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I am sure many of you have been following the recent debate in the USA on whether the allegedly violent nature of certain computer games can have an ill effect on the opinions and morals of children playing them. Especially Senator Hillary Clinton has been prominent in this debate, demanding that the President and Congress launch a 90-million-dollar investigation of the impact of electronic media on children’s “cognitive, social, emotional and physical development”. Especially games such as Grand Theft Auto have been condemned by Hillary Clinton as a “major threat” to moral health in the United States.
So far I have been hesitant to form my own opinion on the matter. I personally don’t seem to show any signs of corruption from the hours I’ve spend in company with my computer, but research has been claimed to show that while violent computer games rarely cause serious problems in healthy families, they could have an adverse effect on children lacking social support and being left alone for many hours to basically be raised by the TV or computer.
However, today I came across a very interesting open letter to Senator Hillary Clinton from Steven Johnson, author of the book ‘Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter’, who challenges the opinion that computer games – even the violent ones- are necessarily bad for children:
"Dear Sen. Clinton:
I'm writing to commend you for calling for a $90-million study on the effects of video games on children, and in particular the courageous stand you have taken in recent weeks against the notorious "Grand Theft Auto" series.
I'd like to draw your attention to another game whose nonstop violence and hostility has captured the attention of millions of kids — a game that instills aggressive thoughts in the minds of its players, some of whom have gone on to commit real-world acts of violence and sexual assault after playing.
I'm talking, of course, about high school football.
I know a congressional investigation into football won't play so well with those crucial swing voters, but it makes about as much sense as an investigation into the pressing issue that is Xbox and PlayStation 2.
Your current concern is over explicit sex in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." Yet there's not much to investigate, is there? It should get rated appropriately, and that's that. But there's more to your proposed study: You want to examine how video games shape children's values and cognitive development.
Kids have always played games. A hundred years ago they were playing stickball and kick the can; now they're playing "World of Warcraft," "Halo 2" and "Madden 2005." And parents have to drag their kids away from the games to get them to do their algebra homework, but parents have been dragging kids away from whatever the kids were into since the dawn of civilization.
So any sensible investigation into video games must ask the "compared to what" question. If the alternative to playing "Halo 2" is reading "The Portrait of a Lady," then of course "The Portrait of a Lady" is better for you. But it's not as though kids have been reading Henry James for 100 years and then suddenly dropped him for Pokemon.
Another key question: Of all the games that kids play, which ones require the most mental exertion? Parents can play this at home: Try a few rounds of Monopoly or Go Fish with your kids, and see who wins. I suspect most families will find that it's a relatively even match. Then sit down and try to play "Halo 2" with the kids. You'll be lucky if you survive 10 minutes.
The great secret of today's video games that has been lost in the moral panic over "Grand Theft Auto" is how difficult the games have become. That difficulty is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today's games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives.
In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they're going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.
Consider this one fascinating trend among teenagers: They're spending less time watching professional sports and more time simulating those sports on Xbox or PlayStation. Now, which activity challenges the mind more — sitting around rooting for the Packers, or managing an entire football franchise through a season of "Madden 2005": calling plays, setting lineups, trading players and negotiating contracts? Which challenges the mind more — zoning out to the lives of fictional characters on a televised soap opera, or actively managing the lives of dozens of virtual characters in a game such as "The Sims"?
On to the issue of aggression, and what causes it in kids, especially teenage boys. Congress should be interested in the facts: The last 10 years have seen the release of many popular violent games, including "Quake" and "Grand Theft Auto"; that period has also seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory. According to Duke University's Child Well-Being Index, today's kids are less violent than kids have been at any time since the study began in 1975. Perhaps, Sen. Clinton, your investigation should explore the theory that violent games function as a safety valve, letting children explore their natural aggression without acting it out in the real world.
Many juvenile crimes — such as the carjacking that is so central to "Grand Theft Auto" — are conventionally described as "thrill-seeking" crimes. Isn't it possible that kids no longer need real-world environments to get those thrills, now that the games simulate them so vividly? The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since "Grand Theft Auto" came out. Isn't it conceivable that the would-be carjackers are now getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street?
Crime statistics are not the only sign that today's gaming generation is doing much better than the generation raised during the last cultural panic — over rock 'n' roll. Math SAT scores have never been higher; verbal scores have been climbing steadily for the last five years; nearly every indicator in the Department of Education study known as the Nation's Report Card is higher now than when the study was implemented in 1971.
