Master Swords Don’t Kill; People Do

June 5th, 2006 at 11:02 pm by The Missing Link

I am proud to report that I did indeed survive the week. I hope you weren’t too bored by my fellow cohorts being derelict in their posting duties the lack of updates. Hopefully that won’t happen again. That said, onto business.

Though it was a good while ago (well, everything in the past few weeks seems so far ago given my schedule), a discussion unexpectedly broke out regarding the subject of the supposed link between video games and violence. For those of you who haven’t been watching the evening news with your parents, it’s definitely a hot topic in the US these days (can’t honestly say about Europe or elsewhere). I was given a polite request to voice out my thoughts on the issue, to transform that discussion into a full-fledged blog posting. Now I’ll be completely honest with you all before I begin: I am definitely not the biggest expert on this kind of stuff, and this topic has likely been beaten to death on other websites ad nauseum. However, considering the importance of the issue, who am I to deny the pleas of my readers? Thus, it begins.

The exact date I began gaming is no longer a clear figure in my head, lost due to the many years of history that is so much more recent and pertinent. (I doubt my life will ever depend upon my knowledge of what my first word ever was or the exact day I was toilet trained.) All I can say is that I discovered my parents’ Atari 2600 sometime around 1987 or so, thus making me a gamer of roughly 20 years, give or take a few. I assure you, the only rampage I ever went on in my life was a lyrical rampage. Seriously, years of stomping on Goombas, slashing my sword into castle guards, and occasionally single-handedly slicing through enemy armies with guns blazing has contributed a big fat nothing to my police record. (That is, unless somehow Mario Kart 64 somehow caused my single speeding ticket. “But officer, Toad had to be going at least 100 miles an hour on Toad’s Turnpike, and you never arrested him!”) Out of the past twenty-ish years, I’ve committed no murders, no violent maimings of others, no nothing. Zilch. Nada. And to my knowledge, this trend is repeated amongst all my gamer friends… and I know a lot of gamer friends. I’m certain you’re thinking the same thing.

Of course, this is hardly a disproof of the claim. I think it does, however, provoke some doubt into my mind as to the veracity of it.

The evidence that is always conveyed in the media as to the linkage between video games and criminal violence always sounds tempting. Every time, they say that Person X which killed so-and-so was an avid player of violent video games, that they were trying to emulate the experiences they learned within them. Thus, they conclude that there is some corrolation between the two subjects at hand. (It’s always funny how they never consider any other aspects about these people either, only gaming. Maybe if they dug deeper, they’d find out that one of them liked to knit sweaters for a hobby. Maybe there’s a corrolation there.) The evidence, however, is only convincing if you’re a non-gamer; we gamers, to a large extent, know full well the silliness of the claim that playing video games will make you kill someone or become some mean lean bullying machine. I would bet five rupees that no one who ever reads this blog has ever seriously–and I mean seriously–been tempted and subsequently plotted to kill or brutally injure someone.

Granted, people who come here in general have more an affinity to adventure RPGs rather than FPSes, but the point in reality still stands. To the politicians, we are faceless gamers. The whole concept of video game genres doesn’t even click with them. You think they know that we have Brain Age and Tetris DS? Think again. They only see GTA, Halo, Hitman, the list goes on. As far as I know, they probably believe we all will one day be playing those if we aren’t already. Despite our gaming tendencies, we are easily lumped in with the worst of them.

But none of this truly answers the main question, whether or not video games are capable of inspiring real-world violence in people.

As much as I hate to say it, the answer could very well be yes, but before you persecute me for my belief, bare with me for just a few moments of time to explain myself. I have no doubt in my mind that violent gaming could inspire one to commit a crime… but this possibility is akin to the very possibility that a violent movie could inspire one to commit the very same crime. Look at the movie industry today. There have been countless R-rated movies these days such as Sin City, V for Vendetta, and just about every horror flick ever made. According to Box Office Mojo, eight of the top 20 films so far this year are R-rated movies. Even this is right on the heels of the general trend of the ratings system gradually being loosened such that a movie can get away with a lot more and still only have a PG-13 rating rather than an R.

Of course, the return argument will always be that movies don’t actually allow the viewer to simulate murders and other crimes to the extent that a video game does since video games are, by definition, interactive. Okay, fine, sure. But then explain this titbit: Why were homicides in New York City the lowest ever since 1963, a year in which there were no video games? You can’t honestly expect me to believe that no one in NYC doesn’t own and play a PS2 or an Xbox. Even grand theft auto was down despite being on the heels of… Grand Theft Auto. Sure, it could be an isolated case, but then do we call this a statistical outlier? Considering that the 2006 numbers so far report a 74% decrease in homicides and greatly reduced crime across the board compared to 1993, colour me a disbeliever.

But then why is everyone and their cousin all talking about this supposed connection? The truth will actually shock you.

Quick fact: Did you know that it is completely voluntary for a movie to go through the MPAA to get an actual rating? It’s completely true; it’s why several DVDs of movies that were rated in the theatres aren’t actually given ratings (usually because they added scenes into the DVD that were dropped from the film to achieve that rating); American Pie is the first one off the top of my head, although there are many more. Another fact: Did you know that there aren’t governmental laws that keep underage children from seeing R-rated movies? Also true. The whole system of movie ratings is completely optional, not mandated by anyone anywhere in any goverment. In short, you can’t go to jail if you manage to sneak into an R-rated flick when you’re only 16.

