Login | Signup

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

Felix Kemp
Call Of Duty, Features, Violence

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

Following President Obama's recent comments regarding the threat of videogames to children's education, Dealspwn's prodigal son Felix Kemp returns to ruminate on the nature of videogaming's less than sparkling treatment by the media.

Prior to its release in November of 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 received mention in the House of Commons. It sparked a furious debate between two Labour MPs, Keith Vaz and Tom Watson. Vaz, an outspoken critic of violent videogames, highlighted a scene in Modern Warfare 2 where players can participate in the massacre of Russian civilians in an airport, prompting an “incensed” Watson to create a Facebook group, ‘Gamers Voice’, to promote fair debate in the media for videogame fans.

It was a rare display of a politician coming to the aid of a videogame, and the emerging group has since recruited over 5, 500 members. However, Gamers Voice is still too small to challenge the deafening roar of the media, which has chosen the videogame industry as its favourite scapegoat. Sex-scenes, violence, drugs; Elements present in almost all forms of film and television, receive unfair coverage from the media if included in a videogame. The media happily savage an industry incapable of defending itself.

But why is the content of videogames persecuted above the so-called torture-porn films like Saw or Hostel? Is it the issue of interactivity? Or the young minds vulnerable to corruption? Whatever the reason, the issue must be explored.

Free Will

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

Unlike other media, videogames are an entirely interactive experience. The scene in Modern Warfare 2 Keith Vaz mentioned is no different to acts of terrorism or violence depicted in films such as Heat or Munich. The problem for individuals like Vaz seems to be the players ability to willingly interact with the scene.

‘No Russian’, the title for the sequence, doesn’t require you to participate in the slaughter, but the opportunity is available. You can rattle entire clips from your machine-gun into the churning crowds, or even lob a grenade. The scene is vividly realised, from the glistening blood to the lifelike animation of wounded civilians desperately crawling across the floor.

Free-will has been and always will be an issue for people in power. You don’t pursue a position in politics unless you wish to control the public, whether it is for good or nefarious reasons. How can a government possibly control its citizens if a medium exists where they can act free of consequence?

Young Minds

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

Coupled with free-will, the misconception of videogames’ primary market is another problem fanning the media flames. A videogame is still considered a toy, a product for children and teenagers, whose minds are supple and malleable to the influence of what they see and experience. People like Keith Vaz believe videogames are nurturing an entire generation of senseless, violent offenders.

The problem with this reasoning is the simple fact that young adults comprise the videogame majority. Men and women from the 80s and 90s who enjoyed the S.N.E.S. and Sega Mega Drive now enjoy the Xbox and Playstation. A new generation exists, obviously, but the primary market is between the age of 18 and 30.

Should we worry about their minds, too? Are they liable to play Grand Theft Auto and suddenly steal a car and plough into unsuspecting pedestrians? And what of less violent videogames? Do we expect fans of Mario to suddenly leap over our heads, attempt to slide down sewage pipes or begin slaughtering turtles?

Certainly, children must be protected from games with violent or disturbing content. New rules allow censors to explicitly describe aspects of an adult videogame, from how much blood is spilled and in what fashion, to what language is employed. Now, if a parent is worried about allowing their child to purchase a certain game, they can investigate its content thoroughly.

Artificial Violence

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

As the media condemns videogames as godless aberrations of art, corrupting the minds of the young generation, it is prudent to consider the depiction of violence in videogames. Once, a smattering of red pixels represented blood, accompanied by a cheap soundbite and robotic death-animation. Now, blood can be realised in three-dimensions, the cry of pain recorded by an actual actor in a booth, and the tragical fall animated by skilled industry professionals.

But while the depiction approaches photorealism, is the act itself actually violence? Violence is described as the use of physical force, usually to cause harm. Videogame violence is an approximation of this, an aesthetic intended to depict a certain gameplay element without necessitating a lengthy description.

It is true, however, that imagery is an important issue to consider. Whilst it is wrong to think violence in a videogame can be considered in the same light as actual, real-world violence, developers are responsible for the images they conjure onto the screen. But imagery is inherently subjective, and what may affect one person may not affect another.

It is impossible not to broach hypocrisy when debating the moral credentials of certain images. But being the youngest of the new art-forms, videogames are merely following in the footsteps of their older siblings. Do certain films, television or art contain any less horrific imagery?

New Rules

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

In America, certain states are pushing radical legislation to prosecute retailers who incorrectly sell adult games to minors. New Zealand's chief government censor suggests parents who allow their children to purchase these games, knowingly or not, should be prosecuted, too. And Thailand has called for the developers of Grand Theft Auto to stand responsible for copycat killers inspired by their game.

All of this is unsurprising. It is beyond any doubt that crimes have been committed by weak-minded individuals influenced by videogames. Certainly, new legislation must be brought forward to prevent such things from happening. But this speaks more of knee-jerk reactions from the government rather than carefully considered political manoeuvrings to stem the flow of violent crime.

Surprisingly, whereas some countries turn on their videogame industry, despite the huge financial growth in the market, others nations, such as Canada, for instance, continue to support their developers, offering tax-incentives and bursaries, among other financial rewards. Canada produces a steady stream of consistently excellent games, from esteemed production houses like Ubisoft Montreal and Bioware. Evidence of government support, or mere coincidence?

