In my previous article on this topic I made mention that....

Undue violence and gore in video games is of course a worthy topic of debate. But that debate MUST be conducted in a mature and considered fashion. There is no evidence whatsoever which conclusively demonstrates that video games corrupt young people and cause violent acts, much as you might hear claims to the contrary. In fact, the bulk of evidence suggests that video games do not cause violence. If it is considered that not enough parental guidance is given to kids playing video games then that is no reason to deny people across the board the video game content they want. Surely, instead, it is a reason for increased education about parental responsibility!

It is unfortunate that much of the recent debate has concentrated on sexual content in games rather than the increasingly realistic violence to be found in some games which are targeted towards younger gamers. It is unfortunate that much of public opinion is influenced by the sensationalist snippets of comment to be heard in the mass media from high profile commentators. But let’s also not forget that underlying those sensationalist comments is a thread of argument which is very real and very valid. Some game developers DO make a questionable income from feeding questionable content to kids! Games most certainly do not CAUSE violent acts, but games can certainly CONTRIBUTE to them!

Gamers are complaining loudly about the infringements on their rights, and the perceived threat to their much loved activity. Non gaming technology aficionados should feel worried about the potential threat to the activity which drives much of the hardware development they enjoy. But the outcries need to be directed in a positive way.

The central thrust of concern about unduly violent videogames is a very rational one. Listen to this lengthy interview where Jack Thompson speaks at length with the crew at Chatterbox Games Show. Discount the emotive language (“trainers, “I’m out to destroy Rockstar) and you’ll hear a coherent and cohesive line of argument. In fact, you’ll hear a virtually undeniable line of argument.

Jack Thompson is perhaps a person who is really mainly interested in promoting the image and reputation of Jack Thompson. He's a rogue, but a dangerous rogue only because he is so successful at promoting himself by using every opportunity for emotive snippets which the gullible public will devour greedily.

The best way to address such people is to demonstrate where they've run off the rails. Countering them by trying to prove the OPPOSITE to whatever they say is nonsensical, because their appeal depends on their efforts at pandering to the real fears people hold and because they will inevitably be arguing a valid line. Take a polar opposite stance and you'll only feed and endorse their popularity.

Simple fact is, the developers and the games are NOT trying to make kids 'snap'. Simple fact is, if kids are already stuffed in the head violent games CAN make them 'snap', but as the “Life is just a videogame court ruling in recent days clearly demonstrates, that does not make the games themselves responsible.

People can and should be concerned about game content that kids get access to. That's reason to increase awareness amongst parents, not reason to withdraw whole stacks of different games from shelves. Many kids play games which contain violence and are not affected.

If you want to counter the damage done by people like Thompson, be realistic rather than try to prove the polar opposite to what he says. There's not much point to arguing that the Rockstar GTA3 series is defensible. People aren't dumb! Grand Theft Auto 3 was, basically, a bit of fun. Vice City was "Hang on, I don't want the kids doing that", San Andreas was "You gotta be kidding me, right?" The upcoming ‘Bully’ game is a totally offensive concept.

Accept the inevitable. Instead, focus attention on the related issues. That line of argument suggests that ALL video games are violent and that's not really the truth. I'd even suspect that the majority of hours spent on game playing are predominately non-violent, or are spent on games in which the so-called violence is clearly fantasy far divorced from reality. Concerned citizens are not going to get uptight about hours spent in Middle-Earth like fantasy worlds, for example. Point out the discrepencies in the picture people like Thompson try to paint!

And for goodness sake, if you're under 18, shut the hell up! Ranting on about how Thompson shouldn't be stopping you from playing San Andreas is doing more harm than anything!

Considering that 'Gamers' are a group apart, and that everyone else is 'scared and stupid' is not going to help either. Video game playing needs to be shown as the truly integrated part of everyday life that it is. Gamers DO also play sports. Crank up a conversation about the latest game in the change room before football training for goodness sake! Won't be any shortage of participants in the conversation, I bet! Projecting the image that gamers are a group apart doesn't help - it harms!

