Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Out of the mouth of babes

For a president, Trump is remarkably unguarded in his speech. In absence of a teleprompter he talks stream of conscience with no regards for the party line or the politically correct. So when presented with a clip of footage from several modern games, his reaction appears quite honest: "This is violent, isn’t it?" and then "I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved.".

Now video gamers are as partisan as the next guy and quick to dismiss any criticism as just being motivated by a desire to distract from the NRA. But can't you just step back for a moment and read these quotes above at face value? Aren't they fundamentally true? We do have a "violence in entertainment" culture. We do have systems in place that prevent movies and video games from displaying sex, but not from displaying gore. And it would be extremely callous to assume that a kid's mind is in no way affected by seeing that sort of stuff. That doesn't mean that there is a direct causal link between playing video games and school shootings, or that gun control wouldn't be a better option than games control. But there is also a lot of very visible denial from the games media, which shows you that Trump's remarks have hit close to home.

The violence is frequently gratuitous, games like Splatoon prove that you can take the same genre and cartoonify it into something much less violent. Nintendo makes a lot of great games with minimal violence. And it isn't just the graphical display of violence in video games, it is also the gameplay. Multiplayer shooters or games like Fortnite Battle Royale with its last-man-standing victory condition are inherently teaching a very wrong message of hate. There are a large number of games out there which I simply can't play because I am too disgusted by both the violence and the toxicity of the players.

I have zero trust in Trump coming up with a viable solution (he appeared muddled on the existence of rating systems). But his gut reaction that this stuff is violent and potentially a problem is right. Gamers need to overcome the denial step and face the truth. If the industry doesn't change voluntarily, politicians are going to intervene at some point.

I am very much on the free speech side of the fence. But as you say, philosophy aside, it is troubling.

If you look at that 88-second clip, it is hard to see many politicians coming out on the side of ESA.
"If the industry doesn't change voluntarily, politicians are going to intervene at some point."

As effectively as they intervene in other areas? Not to mention that, as we progress through the century, "politicians" will be people who grew up playing violent video games and watching violent movies. Leaving aside all the other factors in his personality, Trump is an old man. It's hardly surprising his experience hasn't prepared him for what he's being shown. I'd be very suspicious indeed of a similar reaction from a politician in his 40s. How long have violent video games been the norm? Thirty years? I get very irritated by people in their 40s and 50s acting as though this is all new to them. Either they had very odd childhoods or they have very bad memories or they are flat out lying about how much they know.
Shameless self-promotion:
And it would be extremely callous to assume that a kid's mind is in no way affected by seeing that sort of stuff.And it would be extremely callous to assume that a kid's mind is in no way affected by seeing that sort of stuff.

This kind of statement would be a lot more impressive if you backed it with links to some research showing such effects. If you look around, you'll discover that they are not so easy to find, both because measuring aggression is done by proxy, so you're never sure the result is true, but also because when looking at the society they seem very much at odds with reality:
- violence in western societies has been going down, even when videogame usage exploded
- if videogames foster violence, then the gamer population should be overrepresented in jails while in reality it isn't.

So you'll forgive me if I take Trump's quote for what it is: the basic uninformed opinion we've already been fed for years, which gets reported only because a president said it and it suits a specific business. It resonates because it's the kind of simple and direct inference which sounds right because you've dismissed anything else.

BTW the same argument was used around one century ago against detective stories, which were accused of teaching people how to commit crimes.
@Helistar: What you do here is what the video game industry and media have done for years. They first rephrase the question from "are children affected by what they see in games and media" to "can you prove a direct causal link from video game violence to school shootings" and then take the negative answer of the second question to apply to the first.

That children are affected by media is proven. Any parent whose child had nightmares after watching a horror movie can confirm that. Likewise the impact of porn on teen sexual behavior has been documented widely. The effect of violence in media is less immediate, and it depends on how that violence is depicted. You can show violence as being something bad, or you can show violence as being a viable solution to problems. The latter is far more harmful than the former.
Despite 90% of males age 13-18 playing video games, juvenile crime continues to drop to all time lows. There has actually been research suggesting video games are a major cause of this drop, because children today spend more time inside playing video games and less time outside getting into trouble. Not great news for the obesity epidemic, but the idea of video games pushing youths into crime or violence has not materialized in the real world.

The rampant, open corruption of the current administration should show you why you don't want government intervention here. If such an agency existed in the US right now, the new head would be a former EA executive after EA donated heavily to Republicans, and no EA game would get over T rating no matter how bloody. Meanwhile, Splatoon 2 would inexplicably get an AO rating, effectively banning it completely.
Realistically, games and movies must have some effects on their players / watchers, but it seems clear - including from research - that any effects that exist are relatively minor. All societies censor, but I think censorship should be confined to the most outre stuff; artistic freedom and giving customers what they want are important values too.