By almost every measure, the kids are all right.
Of course, I admit that there's one charge against video games that is a slam dunk. Kids don't get physical exercise when they play a video game, and indeed the rise in obesity among younger people is a serious issue. But, of course, you don't get exercise from doing homework either."
So, who do you think is right? Are computer games really bad for children’s mental and moral development, or might they even promote it? Can a game such as GTA promote real-life violence, or serve as a way for aggressive teenagers to vent their anger without anyone getting hurt? Have you yourself become more insensitive to violence after playing GTA or DOOM or whatever else we have been exposed to? And would you let your own siblings or children play such games?
Last edited by Grephaun; October 18th, 2005 at 15:37.
"Girls are nice and cuddly on the outside, and freaky on the inside." ~ Lost Nemesis.
I can't remember the magazine I read the article in, (might have been last months EGM), but the author of the article compared federal crime rate trends over a 10-15 year period with the release of game platforms and games like Halo and GTA. Just by a simple comparison, the rate of crime for almost every age group dropped, as this open letter said. I'll see if my friend still has the magazine and I'll scan the graph chart and post it.
EDIT: I'd also like to weigh in on the "Hot Coffee" issue that got Sen. Clinton's man-panties in a bunch. I looked into the mod when I heard about it. I read articles on it and spoke with a friend of mine who was morally outraged that this was in the game.
First off, the game is basically rated R. No one under 17 should own it or play it according to that rating. Shame on the parents and shame on the retailer of the game.
Secondly, it is incredibly difficult to access those sections of the game. You need to be able to access the pure code on the disk, find the section that has that mini game, and then run it. I don't know how many 14 year olds are capable of doing that on their parents Dell.
Third, in their defense, Rockstar did decided to remove the mini game from the playable copy. Having taken coding classes (which I was insane to do in the first place), I can see why they left it in the game. It's sometimes just easier to disable the code than remove it and rewrite things around it.
Finally, I don't know how many of you have played GTA, but it takes alot of time and effort on the part of the Girlfriend mini games to get to what would have been the Hot Coffee game. I think it takes a minimum of 15 dates to "get in her pants". If you ask me, the girls in GTA are more respectable than some women in the real world.
Last edited by Gojiratoho; October 18th, 2005 at 16:05.
Gyauayuayuayua! Ja! Ve vill crush da little girly men in deir little girl men awrmor! Ve vill see owur enemies driven befowur us, und hear da lahmentaytions of deir wemen. Und from owur home planet, de stayte uf Califowurnia, ve vill lawunch owur mighty offensive. Even if you kill us, ve'll be bach!! Gyauayauyauyauyau!
-Arnoldunit Schwarzenecronegger; when questioned about the impending doom he would rain down upon the heads of his doomed enemies.
No, I do not think computer games are bad for children. In fact I believe that in some circumstances computer games can actually be educational and that you can pick up certain skills from it (Though I don't mean that games as Doom, Quake, Unreal, whatever shoot em up game is educational, but they almost always have some sort of complex problem solving. But games as SimCity, Tycoon Games, Championship Manager can be educational in the ways of economics, and there are some games that can be a good history lesson too).
But even though shoot em ups often gets blamed for a lot of today’s violence I think they can be very good, because most of today’s online shoot em ups is based on the concepts of team work, and call me a looser but aren't team work quite important?
As for the letter to Clinton (I hope that one ends up on a certain Jack Thompson’s desk), it contains a lot of very interesting information, also some stuff that I can relate to myself, when I get pissed, I usually play a round of UT to blow off some steam, because getting out and bust someone’s head isn't that good, and I dunno, but seems quite much better, both for me and the people in my area.
Also, this discussion about games being bad for kids, it's only a vicious cycle, just a couple of years ago, they blamed live and pen and paper rpgs for the violence, before that it was the movies that got the blame. Meh, it will probably Passover and they'll find a new scapegoat.
And to quote (I think it was said on Penny Arcade or CAD) "Video games doesn't create violence, ignorance does."
Offtopic edit : Damn Greph, beat me too it, thought about starting a similar thread about this yesterday, though that one was more based on Jack Thompson and his stupid Charity idea (though I love how the guys on Penny Arcade showed how much better we gamers are than him)
To answer the question in your title I would say both.
I don't see any point in being able to slap hookers around or carjack anyone.