Gamers are fooling themselves with claims that videogames do not do harm. In the hands of quite young people they do! Gamers are fooling themselves with the "It didn't harm me so it's not the games causing violence" comments. That's not the line of argument being presented. What is being argued is that if placed in the hands of susceptible people, they will do harm. That is true. Gamers are fooling themselves by trying to argue that violent games are not 'trainers'. It is not being argued that violent games will train everybody to be 'killers'. It is being argued that, placed in the hands of someone prone to violence or vulnerable by virtue of circumstances, the game can act as a 'trainer' in the exact same way that combat simulators are used by the military. They develop reflex responses and break down inhibitions! Gamers are fooling themselves if they claim that the interactivity of videogames does not make them more influential than violent movies. That's simply not true!

It's the throwaway 'one-liners' as I've said, which need to be contested. Attention needs to be focussed on the way such information is presented, and the implications that are intended by such presentation. The central core of argument is quite correct, and if gamers don't recognise and accept that then they've lost the 'battle' before it's begun!

People need to recognise that there is, currently, a very real threat to the videogames industry. A large part of that threat has been caused by irresponsible people within the industry itself, who are quite happy to make money by pandering to the curiousity of young people about 'forbidden' content. Another large part of that threat has been caused by gamers themselves, in their thirst for anything 'taboo' they can get their hands on. Yet another large part of that threat is the environment we exist in. Worldwide, there has been a pendulum swing towards allowing more and more violent content in media. Many people, rightfully, believe that the pendulum has swung way too far and that it is time it swung back a bit!

All of these factors need to be recognised. You can't simply focus on the words of one activist and consider that disproving something you've heard him say negates all the argument being raised! And you can’t discount the fact that there are opportunists within the games industry, like Rockstar who are quite happy to get extra sales for adult content by aiming it at a younger audience. Let's look at the GTA3/Bully/Rockstar story a bit closer, eh? The following is my own analysis, NOT the stated intent of Rockstar:

Step one:

Let's make a game to make heaps of money. What sort of game should we do? Oh yeah. Make it 3rd person action. Chuck in some cars, some bashing and shooting, some cop chases. Make it the sort of thing that screams out "GAMEPAD!!!!". That sort of game sells shitloads.

Step two:

Bugger the aliens blowing up in clouds of gory green goop. Bugger the swords and spells and stuff. Let's make it 'real life'. Bung it in the City and have the cars running over pedestrians, outrunning cops and all sorts of fun stuff out of action movies. It'll get us a mature rating, but hey, we can just keep quiet about the fact that consoles games of that sort are mainly played by 12 to 15 year olds. No one takes much notice of games ratings, and we'll make shitloads of money.

Step three:

Let's make another one eh? Make more money! We gotta chuck something new in, so what'll that be? Hey! I've had a brainwave. Let's chuck in hookers and pimps! No one will notice!

Step four:

OK, that went off real well. No-one hardly said 'Boo' about it! Let's do another. What can we chuck in this time? Hey, let’s have even more gruesome violence and actually add sex! No fellas, better hide those bits with the actual nookie in them. Just leave the grunts. Otherwise we'll cop a 'R' rating and we'll lose all the sales that are gonna have kids playing it!

Step five:

OK, we've done that one about to death. What can we do next? We're doing well on this 'let's sell gross stuff to the kids, so let's make the most of it. I know. Let's have a game about schoolground bullying, and have the character a no-hoper who's been kicked out of every school he's been enrolled in! Brilliant!

I'm surprised that people don't see the progression hitting them in the head, to tell the truth. It's quite clear to see, and I'm damned surprised that Rockstar haven't copped grief over it well before now. You can argue all day and all night over the impact of games on underage youth, on the suitability of censorship law, on any number of the many different issues raised. But you can't overcome the fact that this company has pursued a quite questionable business model by targeting 'adult' content at kids and becoming increasingly blase about doing so. These are very much 'thrash the gamepad' types of games which they know damn well will be primarily played by kids.

Much of the debate has portrayed an image of the ‘modding’ community which suggests that they are ‘evil hackers’ who try to inject questionable content into games. That’s far from the truth. A small segment of that community might be described in that way, but for the most part game modders add extra content which is either innovative storyline or new ways of using particular game engine technology. The game modding community provides a useful function by adding value and lifespan to our games, and by providing impetus to the game developers to provide more capable software technology to us.

But as Thompson argues, game developers and distributors encourage and allow the game modding community. That is an abandonment of copyright protection in the eyes of the law! Do we want to see the entire modding community brought down because some people within it are using their skills simply to add increased gore and sexually explicit content to games. I don't. That's not what 'game modding' is supposed to be all about!

