Once More with Video Games and Violence

It seems that the subject of video games and violence is something that pops up repeatedly on my blog, albeit in varying forms.  In October 2007 I posted some thoughts on Youth Ministry, Video Games, and Violence in response to something that Ben Witherington had said on the subject.  Then in April 2008 I posted about Video Games and Violence but this was actually a reference to a news story wherein a man was reported to have murdered his girlfriend’s daughter with an actual video game controller.  And on a lighter note I linked to a video on the Onion that asked the question Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Our Children For the Apocalypse? So it is now with reference to Rick Mansfield’s recent post about an extremely violent and especially distasteful scene in the early parts of the recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [XBox 360 | PS3 | PC] that I offer these thoughts.

In Rick’s post he noted that he doesn’t necessarily mind violent video games, but he prefers to play the good guy.  In the comments to that post I noted that I’m something of a video game minimalist, i.e., since everything is fake I have no problems playing good, bad, or indifferent.  I’ve murdered police officers in Grand Theft Auto just as easily as I’ve saved princesses in Super Mario Bros.  But there’s no conflict between the two because I’m not actually doing either.  There’s no princess in distress in Super Mario Bros. just like there’s no cops enforcing the law in Grand Theft Auto.  They’re video game characters!  So when Jeff says in the comments to Rick’s post: “But I don’t think that killing people, stealing things, etc. should be entertainment for those who are commanded to be holy,” I say, AMEN!  I Couldn’t agree more!  But in video games no one is actually killing anyone or stealing anything.  When I hear about a murder on the evening news or read about some depraved act in the newspaper I feel bad for the victims, I feel disgust toward the criminals, and often times I’ll take a moment to offer some kind of prayer.  But why?  Because this stuff actually happened!  It’s real!  Not so with video games.  There are no victims, no criminals, and no one and nothing to pray for or about.

The comments to Rick’s post are varied and interesting, and I thought to respond to them, but knowing the irenic tone of Rick’s blog I decided against it.  In point of fact I had actually written quite a bit in response to these comments (that I found somewhat irrational, emotional, and a bit contradictory) in this post but at the last moment I decided to erase my replies because they’d engender a debate that I’d rather not engage in, one that I think very few would find edifying.  But for those interested in this subject I commend to your attention an episode of Penn & Teller Bull$#!† on violent video games.  I’ll warn you in advance that there is profanity so if profanity bothers you then don’t watch it.  But I found it interesting that one of the biggest detractors of violent video games was a huge gun advocate who owned a number of assault rifles.  I also found it interesting that the featured child who loved first person shooters cried after being taken to a gun range to fire a real rifle.  Just some food for thought.


8 thoughts on “Once More with Video Games and Violence

  1. which is why I prefer games like Age of Empires or Dune, something like that – they are far less involved.

    my main issue is that too often there is that young kid who hasn’t quite figured out the difference between fantasy and reality – it these types that I worry about having access to these kinds of games – the problem is how would you know who that is?

  2. I enjoy playing shooting games and actually am really eager to play Modern Warfare 2.

    However, I did want to bring up some potential issues that are raised in response to the reasons you gave for being ok with violent video games.

    1.) what about sex in video games? If it is ok to kill in video games because it’s fake and nobody is actually hurt is it also ok to have sex in video games since it’s fake?

    2.) Related to the above question is what happens when technology gets good enough to where we are actually playing games virtually and even though the things aren’t really happening in the real world they are realistic (in fact they feel like reality) and have the same cognitive effect on us, whether it’s killing, stealing, cheating, or having sex? Imagine a scenario like in Minority Report in the scene where you can go some where to experience whatever you want virtually.

    3.) What about things like chatroom sex? Since nobody is actually having sex is it ok? What if it were someone having chatroom sex with a program that is programmed to respond in certain ways based on what you type. Now another person isn’t even involved.

    4.) Would a man be cheating on his wife if he were having video game, virtual, or chatroom sex?

    Just a few related issues that come to mind if we justify playing violent video games because the killing and violence is fake and nobody gets hurt. I think we may have to come up with another reason for saying it’s ok or maybe drawing a line where it falls into sin.

    Bryan L

  3. Brian: I’ve yet to come across the kid that doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, at least as far as video games go. I’ve been playing since I was 5 and there’s never been any confusion.