I also don't see the value in games where you play as a sniper trying to get as many headshots as possible, or in soccer games. <wow, soccer is so freaking pointless in real life and now they make video games of it :x ??!!>
So that's just me.
I don't read romance novels either but I'm not going to deny the market for them their right to read whatever senseless drivel they consider entertaining.
Kids aren't learning bad behaviour from games, they learn it from the news, or worse, from the real environment they live in. If parents take a more active part in their childrens upbringing these games won't be a problem. In the end as long as the only thing getting damaged is little groups of pixels then why worry?
I believe it's just another example of political sensationalism meant to try to draw attention away from real issues and give people the impression that some politicians are 'doing the job of making the world a safer place!'
The charleston, the sock hop, D & D, rock and roll, punk and grunge all survived their generational assaults.
In the end this will all blow over and in ten years something else will take it's place as:
"The Thing That Offends The Older Generation!!" <echo, echo, echo....>
edit1> after I posted this I got a mental image of a man that was in his 60's 500 years ago sitting on his porch shaking his cane as children ran by with their new globes...."Damn, younguns runnin' around thinkin' the world is round! THE WORLD IS FLAT I TELL YOU!! FLAT!! Someone needs to learn them whipersnappers what's what!!
edit2> Yeah, I don't know what edit1 has to do with anything either!
Last edited by Joker; October 18th, 2005 at 18:22.
looks around, over shoulder, under feet
Has anybody seen my rant?
Hold on, it's already been used. Ya know, I hate it when I'm ready to rant and it's in use. Oh well. Anyway, I concur, Senator Clinton reminds me of a lot of the fascist paranoia I heard during the 80s about D&D.
Err.... When you're all done with my rant may I have it back please?
A little pain never hurt anyone - Larry
I have an opinion. Those that think violent games make people violent should shut the **** up before I beat the **** out of them.
thats the one thing that ****s me the most. what the hell is wrong with videogames for christs sake. they are harmless entertainment. if you want to ban video games, ban every movie with violence or adult themes, every book with violence or adult themes, every newspaper aritcle, etc.
now, if you dont follow the ratings, then its your own fault for being such a idiot. would you let your 6 year old play san andreas?
god, people can be so bloody ignorant. the video game industry makes more than the movie industry aswell.
i play lots of 1st person shooters like quake and raven shield. im not overly agressive. sure, start **** with me and i'll defend my self, but playing violent video games dosent make me a killer in waiting. i've been playing vice city on pc lately, yet im not out on the streets stealing cars and killing people in alleys.
what amazes me the most is how people over estimate how impressionable kids are.
Personally i think anyone who can be influenced into doing things by watching them in a film, computer game or other media has to be unhinged to begin with!
Games have the age certificate for a reason, if we've got to make all forms of media sensitive to minors on the off chance their parents arn't sensible enough to realize they're not old enough then i fear for us all!
I still hate Twiglets!
To answer the question: They are good. (I might be able to get hold of something to do with why they are good and I'll add that in later).
That letter is fascinating. It is good to see that some people are actually being sensible about the issue rather than screaming for the heards of Rockstar and a ban on computer games.
Although to be honest these sort of argumanet vrop up every few years. It's just computer games turn this time. It's really pathetic but it will eventually pass on and move onto the next thing.
As for GTA: If you buy an 18 rated game for your child then don't be suprised if it's not suitable for them:rolleyes: (I mean come on... doesn't take a genius to see that).
Speaking from personal experience alone, I'd actually suggest that young males require large ammounts of simulated violence and competition in order to produce healthy adults.
In the past, men would define themselves by going to war, or hunting. Nowadays, war is too dangerous as the tools we use have become much deadlier, and hunting is limited due to an abnormally high human population, and lack of game in most areas.
It seems logical to me to create artificial simulations to excercise those violent, competative urges. Sport is one, violent games are another, gang membership is another. Rather than simply declaring violence unnatural (rather impotent, I think, thousands of years of history demonstrate otherwise), perhaps it would be more helpful to simply define what forms of simulated violence we will allow. It seems preferable to me, for example, for kids to be blowing the crap out of each other in fantasy worlds than beating up rival football supporters or joining gangs.
To summarise.. Violence is natural. It isn't going to go away just because it doesn't fit in with modern society. It seems better to have a sensible consideration of what forms of violence can be tollerated, than to try and completely shut out an intrinsic part of human nature.