The Future

Videogames: The Media's Favourite Scapegoat

What can we expect in the future, regarding the perception of videogames in mainstream media? It is inevitable that another dozen or so crises will emerge. A crime will be committed resembling a similar act in a mature-rated game. A developer will attempt to tackle a sensitive issue and be mobbed by angry headlines and tabloid-driven campaigns.

But this is a natural stage of progression. Developers are attempting to co-operate with their media foes. Violent games such as Gears of War, where you can eviscerate enemies with a chainsaw-mounted rifle, allow players to deactivate the spewing blood and profane language, essentially neutering the experience, but at the very least attempting to find some middle-ground.

It will be interesting to see how the media’s perception of videogames changes in ten or so years, when the children weaned on Xbox and Playstation grow old and wise enough to grab the reins of The Sun or The Daily Mail and impose their own opinion on the masses. Whatever the future holds, videogames will continue to grow as a medium, hopefully realising their potential and inspiring a new generation to succeed in life.

Add a comment11 comments
ODB  May. 11, 2010 at 14:36

very good article that, if only the Sun or some other crap paper would publish it then people may see things differently...

unfortunately the article wouldnt sell papers so they wont

Mark M  May. 11, 2010 at 15:14

Videogames play a very useful part in learning and heavy-handed actions, coupled with misinformation are the harbingers of doom for th epositive side of gaming. My kids have grown up playing games, starting on the V.Smile and gradutaing up to the PS3, Wii and 360. I can honsetly say that they have had a very positive effect on their development.
However, nothing annoyes me more than seeing parents buying games for their children when the age rating is clearly displayed on the box. They are either ignorant or simply don't care about what their children are playing. In fact, a child my son goes to school with regularly plays 18 rated games; he is only 8! Gaming can be a great hobby and experience, but many parents are to blame for a biut of media hyping due to their own lack of action.

Bulldozer  May. 11, 2010 at 15:39

This article is blander than my food.

It basically consists of cliches like 'not everyone that plays GTA steals a car lol?', and some pseudo-political/psychoanalytic rubbish. Stick to telling us about sales at Asda.

andy p  May. 11, 2010 at 15:39

Im 19 and ive been playing video games for over 10 years.. i remember playing gta 3 on the playstation 2 when i was about 10 years old and im happy to say i havent turned into a prostitute murdering drug lord. I dont think my parents are irresponsible but it is kinda odd that they let me do it. At about the same age my favourite film was starship troopers and i had watched fight club over my friends house (Not that i understood most of it). I dont think videogames have a bad effect on standard kids/teenagers like me its just a catalyst for ones that already have psychological problems. Parents need to understand their children and if theres a chance of them being influenced by films or videogames then they need to keep their children away from them.

Jonathan Lester  May. 11, 2010 at 15:42

Spot on. Games carry clear and visible age restrictions- and it's up to parents and retailers to keep mature titles out of the hands of minors.

Violent media has always been a scapegoat- after all, it's easier to blame simulated violence rather than take a long hard look at one's own parenting skills.

bob  May. 11, 2010 at 16:01

Great article

well displayed full of information and not too biased

I would like to see more stuff like this here at dealspwn, not just the 'deals'.

Chris  May. 11, 2010 at 16:13

I've been gaming since I was most likely around 5 (back on the classic Mega Drive) and got my first playstation at 11, but had exposure to more realistic and violent games before that (I also watched TV violence etc).

The first games I had on the PS1 were GTA (original), Duke Nukem (TTK) and some other guff.

The point of my story is that I am no more a murderer now than I was then. I am academically sound, graduating from uni this year and on track to have a successful career. Videogames have not made me less of a person, although in some respects have made me better, but also give an outlet to escape from the world and just have some good old fashioned fun.

TV and movies are equally graphic, if not worse on occasions, and whilst not interactive, still depict enough that some sad individual could (and have) imitate.

At the end of the day, games carry an age weighting for a reason. Granted, many ignore it, but as long as the person is responsible enough to understand it is just a game, then no harm done.

Using video games as a scapegoat is pretty pathetic and clearly dodges the real issues at hand.

Chris  May. 11, 2010 at 16:13

I should add I'm now 22. Giving me... 17 years of gaming?

Damn where has my life gone? :P

Matt Gardner  May. 11, 2010 at 16:32

'Using video games as a scapegoat is pretty pathetic and clearly dodges the real issues at hand.'

Absolutely. Cultural conservatism always seems to cloud out the bigger picture

ODB  May. 12, 2010 at 13:15

I started it on a Spectrum back in the day, then on to an Atari, Lynx, SNES, Jaguar, PS1, PS2, 360, PS3 and a lot of PC stuff in between inc the original GTA

tbh FPS and the occasional RTS are my favs and the beauty that is GTA, Half Life & Gears probs being my all time favs...along with lots of films some of which are violent...

Not a violent person, never been arrested etc...got a ticket 3 years ago for driving whilst on my phone but thats it! never had anything else

I'm 29 now, very good job with a bank and children...if you are the sort of person that replicates film/game violence then you have a problem that would be there whether this media type was there or not

Gunn  May. 12, 2010 at 14:12

I'm very much against the stance that video games create violent people but looking at it objectively a lot of games do reward violence and these are the ones that are focused on.


Leave a Trackback from your own site

Email Address:

You don't need an account to comment. Just enter your email address. We'll keep it private.