Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Hitting Is Natural Play

Greg Tito | 11 Jan 2013 17:00
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There's been a lot talk about videogame violence. Since the horrible events last month in my home state of Connecticut, people have felt a strong urge to blame something, anything, in order to have a target for their despair and outrage. I get it. It's how the human psyche deals with such an incomprehensible tragedy. But as someone who enjoys games on a fundamental level, as someone who feels games have enriched my life in uncountable ways, it's frustrating to hear so many voices cry out for their condemnation. I understand the inclination, I really do, but it proceeds from a false assumption. We want to stop these attacks, but the truth is there is no quick, short-term way to prevent them.

That's because there is not one single reason why these attacks occur. There is not one source of so-called inspiration, not one kind of weapon or ammunition, not one switch that can be turned off which will prevent similar shootings from happening. Removing violent videogames from a child's hands will not automatically make him a healthy, non-homicidal citizen any more than putting a basketball in his hands would let him dunk.

I've read all the arguments the videogame opponents throw out. "All that exposure to violence can't be good." "Studies show people are more aggressive after playing games." "My kids play too much dang videogames!" And you know what? They are all bullshit.

The idea is the prolonged active violence in games will somehow cloud a person's mind so that they want to inflict violence in real life. In order to believe that means you must willfully misunderstand the basic nature of play. Spend some time around young kids or even your pets, and you'll quickly realize a lot of play is violence. Kids will routinely wrestle with their parents or siblings, and throw balls or sometimes harder things at them. Dogs will growl and nip at their playmates, inflicting small injuries in the course of roughhousing. I have a friend who loves getting cats to scratch him as they playfully fight. Playing with violence in a controlled environment is one of the basic ways in which we learn to express ourselves. That's one of the things that attracts people to playing videogames. Taking that expression away may actually cause more harm than good.

People usually cite studies like the one conducted by Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri or the more recent experiment at Ohio State University. The efficacy of the methods used aside - an air horn? seriously? - both of these studies suggest playing videogames makes you more aggressive. The thing is: aggression is not something to be shunned as bad or evil but a normal part of human life. We all feel excited sometimes, and merely feeling that way does not mean you will start to inflict horrible pain on others. Being aggressive or confident is a quality that many people desire in job applicants or romantic partners. The behavior of many professional athletes would be described as "aggressive." How is having an increased heart rate and excitation after successfully completing a task such a bad thing? If the same studies were conducted after a wide receiver scores a touchdown or a center blocks a shot, they would be marked as being aggressive in how they spike the ball, or scream in exultation.

Because of how these events are dramatized, there is an assumption that violence is on the rise, but that's just false. Criminals who commit these heinous acts are actually very rare. There are 315 million people in the United States and in the last few decades there have been really only 3 major shootings in schools. It seems like a lot - and I'm not discounting the tragedy of these events in any way - but the number of incidents is very low. Violent crime in the U.S. overall, while still higher when compared to other countries, has declined since it peaked in the late 80s and early 90s. Why is crime declining? Well, there are many theories - some even suggest the popularity of videogames is why - but the point I want to make is change occurred without legislating to control our media.

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