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Since video games entered homes in the 1970s, video game popularity has exponentially increased and the different varieties of gaming have become widely diverse ranging from apps on a mobile device to massive scale worlds displayed on 4k televisions (Entertainment Software Association). The rapid increase of technological advancement over the past four decades have brought an age of gaming previously unimaginable. Games have become more realistic graphically, physically, and emotionally. What started off as 8-bit pixels sliding across a screen has escalated to near real world environments characters and situations. However, critics of the video game industry have become fearful of what may be a negative influence on people that play violent video games. From war shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield to criminal violence portrayed in Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, people enjoy mature rated games that are violent. The exposure of playing these video games have led to many concerned parents and courtrooms using violent video games as a scapegoat on trial for mass murders. But, video games are not the problem and shouldn’t be treated as such. Game developers have been doing all that they can to reduce the stereotype of violent video games causing violent behavior by implementing gameplay that promotes pro-social, cooperative gaming and not violence for the sake of violence.
Recent debate has sparked over whether or not video games actually do cause violent behavior. Studies have been conducted on both ends of the argument with conclusive results that support each viewpoint but do not prove them. In 1999, David Satcher, Surgeon General of the United States, said media violence had only a small role in aggressive behavior in comparison to other factors. Satcher claimed, “We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior. But the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that’s where the science is” (Wright). However in 2009, Craig Anderson, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence, concluded that, “There is a significant relation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior. Exposing children and adolescents (or ‘youth’) to violent visual media increases the likelihood that they will engage in physical aggression against another person” (Anderson). These are two conflicting yet credible surveys that support each end but clearly do not prove either side as fact. Games like Grand Theft Auto where your character indulges in very obscene behavior and the chaos of being able to blow vehicles up and kill people at will could definitely be a type of inspiration for someone capable of such mass scale violence or a type of catharsis for someone who doesn’t want to harm anybody in real life but can do so in the game. A study using fMRI concluded that playing violent video games increased activity in the amygdala and decreased activity in the frontal lobe (Kalnin). The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses and the frontal lobe is the part that is responsible for decision making. These results would lead one to believe that after playing video games, one would become less responsible and more emotionally driven, particularly from anger. In 2008, the Pew Internet and American Life Project did a study that concluded those youths that participated in communal gaming experiences had higher levels of civic and political engagement. Two points that also conflict but are both credible studies that support each end. At the moment there is no conclusive evidence that video games cause or decrease violent behavior and no correlation has been shown (Pew Research Center).
The game developers themselves have different takes on the situation be them positive or negative. One of the former game developers from Rockstar North, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series, says that he isn’t proud to say that he was a part of that team. He looks back on all of the violence that was in the game and when he has to explain to his mom what he does he feels bad about it (Brightman). One developer particularly likes to exercise his gun rights and asks that gun laws be removed from the conversation when bringing up the violence that video games may cause (Kotaku). The developers don’t simply phase out the criticism they receive on the maturity levels of their games but they are strongly supportive of what their careers have to offer to the world. A group of these developers known as the Independent Game Developers Association wrote a letter to vice president, Joe Biden, asking that research funds be allocated to study the positive aspects of video gaming, not just the negative, that their First Amendment Rights are respected, that the fact that players are also given non-violent options be highlighted when assessing violent video games, and that video games are a “unique artistic medium” just like any other source of entertainment (CNET).
Developers use all of the negative feedback as a challenge to how they reduce the stigma that their video games cause violent behavior. Developers are adjusting their game mechanics to get their players to stray off of the path of mindless violence. For example, Hitman Absolution is a game where you play as a bounty hunter that aims to kill his targets (Hitman Absolution). There are multiple ways of going about completing the missions. You can go with no surprises and just try to shoot everyone however, this is the least efficient way to play as dying becomes easier and lower scores are produced. However when you play tactically by bypassing innocent people, knocking out guards instead of killing them, and causing the least amount of havoc, the game is easier, more rewarding, and less violent. In her vlog Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian talks about how Hitman Absolution is about mindless violence and shows a clip of the protagonist dragging a dead dancer around and then putting her in a bin (Sarkeesian). In the actual game, it is actually not necessary to even enter the room with the dancers and points will be negated from your score by harming them in any fashion. The developers do not limit the options the players have in going about the game but they do reward you for the way that is the least violent and the most stealth-like.
Call of Duty is one of the main sources of criticism because you can become this unstoppable, super soldier that single handedly can kill off an entire militia. The Call of Duty franchise is a war based first person shooter collection that involves massive violence. Some believe that this is justified violence based on the implication that you are to kill because you are a soldier in the military fighting for your country and survival. These games don’t hold back on any gruesome scenes either. So to curb the “mindless violence”, they included the zombie game type and many game types that are objective based instead of kill based. The zombie game type allows you to play with up to three other players to survive a zombie outbreak (Call of Duty Black Ops). The use of an inhumane enemy and the idea of cooperation is key in promoting those pro-social behaviors as teammates have to talk and strategize as rounds get tougher. Call of Duty’s multiplayer is dominated by its team deathmatch lobbies but there are many other choices that aren’t kill based such as domination where you capture designated areas to hold, capture the flag, search and destroy where players are limited to only one life to try and defend or destroy an ammo cache, and many other options that require strategy instead of solely killing the opposition (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2). In their seventh installment, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, kill streaks were converted into point streaks. Formerly, players were rewarded special advantages when they got 3 or more kills in one life. Now, along with kills, players are rewarded for team based play like capturing objectives, reviving, and defending (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3). It is clear that the developers have provided players with greater opportunity for strategic, cooperative, prosocial gameplay rather than trying to be the player with the most kills every match.
