Flogging dead equines

I’ve had an ongoing debate with my chair about video game violence. His point is that games, while not causing violence, make it more likely to happen, a kind of rehearsal for it. I’ve argued the opposite. I think violence and video games is one, big red herring, which takes away time from other, more important discourses. I promise this is the last thing I’m saying on the matter.

I have to believe that we aren’t a product of our environments. The fact that I’ve got a choice in the matter is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and helps me to have normal kinds of human interactions. More on this later after an aside.

Aside: one of the most disconcerting things about the Liturgy of Hours is encountering people who’ve consecrated their lives to peace and contemplation recite or chant some of the cursing psalms. (35, 69, 109 are the three worst) It’s difficult to relate the sheer cognitive dissonance of a group of nuns reciting a line from the psalms discussing dashing children’s heads against rocks.

I asked a friend of mine, a Benedictine nun, about this when I was in the process of becoming an oblate. Her response was that the violent imagery helps her understand and pray for those who are affected by it. She had an obligation to not shy away from those lines, no matter how repugnant or distasteful, so she could do her job as a contemplative.

Do I have better things I could be doing than going on shooting rampages throughout Liberty City? You can count on it. Is there a better use of my time than engaging other departments on campus in Quake deathmatches? Most definitely.

There are more insidious forms of violence, which never leave a bruise, nor do they find their virtual expression in a cloud of pixelated gore from being hit with a BFG. It’s easy to focus upon physical violence because it leaves the most obvious mark. But emotional, spiritual, verbal, and psychological violence is no less harmful, even if the marks are nebulous and can’t be objectively proven.

Literature on video game violence would suggest that violence in games may increase violent tendencies. And it’s similar to literature on abuse: those who have been abused are more likely to abuse others. Perhaps I’m tempting fate by playing violent video games, since I’ve got the double-whammy the literature would like me to have.

But I find there’s something healing about violent video games. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to play Quake against other people. I’m still not overly comfortable with it, but it won’t give me nightmares. I’ve been exposed to a lot of real-world violence, not all of it physical and thankfully none of it sexual, and it isn’t remotely similar to that which is found in video games.

If I hide from violence, thinking that it’ll make me do violent things, I’m still controlled by it. Those who perpetrated the violence would still have power over me. My indulgences in Quake and Grand Theft Auto are my erect middle finger at them. But there’s another reason from not hiding from violence. Girard was wrong: exposure to violence doesn’t beget other acts of violence. It can promote empathy. I feel that which I’ve experienced helps me to feel what others have endured. In a weird way, it feels as if their burden is shared. If I knew that their burden was eased by my old hurts, I’d relive it again.

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~ by Jen on March 31, 2006.

2 Responses to “Flogging dead equines”

  1. Well, but we are a product of our environment – cloning experiments have neatly reinforced that fact. It’s just that our environment is a continual thing, and just because we’re products of it doesn’t mean we have no choice. We still choose how we react to what we’re exposed to, it’s just that how we react is influenced by our current as well as prior exposures. I think it’s great that you find violent video games an outlet, as well as a way of promoting compassion, but I think it is naive to assume that because this is your experience, it is everyone’s experience. There’s been too much research to the contrary, research that does show the negative effect these games have on people. These negative effects – a loss of empathy, increased violent behaviour – is especially strong in children, who don’t have the necessary maturity to be able to differentiate and make the decisions that you as an adult are able to do.I think you and J~ are arguing in different parts of the library – you’re trying to show that not all people who play violent video games are in turn violent, while he’s looking at the studies of what these violent video games do to people who’re growing up on them, and saying that they’re turning out a generation of people who are, quantatively, showing the negative effects.

  2. I’m not saying it’s by any means a universal experience. But the whole ‘violent video games make for violent people’ argument doesn’t explain why video games with more violence (and softcore porn) are a lot more popular in Asia, which has a lower crime rate than the US. Some of the hardcore PvP MMO’s that are on the level of national sports there wouldn’t ever get marketed here. I think it’s a much more complex issue than people make it out to be.And, obviously, children shouldn’t be playing these games. Why parents cave and buy them for kids, is another issue entirely, one one I don’t understand.

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