I’m a big fan of computer games.
Trust me, I’ve played more than my fair share. Ever since my friend gave me a copy of Age of Empires out of a cereal box, I’ve been somewhat addicted to both games and cereal.
But for an industry worth an estimated $93 billion worldwide and projected to grow to over $100 billion in the next two years, it’s high time game manufacturers became more responsible for their actions.
I think the gaming industry is irresponsible for three reasons. Firstly, for such an immersive medium it often fails to adequately educate us. Secondly, it seems indifferent about influencing the minds of younger generations. And thirdly, it fails it disclose information that is of vital importance to its consumers.
Humans have often used entertainment as a source of education. From Macbeth’s admonishment of our vaulting ambition; to Imagine’s plea for peace; to The X-Factor’s support of our innate talents, our spectrum of historical entertainment has included deeply ingrained moral, practical and social lessons.
I’m not saying all video games fail to teach us useful things; but many of them fail to provide us with anything other than entertainment and that is a shame for a medium that’s so intrinsically influential. Nowhere else is this failure highlighted as strongly as in the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre.
FPS games like Call of Duty and Counterstrike immerse gamers into increasingly realistic war zones; but confoundingly fail to teach us anything about war. As all soldiers will tell you, shooting games in no way replicate the real-life experience. Gamers don’t experience the consequences of their actions; they don’t see the long-term effects of conflict; and they don’t discover the human cost.
Shooting games might teach us comradery, tactical thinking and discipline, but they don’t tap into anything deeper. Unlike a Shakespeare play or a John Lennon song, they don’t require us to ask questions of ourselves. Of course this is perfectly fine if we have other means of educating ourselves. But too often we don’t; and our entire notion of warfare is based on a fictional construct.
Carl Magnus-Helgegren is a Swedish journalist who caused controversy by taking his kids to the Middle East to see what real war looked like before he would buy them violent video games. We interviewed him last week and I think his point is completely valid. We have a responsibility to educate our children about the world. Sweden hasn’t experienced war in 200 years. There’s no way future generations will be able to make informed decisions about war if their only points of reference are unrealistic video games.
It’s ironic that war games are unrealistic given the tremendous effort to produce the opposite effect. Games like Call of Duty are shaped by military consultation, are based in real geographic locations and feature the same weapons that actual soldiers use (paying royalties to the arms industry, but more on that later).
But despite this push for realism, many war games encourage blatant and unrepentant violations of the laws of war. These commonly include principles of civilian distinction and combat proportionality, but also acts of torture and self-determined justice.
It’s hard to find a more damning example of the influence of video games than in Islamic State recruitment videos. The similarities to Call of Duty speak for themselves.
I get it. It’s a game. Who cares?
Or maybe it’s better to ask, who doesn’t care? Because it certainly seems like the video game industry doesn’t.
The truth is, there is no scientific research that validates a link between computer and video games and violence. Instead, a host of respected researchers has concluded that there is no link between media violence and violent crime. – Entertainment Software Association
There are so many studies in this area it’s hard to determine a single truth. FPS games might dissociate action from consequence. Or desensitise people to violence. Justify illegal military action. Or are simply be no different from concerns about all new media.
But in the same way that climate change “might” drastically change our world, are we content to rely on a debatable certainty? Or would we prefer that the gaming industry took some extra steps, just in case they are wrong?
The Entertainment Software Association says that they fulfill this responsibility through video game ratings, citing that 88% of parents feels the system is very or somewhat helpful. Unfortunately a study done in Australia this year found only 10% of people said game classification had “a lot of influence” on the games they purchased. I am willing to bet the majority of young gamers in Australia have played a game with an older age classification. If alcohol or driver license fraud occurred on a similarly large scale, there would be a national outcry.
Government surely has some responsibility in this area, as do parents, but I also believe the video game industry should pull its significant weight.
Even if the studies are wrong and video games have no influence over players, realistic FPS games are still actively supporting war. Why? Because they fund the arms industry.
It’s a little-known fact that FPS games pay gunsmiths a percentage or a lump sum to replicate their weapons accurately. Game companies refuse to disclose how much they pay for these rights, but gun makers say it’s typically around 5-10% of the retail price. Not a bad turnover rate… and puzzling considering most manufacturers pay to have their products featured in movies and games.
So the arms industry gets the best of both worlds, with product placement in games actively hoping to turn young players into gun owners. I think that’s something that consumers deserve to know…and game manufacturers deserve to disclose.
Just as all packaged foods are required to detail where they came from and what they contain, I think video games should explain what went in to making them. Otherwise who knows what we’re really buying?
Video games are now an integral part of our society. They play an important role in the education and development of our kids. But for an industry founded on principles of creativity and imagination, I think it is letting us down. Violent video games need to invest some of their creative potential into meaningful content… before it’s game over.