I have been pondering this article, titled, “Report Says the Young Buy Violent Games and Movies,” since it ran in the New York Times last week. Ironically, it preceeded the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech by less than a week. The article originally caught my eye, however, because I was recently introduced to the world of Xbox Live, the lastest video game technology that thrusts the solitary pursuit of gaming into a unique social universe.
Xbox Live definitely brings video gaming to an entirely new level that is much more exciting and appealing than solitary gaming. Imagine playing a round of golf at Augusta with your three best buddies even though you’re each in a different time zone. Or saving your brother’s life in an unnamed European capital in the middle of WWII. Video gaming has come a long way from watching a canniballistic yellow circle roll around while being chased by a few grimaces.
When I first tried the new system I was immediately astounded by the diversity of players on the network. All countries, languages and ages are represented. I have played hockey against Canadians, skateboarded with soccer moms and played “Mature,” first-person shooters with kids who tell me they are in elementary school.
Yes, that’s right, I’ve regularly played violent games with kids. In fact, these are the only games that I have found kids playing. Without fail they tell me that a parent bought the game for them because they simply don’t care. I’ve actually played these games with father-and-son teams.
Needless to say, I was surprised at what these kids’ parents were buying for them to play. I have two young kids and I don’t let them near these things. But what really stunned me was the prevalence of anti-social behavior on the network. I have regularly witnessed the worst forms of racism, sexism and other anti-social diatribes too crude for even the blogosphere. (To Microsoft’s credit, players can block other players they find offensive and even report egregious behavior to the company. Microsoft says that they expel players from the system if they receive evidence justifying it.)
My first reaction to encountering these guys was to block them. But each time I’d ask myself, “where do these people come from? Why are they so angry and what makes them think that Xbox Live is an appropriate channel for their anger?” Maybe the Xbox Live network is the only place they have to vent without any real consequences – gamertags and voice changers can essentially make a gamer anonymous. But I think that the most important question is this: “are these games and networks merely an outlet for anti-social people to vent or do they actually foster this behavior?”
I, for one, believe that people who are prone to violence and other anti-social behavior gravitate to games and social settings that allow them to fantasize about their predispositions. Antisocial behavior long predates violent games. Cain didn’t need “Counter-Strike” to inspire him to slay Abel. I also know plenty of gamers who are also “normal” productive people that haven’t been turned to the dark side by playing violent games on Xbox Live.
Then again, there are kids spouting these atrocities online, too, and I can only guess they learned the behavior by witnessing it on the network. Still, I find it very hard to believe that violent games or even exposure to such anti-social behavior can turn an otherwise well-adjusted kid into a monster. So, I think that an argument can be made for both “nature” and “nurture” on the question of anti-social behavior and violent video games.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that exposure to this stuff is entirely inappropriate for kids. Though the game retailers and Xbox Live should continue to do what they can, ultimately the solution does not lie with them. Kids either have parents that condone their playing of violent games or they simply find a way to get access outside of their parents’ purview. The bottom line is the responsibility lies with the parents to prevent kids from playing the games.
Unfortunately this is the least convenient way to solve the problem and thus the least popular. It also won’t solve the problem of violent mass-murder but it won’t prevent gaming from remaining the most convenient scapegoat.