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Opinion by Alex Yannopoulos
Does the video gaming industry have an ethical obligation to produce less violent and/or addictive content?
From what I have seen, this is a vaguely debated topic in the everyday news of our modern society. What one will usually hear about in the news is of the political and diplomatic disorders in the world. People must realize that the gaming industry has expanded so dramatically that at least half of the people you've met have at some time played video games. Only recently, as in the last 5 years, the media has become aware of the situation surrounding gaming violence and addiction.
I chose to discuss both violence and addiction in gaming because I believe that addiction is the tool that the gaming companies use in order to sell their products. In conjunction with the hostility of human nature, especially in adolescents, everything is wrapped in a very "behavior changing" package. Games used to be , and are meant to be, a recreational method to relax after a hard day's work, or studying or anything else of a stressful nature in one's life. There are the people that go out during the weekends having fun by socializing and meeting others (in general) and there are the gamers. When I refer to gamers I don't mean the people that will randomly play a game for half an hour, because they usually stop playing for long periods of time once they are bored with it and it will be a while before they touch a gaming remote again. Now, the gamers I want to focus on are people that are dissatisfied with their current life and the things they have to cope with every day. This is their way of escaping for brief periods of time from all the things that trouble them; just like the smoker or the alcoholic. There is not one person in the world that doesn't have an addiction. Rather, there are people that give in to it, and there are others that can control it, therefore not showing that they are addicted to anything.
So, when a person starts "living his life" in a video game, its only natural that when they find themselves in the real world again, they start behaving just like they do in the game. I don't think there are many people out there that would like to be pick-pocketed or murdered; a behavior that is quite common in modern video games. This skill of mimicking what we learn is deeply rooted from the earliest stages of one's existence. Consequently, when the gamer realizes that his behavior is not approved by the society, the next step is to go back to the game with even more passion. Doesn't this remind you of another group of people? Maybe drug addicts? This is what links gaming addiction and violence.
The video gaming companies of our time are ,indeed, following the canonical view and are being socially responsible; at least by the laws that the society has created. What they are doing is trying to maximize their profit while avoiding to disturb the law as much as possible. So, consequently there is a very fine line between what is illegal or not. The video game companies use the same method of maximizing their profit as any other company. In example, tobacco companies are promoting their product in such a way that they are being socially responsible but are also making as much money as possible. The difference between these two companies is that video games haven't had as much attention as tobacco. While researching, I found that tobacco has been bombarded with an awful lot of fines and court decisions during the last couple of decades, but the fines they had to pay where trifling compared to the money they make each year. When a certain commodity has a clear advantage over other goods it is bound to attract attention and make enemies. Such is not the case with video games. They have been, in a way, sneaking inside households and have specifically affected adolescents more than any other age group. What modern society thinks of video games is just another recreational activity to "kill time".
I bet that there is a 13 year old kid somewhere that plays a video game right now that displays murder, gore and substance abuse while his mother doesn't have a clue about it. Video games replace the other addictions that start to appear in adolescents such as tobacco and alcohol. It is a way to offset the "strange" behavior of adolescents by taking away their anger and rage and dispensing it in killing virtual characters on-screen. As previously stated, these actions inside a game are not approved in the least in society and is certainly not a moral behavior to go about killing people. What do you think happens when this kid/adolescent realizes that he is not socially acceptable? If you combine this with the peer pressure that exists in large amounts in schools, you are giving this kid the biggest motivation possible to go back to his house and play his video game. What will the kid feel after being ridiculed by his schoolmates? Certainly anger for being rejected and rage for not being able to do anything about it. Hence, the game will take away this stress but as a toll it will throw this kid deeper into the endless abyss of video gaming addiction. This concludes the canonical view for the video gaming companies.
As a note Aristotle's Virtue Ethics are going out the window when we are talking about a CEO of a video gaming company.
There are different degrees of addiction in the variety of products available for usage/consumption and it's mostly affected by the type of video game played. There are two types of video games in general, the single player and MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) games.
As a note the threshold of addiction for single player games can have quite an impact in a player's life, but not nearly as much as an MMO. This is true because when a game is online, the player is able to speak, interact and communicate with other real people and not with NPC (Non Player Controlled) characters. This satisfies the need of the gamer to be socially acceptable and thus, overthrow the bad feelings induced by reality and one's school peers/colleagues ,as previously stated. It is sort of like a new family for the gamer, sometimes even more comforting than their real family. It might sound shocking but here is why. We have this stress source, peer pressure and thus sadness for being unable to be a part of the real life community. A kids parents that don't comfort their kid about the situation of being socially acceptable because of a million reasons that the parents will come up with; will cause the kid to feel like his parents don't love or care about him. This will lead him in his new family with an even greater eagerness. This is the main reason why single player and MMO games are different. Playing a single player game may be harder for the player to feel like the NPC's are his family since they cant answer to specific questions and feelings of the player and the only way to communicate is through the created dialog options that the game creators have set. Although that doesn't mean it;s impossible to not feel like NPC's understand your real life stressors. This leads me to my next point. What do gamers find so comforting in their video games that make them love them so much? The average person of our society probably thinks that video games are about putting blocks together (Tetris) and making them disappear, or maybe eating little dots to grow and beat the game (Pac-man). Well, I'm here to tell you that if you browse the internet you will find games that replicate everyday life with a terrifying level of detail. From stealing cars, robbing houses and killing people to getting a haircut, buying property and having a sex life. All the above would have consequences and/or would cost amounts of money that one might never succeed of accumulating in real life. Need I say more why a stressed individual would choose playing his video game over, say, going out with friends for a drink or even talking with their parents?
In conclusion, I would like to add the current trends of video games and the sort of goals the video gaming companies want to achieve. Games used to be "happy" meaning, the gamer's goal was to succeed in a task that seems childish, such as bouncing a virtual ball of a wall. When the all popular counter-strike came out, a game that was about killing players with modern warfare weapons, I believe a new cult of games started to develop. The laws for video games started getting implemented with more seriousness than before. As the years passed though, these laws have been crumbling one-by-one. Here are some examples of displays one can find in the newest video games available right now. I do not want to focus on any particular game because I would not want to bring any attention from any company. Anyway, here are some common examples of immoral behavior and censored displays such as murder, drugs, horror images, and gore in every single form, sexual harassment and explicit sexual content . The games of today fulfill the above immoral displays perfectly. If you don't believe it, a mere search on the internet will back this evidence very easily. I would like to focus on two things here; I feel like the companies are brainwashing kids into beings with no emotion, or beings that care for a fellow man. The gore, murder and theft are depicted in such a way that people don't realize how these just glide into their mind and I believe, subconsciously , root themselves in our brain. Just like advertising; people get subliminal messages about products every day without noticing, but subconsciously when the moment comes to pick a product with competition, the one that has shoveled the most messages in one's brain will probably be the one who will get the money. I bet that there are kids out there now that are discussing how "cool" it would be, driving through the city with a stolen car and shooting at people. These are just speculations and you might think this must not stand true, but I would like to share my opinion on the trends and course of events involving video games.
So, apart from bombarding how video games are bad and addictive, I would also like to point out the benefits of video games and how they SHOULD be used.
Here is a quote taken from the online Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game):
Video games can be such a creative way to spend free time and get the benefits out of it, but gamers and the respective companies must realize that the course of video games has started to take the wrong road, and its time to backtrack a little and speculate what should be implemented in games and what should be banned. There is sure to be controversy from both sides of the matter, for the sake of money of course, but in the end the consumers are the ones that will decide the course of video gaming history.
1. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game
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