Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is video game violence immoral.

In a cut-scene from Company of Heroes last night I watched a frenzied young machine gunner mow down dozens of retreating German soldiers. The scene was meant to be gritty rather than glorious and an officer halts the slaughter with the command to "stop wasting bullets". Nevertheless it caught my attention and made me think. Was it wrong for me to enjoy a game that portrays the infliction of suffering and death?

Almost every game I enjoy is based on violence. Company of Heroes is perhaps one of the starkest examples because it offers a photo-realistic portrayal of a conflict that still remains in living memory. Real people died in the battles of Carentin, boys and men with mothers and families who mourned them. Is there something immoral about my enjoyment of a simulated re-enactment of their conflict? Would it make a difference if the setting was fictional or if the victims of my simulated violence were not human?

I know that there has been yet another call to ban violent video games in Germany but I am not really qualified to talk about the issues it raises. I am not asking about possible links between video game violence and real life violence. I have no evidence of such links from my own personal gaming experience. Despite my love of violent gaming I am in truth a fairly gentle man in real life. No I am not asking about such links, instead I am asking at a more fundamental, moral level: Is it wrong to use simulated violence for entertainment?

The very fact I am writing this piece indicates that I do have some moral qualms about the issue but I am not going to stop any time soon. Indeed if I think about it it may well be that the simulated violence of gaming provides a safe outlet for my normal male aggression.


Tesh said...

I tend to think it's as moral or immoral as violence in real life would be. Violence can be the most moral solution to certain problems, and one of the points of life is to understand the "time and place" for everything.

That said, I don't think that games really understand that, or promote proper comprehension. *shrug*

Melf_Himself said...

Morality only applies to real life, not fantasy. So discussing the morality of violence in video games is moot unless there's a link between one and the other (which I don't believe there is nearly enough evidence for).

mbp said...

That's a straightforward rule Melf and I do think that approach should be taken when legal issues are considered. If there is evidence that games cause harm in real life then they should be subject to legal sanction otherwise they shouldn't.

I am not sure you can draw such a hard and fast distinction between fantasy and real life when it comes down to personal morality though. This may be just a product of my Catholic upbringing and the notion that you can commit a sin by "thinking bad thoughts". Mind you I think many people would draw the line at fantasies which involve hurting children for example. I guess everyone has to set their own limits I guess.

Cap'n John said...

Back in the 80s I remember playing a Beachhead-style game on my friend's C64, and after each wave you got a Bonus Stage...of sorts.

It was memorable because it required absolutely no skill to complete the Bonus Stage, all you had to do was shoot the blindfolded & bound prisoners lined up against the wall.

That was all there was to it. While the regular missions required a lot more hand-eye coordination the Bonus Stages were pure, unadulterated slaughter of defenseless, immobile targets. IIRC the tag as each Bonus Stage popped up was usually something along the lines of "These are Gaddafi's children."

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make here, if any :D

mbp said...

Good grief Capn John. That sounds like an all time classic. ANy idea what it was called? I am weirdly tempted to try and track it down

Melf_Himself said...

Well, I don't want to get into a whole religious debate here :D

But, personally, I don't really care what people think about doing. The guy who fantasises about hurting children should probably seek psychiatric help, but otherwise it's a bit hard to call him out on it because there's no way of policing it... nobody knows what your thoughts are but you.

Of course when you bring religion into the mix you may claim that God knows what your thoughts are. If so, well shit, I guess we're all going to hell.

mbp said...

"(if)...God knows what your thoughts are. If so, well shit, I guess we're all going to hell."

Hey Melf - you would make a pretty good Catholic! :)

(Aside: In deference to the millions of very good Catholics out there I should point out that that sort of view has pretty much died out but nevertheless the concept of "thinking bad thoughts" was a staple of Catholicism in pre Vatican 2 times and still lingered into my 1960's childhood."

Anton said...

I disagree with Melf, in that I think there is a degree of morality that does applpy to our fantasies. I'm of the mind that your thoughts will condemn you when it comes to religious beliefs. But I think there's a judgment that has to be made here by each individual of when your thoughts become damaging to your way of thinking.

Here's where I might suggest drawing the line...

1) You consistently seek out the most sadistic gaming experiences.

2) Gory imagery is a constant fascination.

3) You start to torture lizards/rodents/bugs when you're not playing games.

4) You allow impressionable youth under your stewardship to play games that are above their maturity level.

Melf_Himself said...

I disagree partially with your line-drawing, Anton.

Being fascinated with gory imagery is fairly perverse, I'll give you that one :)

I don't really buy someone who seeks out sadistic gaming experiences though... games would have to get a lot more real for that to be a factor. We all like to run over old grannies in GTA, come on ^^

Torturing animals definitely comes under the definition of 'actions' and not 'fantasies'.

Letting kids play games that are way too old for them is a separate issue - I think that while you're a child, your morality is still being shaped. When you're an adult is when it's ok to play such games, because your morality is already defined and so playing the game isn't going to change your actions.

Of course, you have to draw the line of what constitutes a 'kid'...

Tesh said...

"Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

Thoughts shape your character. Garbage in, garbage out. There is certainly a filter that a rational person can (and should) impose on thoughts, and people don't tend to act on every thought, but to dismiss thoughts, even fantasy, as irrelevant is dangerous.

Melf_Himself said...

Cool quote :)

I'm not suggesting that sitting around daydreaming about, say, going postal on everyone at the office is healthy. People can and should moderate such thoughts.

But it's a bit of a stretch to call them amoral because they're impossible to police and partially involuntary.

mbp said...

Yes very cool quote Anton. I really don't want to try to police other folks thoughts - that way leads to fascism. However at a personal level I don't think we can entirely divorce our fantasy lives from the way we act in real life.

Thallian said...

Anton just reminded me of a few of my friends who had gone south in life (especially with the torturing little animals thing) sheesh. I'm not saying video games caused it though, in their case it was their own decision coupled with bad tv and movies but video games can have the same effect over time.

They can also be very very positive so don't get me wrong, I love games but I don't think they are harmless all the time. It just depends on what we do with the influences we receive. And what we learn from them.