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Video Gaming and Ethics

© November 2008 Alex Yannopoulos

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.

  1. They certainly know what kind of harm they are causing to their audience when launching violent/addictive games.

  2. Their actions are 100% aimed for their own well-being and interest; money.

  3. The only thing that would be true thought, is that their decisions to launch production of such games do come from an unchanging character. Simply because there is no need to feel regret for what they are doing. They don't listen to the news about video gaming addiction; they don't get to meet their "victims", so why should they stop?

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 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game):

It has been shown that action video game players have better visuomotor skills, such as their resistance to distraction, their sensitivity to information in peripheral vision, and their ability to count briefly presented objects than nonplayers.[22] They found that such enhanced abilities could be acquired by training with an action game, involving challenges to switch attention to different locations, but not with a game requiring concentration on single objects.

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game

You can reach Alex Yannopoulos at alexsamuraiuuu@hotmail.com

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Sun Nov 23 21:10:50 2008: 4794   claudio

you can easily replace "videogame" with "movie" or "television". so what?

Sun Nov 23 21:19:24 2008: 4795   TonyLawrence

Not exactly the same, but yes, you are right. The ultimate responsibility rests with parents who should be aware of what their children are exposed to.

But even that's hard. We recently learned that our now adult daughter used to love going to a particular friend's house because they had sugary snacks, soda and other unhealthy foods we'd never allow in our house. Conversely (and amusingly) that friend told us that she loved coming to our house because we had "real food" and juice..

I do think that some video games. movies and tv shows are too violent, but I'm too much of a libertarian to suggest banning anything..

Sun Nov 23 22:21:24 2008: 4796   Adam

I disagree with you in so many ways and in so many places that I feel I can't even begin to pick you apart. You make a variety of absurd leaps of logic that lead you to equally absurd conclusions. Here are some examples:

"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... they start behaving just like they do in the game... 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."

"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."


Sun Nov 23 22:35:37 2008: 4797   TonyLawrence

You know, I can agree that this might be over drawn (though I'm not sure he really reached any conclusions), but do you really think that exposure to violence has NO effect?

I think that's even less realistic.

BTW. the Wikipedia article on violence is appropriate in this context: (link)

Sun Nov 23 22:52:42 2008: 4798   TonyLawrence

I might also comment that, given the way we are going now, the "skills" learned in these games might be useful in the future.. I'm only kidding a little.

Sun Nov 23 23:27:54 2008: 4799   Adam

I would say that violence in the media--- movies, television shows, videogames, news reports, etc--- must certainly have an effect on violence-prone youth. Now ignoring the author's crude, rudimentary and wholly ineffective attempts at employing psychological and clinical reasoning, let's be realistic for a moment. Only a miniscule fraction of children and adolescents go out and commit transgressive acts solely because they played it in a videogame. We know this. So any argument concerning the way videogame use addicts people like drugs do, or is directly responsible for youth crimes, or causes social excommunication, is a fruitless and unfocused discussion.

I think you're right, he didn't really draw any conclusions. I also think he misses the mark on pretty much every point he attempts to make.

Sun Nov 23 23:36:24 2008: 4801   TonyLawrence

I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I took it as concern for that miniscule fraction who might suffer ill effects.

I would NOT agree that we need to ban anything. Perhaps we need to pay close attention to problem children - indications of bullying and other unpleasant behavior should be examined carefully and help offered where needed..

Mon Nov 24 02:48:27 2008: 4803   anonymous

This opinion piece is simply uninformed at best, at worst completely insane.

Comparing video games to tobacco is simply fear mongering gibberish; tobacco has a real, degenerative, physically addictive effect with little to no positive benefits. Attempting to assign such an association to an emerging artistic and expressive medium is just ignorant.

Try watching people as they play violent video games and compare them to people watching a sports event. Good luck trying to prove who is the more aggressive through any objective observation. The vast majority of people have the innate ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality; unfortunately there are some few people (perhaps similar to the author of this opinion piece) who, due to other problems in life, are unable to cope with any sort of exciting stimulus. Maybe a more ethical response would be to try and help those poor people and understand the roots of their problems instead of pointing a finger at some amorphous genre within a new 'industry.'

Mon Nov 24 20:31:47 2008: 4811   Culpritius

Does any creative endeavor need to have the permission of some frightened and ill-informed minority to be ethical or lawful? I would say there are many other "industries" that have existed and still exist with more vexing ethical dilemmas than video game developers.
Interactive media is simply a form of expression much like literature, music or film. There have been numerous works in these fields that have been banned or considered unethical. Sometimes this may be justified, but usually it was simply censorship for the benefit of the inflamed and ill-informed minority. If you are looking for flawed ethics in industry, you have not gone nearly far enough in your search.

