Articles, Rants and Explorations
Current Jennilog for 8 / 20 / 2003: Thoughtful
That Old Video-Game Violence Controversy
People still fuss over the content of video and computer games. The question of whether or not computer games somehow make people, which usually means children -even though the average game player is between the ages of 18 and 36- violent rages on. It is a ridiculous question in the first place, not only because few young children actually buy and play such games compared to adults young and old, it is ridiculous because the the very question itself stems from a deep ignorance of humanity itself.
One problem, I think, many people have with the concept of violent games, and by extension, violent media of all kinds, is the illusion that violence is external and apart from what it means to be human.
There is this dream, this falsehood, that somehow we are taught violence, that intrinsically humans are not naturally violent, and that if only our culture could rid itself of all expressions of violence, violent behavior would go away, people would live in a golden age of peace, and that ultimately, violence is something unnatural.
This belief is especially strong in dealing with the subject of children, about which even intelligent people can become irrational, and thus comes the common idea that children are somehow angelic, somehow nicer by nature, somehow untainted by violence, innocent.
Innocent children may be, in the sense of being both ignorant and intellectually incompletely formed, but nonviolent, they certainly are not.
It is a primary act of parents, in point of fact, to teach children not to be violent, to express nonviolent ways to channel their natural angers, frustrations and rages, and in every way possible to conform to socially condoned behaviors that are designed to suppress physical expressions of these emotions.
In short, human beings are naturally physically violent, from birth, and must be trained, through great effort and attention, to act in a completely unnatural manner for the animal they are. We call this affected and artificial behavior we inculcate in people 'civilization'.
In the end, however, when a child grows up, no matter how carefully trained, no matter how diligently forced to submit to nonviolent affectations, they will be drawn to violent media, violent pursuits, of some form or another. These expressions may be abstracted, or they may be quite horribly concrete. Certainly, if the impulse to violence is not given abstract release, it will, unerringly, find visceral and direct expression.
Thus it is that I state that humans are, as an animal species, innately violent, as are most primates, and that our greatest success lies in the fact that we can take natural impulses of violent expression and turn them to unnatural, artificial and abstract expressions that are non-physical.
These expressions could be in language, through the use of arbitrarily invented 'taboo' words, called 'swear words' or 'obscene language', or in dangerous sports that symbolically recreate inter-tribal warfare, such as football and basketball and hockey, in violent movies and books, or, more recently, in violent video games.
The only thing that makes violent video games in any way controversial at all, is that they are the latest abstraction of violence. Sports have been established as substitutes for violence for centuries, as have books and plays, and by extension, films and movies. Obscene language, taboo words, reserved to carry the power of anger, are as old as language itself. Video games are fairly new. Being new, they are frightening and unsettling to some people, essentially because they have not yet been fully traditionalized in the culture yet.
Films and comic books, as well as certain music genres, have all been put through exactly the same concerns, questions, and fearfulness as video games are enduring today, and, given enough time, usually the passing of a generation or two, they have become institutionalized, and are seldom questioned as much, or even, at all.
The rock and roll that was so dangerous and questionable in the 50's is now played in nurseries, put onto children's records and so forth, and the dangerous violence of comic books and movies are now all but ignored, especially if the work is on television, or is animated.
As abstract releases for violence are made available, actual violence goes down, all other social conditions being equal (obviously, a culture plagued with poverty, joblessness and social injustice will enjoy high levels of physical violence in any case, this presupposes the lack of such pressures). Examples abound, around the globe, and often, those cultures with many forms of abstracted violence are also the most peaceful and least crime plagued, while those with few abstract outlets for violence are quite the opposite.
I state therefore, that in my consideration, violent video games, and for that matter, violent media are of no danger whatsoever -with one highly important caveat which I will shortly name- and indeed do only good to a culture, and serve to support and maintain civilization. Humans crave violence because it is natural for them to crave violence, and this hunger will be sated, either by harmless abstraction, or by actualized behavior. It is in the interest of civilization and peace that abstractions of violence be plentiful, accessible, and available to all.
Now I said there was a caveat, and this then I will name, and it is vital, absolutely vital, in that unless one condition is met, abstractions of violence cannot be considered safe, and all their benefit will be lost, and instead serve only to reinforce real violence, and indeed, to encourage it.
That one condition is this:
Parents must be held utterly responsible for taking the time and effort to firmly, conscientiously, and thoroughly instruct their children in the difference, and the separation of, reality and fantasy.
Children must, must, must be taught what is real and what is false, what is fantasy, and what is reality, what is physical and has consequences, and what is abstract, illusory, and has no consequences.
The real problem is ultimately this, and it is complicated by the concern that there are some adults, some parents, who do not fully comprehend the difference between real and unreal, and indeed, it can be claimed that the majority of humanity has some degree of madness and insanity with regard to this matter.
After all, the majority of mankind arbitrarily believes in magical gods, spooks and spirits, for which there is not a shred of evidence, and holds true ancient books that claim to be the word of such superstitions. Mankind as a whole is not very clear on these matters, it would seem.
But even with that, it is still possible to make clear the difference between what is on a small box, on a screen, and what can be touched and felt, between pixilated blood and wet blood, between electronic screams and the real voices of people. These things are immediate, and parents are responsible, and should be held totally accountable, for this instruction.
Sadly, in my 43 years, I have met many children whose parents blithely failed to bother with such instruction, and I have met young people who truly believed that Star Trek was real, and NASA the illusion, that what was on television was real, but what they saw in daily life was somehow not.
It is to be remembered that the United States congress, called upon the forensic detective 'Quincy' to testify before them, leaving a befuddled and shaken actor, Jack Klugman, attempting to explain to his nations elected leaders that 'Quincy' was a fiction, just a television show, and that he was not really a forensic doctor, and had no knowledge at all about the medical topic they had summoned him to be an expert witness with regard to.
Many parents, clearly, fail to teach their children real from unreal. Far to many.
This is what is criminal, this is what is dangerous, this is what is wrong.
It will not cure anything, nor even affect anything, to attempt to control media, or limit media, or ban media, or censor media. The problem is in the people, not in their toys.
The problem is a matter of parental responsibility.
No child should ever grow up unable to tell reality from fiction.
And they certainly should not be elected to congress later, either, but I digress.
Bottom line: media, including videogames, can only do good to people and to the culture as a whole, however violent -or sexualized, for that matter- they may be, so long as the people are biochemically, physically healthy, and so long as they have been taught firmly, in their childhoods, by responsible parents, the difference between reality and illusion.
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