a pacifist perspective, fantasy is problematic when it encourages us to see others as opportunities for us to exercise our power over them.

Interesting. The problem for me is that I can't imagine why the above applies to video games, but not to sports. What are competitive sports if not physical power struggles that have been made socially acceptable? Aren't both teams or players in these sports attempting to exercise power over their opposition by proving themselves superior in skill or strength? For that matter, aren't many competitive sports literally violent, to the point where athletes often suffer injuries?

By that logic, I can't see why pacifists wouldn't also consider it unhealthy to find "emotional gratification" in sports; I don't see how athletes are any less guilty of taking pleasure in exercising power over others than gamers are. (I should think they'd be more so, actually, because their power struggles involve real people, not virtual ones.) If you're going to imply that the use of power struggles for entertainment and gratification is inherently negative, that has implications for sports as well; if you allow that there are contexts (such as sporting events) in which power struggles can be exciting and empowering and healthy, I don't see why gaming can't be one of those contexts.

*Christopher

Hugo my post on pornea tried to address how that both of these are forms of pornography.

*Christopher

Hugo my post on pornea tried to address how that both of these are forms of pornography. I think you've gone a good way further toward doing the same. Thanks...

Pip

Dave, I take your point. I think you'd just have to conclude that my understanding of the sacred owes very little to the Old Testament.

Stentor

The kind of obsession you describe is not unique to sex and violence -- I've been similarly obsessed with puzzle games at times.

And I take it, then, that you're against masturbation in general -- or at least masturbation while fantasizing about sex, which I gather is most of it. After all, in-your-head fantasies also involve a feeling of agency, consequence-free sex, and others who exist only for one's own pleasure.

Tony Vila

A few things.

1. Fantasy-release as a theory has no more or less evidence behind it than the theory that video-games make us more violent. Either side is just sensationalistic punditry trying to make a narrative that defends their position. So while I don’t respect the fantasy release theory, I certainly don’t see any utilitarian benefits to getting rid of violent videogames when there isn’t evidence that it makes people more violent.
2. Cleary non violent videogames are still popular. Where do you draw the line? Any violence? Killing non-humans v killing humans? I don’t know why you got particularly addicted in that hour, but that hasn’t affected your behavior outside the game; it could just be the addictive fun of playing the game, or maybe you feel that if there weren’t realistic blood and death knells on the screen it wouldn’t grab you.
3. The point about graphics and immersion becoming more realistic and thus more threatening is reduced by the fact that the right has been complaining about video-games and their bad effects since before I was born. Oh and role-playing games.
4. The aforementioned similarity to sports is an excellent point. Video-games and porn get attacked and threatened with censorship because only a minority enjoy them (or openly enjoy them). Since they can be looked down on, all sorts of arguments come out against them about how they’re ruining society. Most people watch or participate in sports, so even though sports would have a far larger impact in society in promoting aggressive behavior, no one suggests censoring hockey.
5. I know you Hugo have a very non-aggressive attitude towards athletics, and think the people who imagine sports as about power domination are just getting it wrong. Well that’s how I feel about video-games.
6. Addictions are just bad. Addictions to games, to sports-fandom, to TV, to the internet, to porn. They generally come from deeper problems. Blaming the particular content for a few stories of addiction is just releasing anger about the content, and not trying to get at addiction in general.

Hugo

But Tony, you talk about addiction as if it is to be solved solely by addressing the "demand" side of the problem, and ignoring the "supply" side. Healthy societies place limits on who can buy alcohol and where they can consume it. They don't ban booze, recognizing that it can be enjoyed in moderation, but they control it, particularly for minors, knowing its addictive powers. I'd like to see the same for violent entertainments, knowing that such games do have addictive power.

Dave Shearon

The Wall Street Journal had an article within the last few years about a country (in Africa?) where addiction to chewing a certain plant, generally for hours and hours in the afternoon severely limited productivity. The Prime Minister and other leaders began a campaign to encourage folks not to chew, then he was caught relapsing. Wish I could remember more details.

Dave Shearon

Forgot to give the title of the book: "Everything Bad Is Good for You" by Steven Johnson.

NYMOM

"I'd like to see the same for violent entertainments, knowing that such games do have addictive power."

Thank you for saying this...

Especially true when you consider most of the target market is adolescents and teens...

Jeff

Especially true when you consider most of the target market is adolescents and teens...

Not particularly for the sorts of games we're talking about here; the heart of their market is 18-30 year old men.

mythago

I'd like to see the same for violent entertainments, knowing that such games do have addictive power.

As do books, sports and Pokémon. I'd like to see getting rid of the tired crap that we can analogize anything to a physical, chemical addiction because a) we don't like it and b) 4TKIDS!

stanton

"I'd like to see getting rid of the tired crap that we can analogize anything to a physical, chemical addiction because a) we don't like it and b) 4TKIDS!"

Damn, Mythago... (NYMOM touch)... I sometiimes agree with you, and often disagree, but this is the first time you have written something that made me want to stand up and clap!

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