Mon Nov 24 20:39:58 2008: 4812   TonyLawrence

Well, again, I don't want to put words in the author's mouth, but I didn't read it as necessarily demanding censorship. I think he asked for self-policing (which is not going to happen!) and otherwise just expressed concern for the small minority that can be badly affected by this exposure.

I think we do need to be concerned about it. The answer isn't to ban anything: the harmless enjoyment of the many shouldn't be stopped because a very few can have problems. But we do need to be watchful for those people who could develop problems, try to catch them early and help them.

Sat Jan 17 03:17:31 2009: 5177   Tim

Well, I must agree that video game -does- have an effect on the youth these days, seeing as more and more violence is putting in, while it is being exposed to younger children with each game. I mean, even in MMO's today, there are 8 year-old kids playing as 15 or 16 year-olds, pretending that they know what's going on, absorbing what others say to them or to others. It's quite scary to think that an innocent-looking child would know how to operate a handgun, but it is possible, though unlikely as well. (Yeah, I'm not really heading into any conclusion, just making points here.) Obviously, if a kid was shooting NPC's for hours on end, pretending he was some great hero, wouldn't the effect be evident if someone slipped a real gun in his hand? Gaming at a higher level of violence does require some sort of maturity, since I partially agree with the fact that games "brainwash" kids. Well, they do. To an extent. Nobody's going to be jumping cliffs and popping off their jetpacks any time soon, likewise as other kids might not be smart enough to tell what is real and what isn't. Anyways, thought I'd just leave my opinions on here.

Okay, okay, I'll conclude to that. What's my opinion? For the games or against? Well it really all depends. Look at Nintendo, for example. Violence? No. Fun? Meh. Then look at Microsoft. Violence? Plenty. Fun? Yes. Games should be developed at all degrees of violence, though, better ranking should be made. I mean, that ESRB rating that says M doesn't mean anything to a 10 year old. It stands for "fun". So yeah. My vote's in for better game ratings.

Sat Nov 7 21:15:54 2009: 7494   anonymous

You had a link from wikipedia ..

Fri Feb 19 19:33:47 2010: 8099   mike


some of those things you have said are completely ridiculous and farfeched (i have no idea how to spell that) because any human being with common sense and that has been raised by decent parents would know that killing people and all that other stuff, is really bad and really stupid and will get you into a lot of trouble. me being a gamer, not at all how you displayed it to be. a gamer, yes is not someone that plays a game for a half hour every few days. but a gamer, that plays every day, because they enjoy that game, and maybe for a lot of other reasons. i play call of duty online, almost every day, when i am off work and done with homework. i play it because i love that game, and i am good at it. and i play it with alot of my friends in real life, and people i have met online. and what you said about these friends being a second family, i agree, because you feel more accepted with these people because they share the same values and beliefs or whatever because obviously you are playing the same game. and you may feel more accepted if you are good at that game. yeah sure i have thought about being the people in that game, but i have enough common sense to realize that that is a little ridiculous, and out of the question because, i don't have enough money to buy guns, and go kill people, because that is really really stupid. and yeah sure i have thought about joining the army where it is "accepted" to kill the "bad guys" but realize that i would not last in the army because it is not at all like a video game.

Thu Jul 8 05:49:42 2010: 8801   anonymous


Personally, I feel like it was well written with strong feelings. I don't agree with any of it, however, everyone is entitled to their own idea. I'm writing an essay for an expository writing class right now and I picked the subject of Gaming and Education. This is a great source for my acknowledge and refute section so thank you for that. I would like to mention that the gaming industry (mostly made up of the people that are "attacked" in this article) has evolved immensely and has come to offer many beneficial tools in educating the military, medical field and even social environments. Simulation is an important tool for both the military and medical fields. As much as the author of this article would like to believe that these advances would have just come along anyway, we would not have these wonderful additions that save countless lives had it not been for the "gamer's" "addiction". Like I said, it was well written and I understand your concerns and humbly acknowledge the validity of all of them. I would just comment that it seems extreme and completely one sided. Parental guidance is the only defense against young children experiencing the types of things mentioned. It's not the child's fault if the parents are too irresponsible to monitor their activities. So would it not be more accurate to replace your opinion of CEOs of gaming companies with irresponsible parents that allow their children to play the violent and subjective games?

Sat Mar 19 05:10:48 2011: 9386   anonymous


the main cause for gamers violence in this article seems to be that people are forgetting that videogames are fantasy. this usually comes from the games trying to be more realistic not the violence itself.
the thing i dont think people realise is that many people play videogames for the freedom not only for the action, i mean in how many countries can you go chop down a tree and use it to build a new room onto your house or just dig a hole till you find something valuable and sell it for a fortune.
violence in video games can be used for effective anger and stress relief so to prevent it from leaking into everyday life, just change the scene from modern earth to medievil europe or some futeristic other dimension and Don't forget to be imaginative.

Thu Jun 23 16:50:28 2011: 9585   TonyLawrence


Well, looky here: (link)

Study says violent game playing reduces real crime!


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