Battlefield is Call of Duty’s rival in the video game market and therefore, gets the same amount of criticism that Call of Duty does about being a one man army. The Battlefield franchise is another war based first person shooter collection that is more of a simulation style of play then arcade like Call of Duty. Battlefield is all about working together to win. Unlike Call of Duty, team deathmatch is not Battlefield’s most popular game type. The game modes conquest, which is Call of Duty’s domination, and rush where players have to defend multiple areas from the enemy’s explosives are the two most played game types. The game developers of Battlefield designed large scale maps that are thousands of square meters in area where playing alone is as useless as not playing at all (Battlefield 3). Thirty-two man teams are split into five man squads that rewards all members for cooperative play (Battlefield 4). There is also the choice as being the commander which doesn’t have an in-battle character. The commander tells people where to go, what to do, and supplies them with ammo caches and vehicles. Healing your teammates, supplying them with ammo, spotting the other team, and repairing vehicles are all means to gain experience points for your soldier. It is possible for a player to complete a round with no kills and no deaths and become the MVP solely off of selfless play. In an installment that will be released in 2015, players will be able to play as cops or criminals (EA Digital Illusions CE). The criminals try to get away with money and the cops can interrogate and even arrest criminals. The Battlefield developers are giving their players options to play the game how the user feels they are the most helpful. They may not be the most skilled sniper but they are really good at flying helicopters and could be the designated transportation pilot for the squad. This type of gameplay encourages cooperation, selflessness, playing a role, and comradery.
The Grand Theft Auto franchise has been the most controversial gaming franchise as far as violence in video games go. Numerous court cases including the recent Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. One of its installments, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, had to be changed from rated M to rated AO for adults only for some disabled code in the game that had a sex mini game (IGN). Grand Theft Auto allows you to be a menace to society by stealing vehicles, killing people, escaping the police and military with an arsenal of weapons in your possession. Grand Theft Auto has been targeted to be the root at which some mass murders have occurred. The game developers haven’t really strayed from their development staying true to a formula that works (Morales). In numerous interviews they explain that their product isn’t merely a game, it is artwork. They say that you could compare the game to any violent book, television show, or movie and that’s how it should be consumed, as art. The design of other violent media contain plot, characters, motifs, etc. just as video games do with the caveat that it is an interactive experience. They design the game as an experience. Being able to take a trip through the mind of an ex-convict, gang member, or someone who is borderline psychotic (Grand Theft Auto V). The design being a method of catharsis in the same way that those people would probably imagine doing at some point in their lives. Real real world crime rates have actually fallen over the past thirty years while murders and robberies have seen the most decline over that time span. With the rise in video game popularity and Grand Theft Auto being one of the leaders of the industry, there is a negative correlation in crime rates and the number of people who own a video game console (Markey, French).
The Mortal Kombat franchise is one that has been criticized by its overly gory combat and fatalities. Mortal Kombat is a game that has fighters from the Earth Realm fighting against fighters from the Nether Realm in a battle of peace versus damnation. The game developers of Mortal Kombat are defined by their bloody fighting so they couldn’t just get away from what people love about them. Instead, the developers introduced mini games and alternate finishers to curb the vicious tone of their game into a lighter hearted one. These mini games include Test Your Might where you have to try to break through boards of many different compositions including diamond and Test Your Sight where you have to guess which head is hiding the eyeball after they have been shuffled around at various speeds (Mortal Kombat 9). These games are parallel to the carnival games test your strength and shell game which lightens the antics of the violent themes. When a fighter’s health reaches zero in the final round the words “Finish him/her!” are called out signaling the time to use the fighter’s finishing move to kill the opponent in a truly horrific manner. Other methods of finishing included animalities where fighters morph into animals and kill the player and brutalities which activate a rapid paced combo that ends with the enemy exploding (Mortal Kombat Trilogy). However, the player is given other options of “finishing” their opponent. There are the babality finishers that turn the opponent into a baby with a cute animation relevant to their character and also friendships which provide comedic or merciful gestures to the opponent that doesn’t kill them after all. Friendships, animalities, and brutalities have been removed from the latest installments of the games leaving fatalities and babalities. Mortal Kombat even made a game that combined their universe with the DC comic universe where brutalities returned but only for the superheroes who do not kill their enemies so unlike the original brutality they don’t explode at the end (Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe). Due to the decrease of gore from the game by using the comic book world, the developers of Mortal Kombat were able to receive a T for Teen rating on the game instead of an M. A T rated game is significantly more acceptable than an M rated game in retail because there is a five year difference between the ages that a person is able to buy each type of game on their own. This means that what was a game that only 17 year olds could purchase without adult consent, is now a game 12 year olds can buy without adult consent.
Game developers pay close attention to the feedback and criticisms of their games and discuss ways to accommodate for those criticisms without tarnishing the dynamics of the game’s most popular features. With the uproar of video game controversy especially with violence, games have been reformulated to provide experiences tailored towards cohesion and cooperation. Multiplayer gaming is at its all time high with the world being able to play together like never before. Instead of helping destroy it, games have been seen to help bring people together in a world where they can do things they wouldn’t even dream of doing in the actual world. This is the way games are designed, providing personal experiences to the player outside of their everyday lives instead of inspiration of mass murder and criminalization.
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