We need to start rejecting the people who do these things, in order to gain credibility in the eyes of the 'non-gamer' community. Laws are enacted as a response to the pressures of the entire community, not simply a segment of it. Time to look outside that insulated cocoon, for sure!

Are we really being responsible in the way we allow games to be produced, marjetted and used? After all, in the hands of younger children certain game content and gameplay can, indeed, be harmful.

Take note of the studies Thompson mentions in the middle of that interview. He indicates that numerous studies have shown that, in younger children, the activity is processed differently within the cortex, never reaching the frontal lobes for processing. Reactions more easily become automatic reflexes, and the areas of the brain which are used for reasoning and inhibition are bypassed. The younger the child, the more potential harm exposure to violent gaming can be. Those studies are real, and they're consistent. It's a qualitatively different situation to the child running around the back yard play acting, and that difference is physically reflected within brain activity.

With regard to 'training', the danger is not that the child becomes 'trained' in how to physically swing out and hit somebody, for example, but instead that his reflex action will become 'trained' to initiate the swing. There's also the difference in that gaming is a rather 'isolated' activity. There's no 'trainer' there with the young person. Instead, the game itself is doing the 'training'. We hear a lot of comment about how parents should be responsible for what their children play, and that is quite correct. But it also needs to be taken into account that it's virtually impossible for parents to be alongside the child giving them conceptual guidance whilst they are playing. The nature of the activity does not really lend itself to that occurring.

The major concern is really about access to violent content. Parents need to control their children's access, and parents need to be aware of the content of the games they allow their children access to. But that's not the entirety of the argument. Parents can't control what their kids are doing when their kids are elsewhere. At some stage, the line has to be drawn about what is acceptable and what is not. The guidelines need to be in place about how adult content is marketed and distributed. Currently, we don't do a helluva good job in that regard. People involved in the activity need to get more involved in the debate, for sure, but they need to get involved in a constructive way. Trying to 'naysay' every criticism that's raised is never going to do any good.

We need to consider the full range of involvement of everybody involved from game concept to game in the hands of the child if we are to develop adequate responses to the concerns raised. It’s all too easy to shrug it off by claiming that people have responsibility for their own actions. The idea that every act can be completely explained as 'personal responsibility was ALWAYS a myth. Life simply isn't a matter of cut and dried simple explanations like that. Personal responsibility plays a major role in our accountability, but our accountability is tempered by circumstances and influences which effect us.

Take the "Life is like a videogame" case for example. The fellow has been found guilty of murder. The court has ruled that he was not insane under the influence of videogames as his defence lawyers tried to argue. Good result. The fellow committed murder!

But that verdict does not necessarily also mean that the videogame had no impact at all on the act. There is a Civil court case yet to be heard, and there is every chance that the game developer or distributor will be also found culpable of contributing, by virtue of assisting to hone the fellows skills to the point where his actions were deadlier than they might otherwise have been. That case is yet to be heard of course, and time will tell. But regardless of the outcome, it is illustration of how the interplay of circumstances and events can be complex. Trying to find a single 'reason' for the things we do is an overly and unjustifiably simplistic approach.

I enjoy the video games I play. I have a passion for the machines I play them on. I value the games industry for the role it plays in the development of both computer hardware and computer software. I respect the right of adults to use and enjoy adult content in their entertainment and pastimes. I abhor the provision of unsuitable material to underage children. For goodness sake, let’s see the combatants in this public debate join forces and work towards a productive and positive outcome. Let’s have an end to the silly point scoring that goes on. It does nothing but enhance personal reputations!

Have we an effective censorship system? Do we adequately educate parents about the activities their children are engaged in? Are we doing enough to counter the damage done by ‘rogues’ on either side of the fence?

It’s up to all of us, I guess! For goodness sake, let's not allow the debate to be sidetracked by misinformation and by our outrage over pixellated nipples!

Concerning 'Modding' the disney online game Toontown Online has the right idea. You can select names from 4 part listing processes eg:

Professor Snappy JingleHarper

but if you want to type a name, it goes through a submission process that rejects the name if inappropriate. They should do that with the level editors, to keep the player-made environments friendly and in keeping with the rest of the game, but still innovative.
Disney has the right idea.

Be a part of the DaniWeb community

We're a friendly, industry-focused community of developers, IT pros, digital marketers, and technology enthusiasts meeting, networking, learning, and sharing knowledge.