Still, it's going to be funny watching folks who have pushed a platform of changing games in order to affect players' psyches in various ways with regard to sexism, violence, racism etc. tying themselves in knots in order to avoid agreeing with Trump. And these folks are probably more of a danger to gaming culture at large than any rules US politicians come up with.

juvenile crime continues to drop to all time lows

Again the same strawman argument. Did I say *anything* about juvenile crime? No, I didn't. I said that violent content in media affect children. Even if we can reasonably assume that this includes lowering a barrier towards using violence to solve problems, that still doesn't correlate well with crime. Punching your little sister is violent, but will not get you a juvenile record.

If you don't think that media content affects children, how do you justify the ban on sex in the exact same media?
I think it's strange that people forget about the one media that affects everyone - marketing. How is it that being constantly bombarded with imagery can convince someone to buy something like alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food choices, yet other forms of media are given free passes regardless of the message/experience/exposure time? If advertising can have desired and controlled targets and outcomes, how can anyone not think that targeted violence would not have any deleterious effects?
@Tobold: What you do here is what the video game industry and media have done for years.

And what you've done in your answer is what conservative/religious groups have done for years: take an effect which has been determined and then extrapolate it to what it suits them. And when data to support it doesn't exist: fabricate it, which is exactly what you do with your "Punching your little sister" example.
If an effect of violence shown in the media increasing violence in society exists, it should be visible in some statistics about violence, otherwise it's like cellphone emission affecting people. We know very well it affects people (heats them up), but this doesn't automatically mean it causes brain cancer.

@NoGuff: How is it that being constantly bombarded with imagery can convince someone to buy something like alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food choices

Are you really sure about that? Because:
- ads for smoking have been banned, but smoking has gone up recently
- you would guess that constantly bombarding people with images of starving children being helped would push people into helping others, while the latest elections around the world seem to indicate the opposite effect

I fear that what you wrote is just another oversimplification of a problem which is much more complex and cannot be reduced to "show image -> obtain behavior".
I think it was Trevor Noah in the daily show who said: if video games were really that influencial why aren't they used everywhere?
It's the gameplay, Bryksom. To make an influential video game, you must first make a successful video game. The gods know how hard that is. I got a game from the Department of Health aimed at 5-10 year-olds. The premise was that our hero was miniaturised and sent into the human body to undo the damage done by smoking. The kids played it once, and never touched it again, because the gameplay was so-so. It was unable to create the level of influence it's makers intended because of that.

Very few games are successful. I doubt advertisers would gamble on hundreds of uninfluential failures in the hopes of striking the influence jackpot on one.

That doesn't mean that the games we actually play have no influence on us. Nor do I mean to imply that they have a lot of influence on us. But Trevor Noah's glib soundbite tells us nothing on the matter.
I'm not saying video games have no influence at all, they are on the same page like books and movies.

But take a game like Counter-Strike where the gameplay literally is "buy weapons and kill people". That's the only gameplay. Also you can only win if you kill everyone not on your team. A successful game with millions and millions and millions of players. If CS had any influence making people go out, buy weapons and kill for real, there would be a lot more shooting all over the world.

Road traffic would look very different if games like GTA would actually influence its millions of players to behave as they do in the game.
Or Death Race 2000, back in the Seventies...
I agree that video games can have an impact, and watching my child grow up I can see some of that, but the real question is just what that impact is. The long regarded assumption is that video games lead to a desensitization to violence, but there's no statistical corroboration to support that, and plenty of evidence that it has zero impact whatsoever on a behavioral level. You could argue that there is a socialization/interactive problem evident online, but I question whether this is necessarily correct, either. I'm firmly in the camp of "I hate behavior in MP games,' as you are, but I don't think we have sufficient evidence that this behavior would disappear in absence of video games. It's not a case of "video games & the internet made this happen," it's a case of "video games and the internet made this behavior visible to a population that might not have seen it otherwise."

Again, we're looking at a medium and assuming that it's existence equates with cause, a fallacy that has hit all modern media and technology. It's an especially amusing scenario now as adults who have grown up with video games their whole lives look at these games and make interesting new assumptions about how they impact behavior in a younger generation without considering that their own generation also went through this.

My own 6 1/2 year old son is allowed to play some violent games such as Titanfall 2 and I am confident he's going to be fine. He cried when the robot sacrificed itself. He had a more profound and emotional experience with the game than he has had with any movie in the last year. He's also very prone to helping allies out in co-op and loves figuring out if there's a heal mechanic. These are all supported options within violent video games, and he is finding elements that allow him to enjoy the action while engaging in rewarding cooperative behavior, as well as the story elements. I feel like he's got a unique advantage with this interactive media that I seriously wish I had when I was his age, when I was stuck with Space 1999 and Super Friends....and the only good thing on the horizon was the original Star Wars. If anything, his generation's problem is going to be one of jaded burnout as they have too much access to good entertainment, to interactive entertainment, and by the time he's 18 I suspect that like most Millennials I know today he will find it hard to enjoy anything because he's already seen too much, become to genre savvy too quickly.
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