Thursday, February 16, 2012

Do games make you violent?

Let's see what common sense tells us about games making us violent.

Being a game designer, I am often asked these questions...
Do games make people violent?
Do games have an adverse effect on kids?

The game development fraternity will expect a NO for an answer. Others who know that I am part of that fraternity would expect a NO from me as well. And looking at how I've started this article, I am sure you are already expecting a shocker that I am going to claim otherwise. But let's read on before we jump to any conclusion... ;)

A few days back, I was 'following' an argument on a game developers forum about how random journalists who don't know what they are talking about, make wild and unfounded claims that games make people violent. Their stories, at times, backed by the equally clueless armchair academics with statistics to back their claims. I know for a fact that 80% of such stats are conjured out of thin air. (Got it :D) Anyway, once such an article is published, it is customary for the game developers to waste no time to pounce on that article and the writer to show how wrong and malicious that research is. And that something must be done to save the games industry from these 'enemies of games.' On such forums you dare not contradict the protectors of the games industry.

The most favorite defense of game developers is to pass the buck on to the most logical victim (victim of all victims) - the movie industry. 'Why blame the games when movies have been making people violent for over a century?' I really wish to see how the movie fraternity reacts to that!

The other favorite defense is to make everyone play Portal (A First Person Spatial Puzzler). Kids become bright after playing that game, is their claim.

I agree that opinionated journalism is a bane but, believe me, games are not the only victims. Also, whenever someone puts a real bullet in someone's head, the attitude of searching through his games library first and then, if required, checking out his hidden weapons inventory and criminal record as optional corroboratory exhibits is nothing short of a gimmick to grab the headlines.

So what's my take? 

On games
- Anything (including games) that entertains possesses the power to influence your thoughts.
- The extent and the kind of influence depend on the malleability of that person's mind.
- If a game can influence you positively (like most puzzle games), it can affect you in a negative manner as well.
- That most games, by themselves, aren't good or evil.
- Games can definitely trigger certain behaviors (I usually prescribe a couple of games as a suppository whenever people on my team suffer from a creative block. It works like magic :)  )

On people and them not allowing children to play video games 
 - I have a feeling that most game developers and journalists tend to think of their customers/readers as people with sub-par intellect. So much so that they believe that reading articles about how good or how bad games are, can tilt the balance in either direction.
- People, in my opinion, can very well decide if they want to play games or not and which games to play.
- People also know how to best bring up their child. The games industry should refrain from patronizing parents about how playing video games will or won't affect their child. After all, we aren't taking the responsibility of that child, are we?

Do games (video games specifically) make people violent?

Can they make people violent?
Yes they can (especially if the person has a violent disposition). Also it will be a great exercise for the game developers to dig deeper into why and how games were invented and for what purpose. I am talking about absolutely ancient games.

Can people be made violent by factors other than games?
As a trial, just try to mouth, 'You should be given an award for your great traffic sense', to a passing motorist. Point a finger at him if possible and see how he reacts.

So does the debate over whether games make people violent or not, holds any water?
No. It's a pointless debate.

- regards,

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