The Senate recently held Hearings to determine that some video games could be violent, and advises manufacturers to consider some sort of rating system to help advise parents in game purchases. While many parent groups herald this as a triumph, and the media is abuzz with discussion about the new generation of video entertainment, many of us college age students have a different thought in mind: what kind of idiot does it take to spend this much money in hearings to figure out that something like Mortal Kombat is filled with senseless violence?
Video games have come a long way these days. It used to be that you manipulated crude graphics on a dim screen and heard a few clips and beeps when slamming around a kludgy joystick. Now, thanks to high technology, arcade games feature realistic, full screen displays and ergonomically-styled controls. And home units like the Super Nintendo and Sega are just advanced, with digitized pictures that look just like photos, perfectly synthesized sound, and thanks to new CD technology, more depth and strategy than ever. When you used to kick at something that looked more like Gumby than a street fighter, your modern day Kung-Fu-type game will have a picture-perfect Samurai warrior, with blood-curdling screams after his death.
Everyone is becoming aware of this flashy change in technology and concluding that video games have suddenly turned violent. I would argue that almost all video games have been violent to start with. After all, in the original Space Invaders, did you greet the incoming aliens with cookies and milk? No, you were blowing them away with a laser, hoping you didn't get canned first. And in Missile Command, you weren't signing peace treaties, you were nuking away your enemies before they got you. Yes, the old Atari 2600 "war" cartridge didn't seem too realistic, but the basic premise of you killing your friend's blocky tank first did involve a certain violence to it. Although new games highlight violence with snazzy graphics and sound, almost all video games are inherently violent. While at a video game programmer's seminar a few years ago, we discussed the basic plots of popular home computer and coin-op entertainment titles, and came to the conclusion that they could be placed in less than a dozen different categories. From "character advances in scrolling terrain fighting other characters" to "moving crafts on terrain avoid objects and fight other crafts", most titles with the exception of sports-related and puzzle-based games were all based on violence.
There are few reasons games are violent. One is simple economics: violent games can really bring in the quarters for an arcade. Many modern games are designed to let a player fight for a certain amount of time, then compulsively buy more lives after running out. If the player wants to continue an intense game, the loose change starts to flow and everybody is happy. Since many home games mimic their coin-op big brothers, the same concepts are taken home on the Super Nintendo or Sega. Another reason having to do with economics is that an educational arcade game would often lack the dynamics or flash needed to sell a good deal of copies. Yes, you could program a game based on The Grapes of Wrath, but the newest movie by Jean-Claude Van Damme might interest the demographics of the video game market a bit more.
The biggest reason that I think video games should stay violent is that they let you do something that you can't do in real life, which is the whole idea of virtual reality and simulation anyway. If you want to unwind after a tough day at work, you wouldn't want to go out with an AK-47 and destroy a McDonald's. However, you might want to go to an arcade with a couple of dollars and sit down at an X-Men console and fight a few hundred bad guys, then leave thinking about your game and not your worries. Games are just that, games. They are diversions to let your mind relax or expand, something that many people who are too technophobic to appreciate the computer and its recreational uses simply don't understand.
Of course, the main reason for investigation in the video game violence scam has been to "protect our children." The same excuse that is destroying the underground music industry with labeling and black-balling is being applied to the video game sub-culture. Once again, a group of people can't understand what their children can purchase, so they are stopping it. The people who are afraid of the counter-culture and don't understand the advancement in technology want to limit life to their own experience. Unfortunately, video game manufacturers chose to comply quickly, making this a battle lost for those supporting the future of the video game industry. Hopefully the current generation can realize the limitations being imposed on the technology of the future before they get even more outrageous and limit some of the opportunities the world of tomorrow can bring us.
Jon Konrath is the Southern Indiana Representative for R.O.C.