    Bryan: (1) I think all of your questions hinge on whether or not someone can engage in these things without succumbing to lust. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City I owned a strip club and in Grand Theft Auto 4 I visited one on multiple occasions with my character’s cousin. In none of those instances did I get aroused or lust after the video game girls. Now for someone else it might be a different story. As you know, I watch movies with profanity and violence but I don’t watch movies with a lot of nudity because I know my limits.

    (2) I’ll reserve judgment until that day comes.

    (3) I think that clearly involves sexual lust which I believe to be sinful. I’d also ask what comes along with chat room sex or virtual sex (e.g., masturbation?).

    (4) If coveting a woman that a man has had no physical contact with is akin to adultery then I’d err on the side of caution and say yes.

  4. Nick:
    Interesting answers. I gather from what you’ve said that since nobody is actually being killed or hurt and there is no sex actually taking place, you locate the possible sin of the action in the feelings the game elicits. So that the killing in shooting games isn’t wrong because you don’t actually feel murderous and hateful, and you don’t want to actually do those violent things to people, you’re just trying to win a game. Whereas with the issue of sex in a game it isn’t necessarily wrong but becomes wrong if you start having feelings of sexual desire (lust) or you become sexually turned on. That’s what also makes things like chatroom sex or virtual experience which could possibly take place in the future wrong because they actually elicit those feelings and emotions.

    Am I reading you right? If so that’s an interesting position and I think it’s actually pretty valid. I think it does raise some other questions and issues though.

    Bryan L

  5. Bryan: Yeah, I think you got it pretty much right. One thing I will say though is that for virtual sex, it would seem that the sin had taken place in the persons heart before they even entered into the chat room or whatever. But I’ll say this also, if people have actual fantasies of killing people and they go to video games to get their ‘fix’ so to speak, then I think that speaks to a problem in the person as well.

  6. I guess the other questions that come to mind then are:

    1.) Why is the feeling of lust sin if it is not directed at anyone real? Why is the desire to have sex sin if that desire isn’t actually directed at anyone or anyone who is real. Is it a sin to be sexually turned on without it being by anyone or by someone who isn’t real?

    2.) Why do we enjoy games, movies, tv, or even comic books that glorify violence or that have violence as a central aspect? Why is it ok to enjoy those things? Is it ok to enjoy games, etc., that glorify other sinful actions as long as you don’t actually desire to those things or don’t have those feelings produced in us by them? Does the mere fact that we enjoy them mean deep down we do desire to do them or that we like them?

    Bryan L

  7. Bryan: I’d differentiate between the desire to have sex and lust. I think all (or at least most) humans have a natural desire to have sex. I don’t think that’s sinful in and of itself. I think when perversion enters the picture then then the desires can be sinful.

    See, the video game situation is different than the chat room thing in my opinion. Chat rooms are filled with real people. In GTA you can pick up prostitutes and if someone is playing the game and does it then I don’t think they’ve necessarily sinned (although depending on the situation they might have), but to sit there and ‘cyber’ with someone in a chat room is a different beast.

    If they’re ‘cybering’ with some kind of software then I again have to wonder what’s accompanying it. It seems to me that they’d actually be living out fantasies and I think at that point it’s wrong. The same can go for video games if that’s what’s going on. Like I said, if the person plays violent games as a way of acting out violent fantasies then something is wrong. But personally speaking I have no desire to kill people/monsters/aliens, or play professional football, or fight MMA in real life. It’s not an ‘escape’ to quote some of the commenters on Rick’s blog.

    As for the why of it all, I don’t know. I enjoy it because I find it entertaining, challenging, relaxing, and fun to watch. I don’t think enjoying is necessarily wrong but it can be depending on the circumstances, and it can mean that we desire to do these things deep down but I don’t think it necessarily must.

    Something I found interesting in the comments to Rick’s post was that one guy who condemned violent games said that he was in the Army and was a police officer. He’s been trained for combat which means he’s been trained to be violent. He also said he’s no pacifist. What was interesting was that I’m all for video games, and I’m not a pacifist either, but I could never be a solider or a cop because I don’t think that I could actually kill someone and I’d never want to be put in a position to have to.

  8. Thanks for the discussion Nick. I think it illuminated some things for me. I still think the why question is one that needs to be probed a bit deeper but I have a feeling one of the reasons we enjoy things like that is because it really is like fantasy more than reality since it’s similar to the movies, tv and comics we saw growing up which also contained those things but weren’t anything like the reality we experienced. So today we are still able to enjoy those things because they seem no more real than to us than Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Even if they try to accurately depict a reality somewhere in the world it’s not our reality.

    Bryan L

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