So why is it done? Why does the movie industry rate their movies? Because it keeps the politicians off their backs. The movie rating system is an extremely effective way of self-policing the movie industry. Every movie that is made opts to obtain a rating so that the consumers will know which movies are safe for kids to see; the theatres then take these recommendations from the MPAA and enforce them at the local theatre… but completely at their own perrogative. Let’s then say, for instance that some movie doesn’t do this. They immediately ship it to theatres without getting rated whatsoever. What happens then? Many theatres wouldn’t show it because, all of a sudden, they open themselves to the risk of lawsuits. Granted, there’s no law that can be enforced, but all that’s necessary is finding the right judge to try a case, and given that several judges have become judicial activists, they could conceivably “create” a law based solely upon judicial precendent, even when it’s not their job. The theatres won’t run that risk, so they won’t show it. In turn, the movie company would lose out on a lot of money, not only from theatres not showing the film, but also from the fact that the government will then get involved with making laws that will hinder their own creative expression and freedom to police themselves.

The movie industry wouldn’t collapse by any means, but that means that–instead of being thrown out of the theatre–you’d owe a hefty fine to the government for breaking the law when you sneak into an R-rated film.

The video game industry, as you probably know, has a very similar organisation in America: the ESRB. Their job is to review games and place one of several ratings on them: EC (early childhood), E (everyone), E10+ (kids 10 and up), T (13 and up), M (17 and up), or AO (adults only, 18 and up). And as far as I know, every game on the market goes through this ESRB process. So this should be the here-all and the end-all of it, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. No one, it seems, takes the ESRB seriously (I know I don’t), most especially in the wake of the re-rating of the games GTA: San Andreas from M to AO and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion from T to M. (The differences between all their ratings is about as thin as a single hair, so the ratings are virtually meaningless anyhow.) You’d think that the rating on the side of the box would mean something to parents, but to my knowledge, in general parents are completely oblivious to gaming. My parents, Farore bless them, know just about zero; whenever I wanted a game for Christmas, I actually had to write it down to make sure they’d get the right one, but I’m not at all convinced that they really knew what type of games I was really getting. (Granted, I never asked for Mortal Kombat or GTA, but I did ask for and Street Fighter II Turbo for my SNES when I was 13 or so.)

It’s because of this little unfortunate fact that the gaming industry appears that it isn’t doing anything to police itself when in fact it’s going to great lengths to do so. And because this magical correlation between video games and violence keeps getting pushed on us… the appareance that the gaming industry isn’t policing itself is enough to spur the government into making silly laws to try to curb the “inherent violence in videogaming.” Granted, I completely agree that 10-year-olds shouldn’t be playing M-rated games; I am, nevertheless, against the government trying to control that. (Call me a libertarian in that department.) If the government need not control movies, why then need they control the gaming industry? Frankly, if there’s a way that the industry can keep itself in line without the government mucking stuff up, I’d say that’s the best way to do it.

So where do we place the blame? Where is the critical flaw in this process? I hate to sound disrespectful or anything, but I do believe that the majority of the blame goes straight to our parents. Granted, most of your parents are probably decent people, and I don’t want to suggest that any of them out there aren’t worth half a shilling. But fair is fair; parents are legally responsible for children until the age of 18 (at least in the US), and it’s their job to care for us to make sure that we grow up to be decent human beings. While the movie industry polices itself in the selling of tickets to violent films to children, the gaming industry is much harder to police. Games and consoles are expensive, and kids… don’t have the cash to buy them themselves nine times out of ten. It’s the parents who are the ones who buy the games, and the sales clerks have no idea to whom the game will actually be going. As such, the ESRB’s task is to try to assist parents in the purchasing of games, to tell them which games are appropriate for their little Timmy or sweet Susie.

What needs to happen is that, when Timmy or Susie ask their parents for a game, the parents need to do their homework on whether or not the game is appropriate for their son or daughter. Parents tend to do their homework with movies rather well. My parents refused to let me see the movie Super Mario Bros. when I was 12 because “it looked too violent.” (This is a decision of which I’m very thankful for now.) After seeing the movie Titanic, my parents wouldn’t let me take friends younger than me to the movie because… well… that one “artsy scene”. But video games? When parents buy M-rated games for their younger kids… well… I have to believe that it’s not a surprise at all why everyone’s talking about how horrible video games are… about how violent the younger generations are because of video games.

The controversy is already pulled up to the station, and despite the fact that both you and I know that Master Swords don’t really kill people, elder generations are convinced that they know what’s best for us. The time is here, I think, where we have to start policing ourselves. If you want this debate to go away, maybe it’s time you had a talk with your parents instead of the other way around. It may seem like such a tiny and silly step, but we all know (at least we do in the north) that when a billion fragile snowflakes band together, all traffic will come to a halt. And I believe that that’s about the only thing that will save the us from frivolous legislation now.

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27 Messages from the Gossip Stones about “Master Swords Don’t Kill; People Do”


    Oh my gosh. All that you just said made perfect sense. Parents not knowing what the game is like. Wow. I totally agree. Take that Shadow the hedgehog game. Parents think, oh look a sonic game mabye I should get that for him. And they buy it withuot checking the rating. But little do they know it is NOT rated E It is raited E10 for fantasy violence. Now that they shouldn’t mind. BUT it is also rated the rating that it is rated for one other thing Mild Laungauge. Personally I don’t think that saying the “D-word” over and over is mild launguage. I think ESRB is also to blame . They should of rated it T. So that’s what i got to say. Have a nice day. =)

    Well, the ESRB has it rough because, unlike a movie, they cannot play a game from start to finish to see every little nuance in the game. There’s tens if not hundreds of hours involved in many of those games, and they literally don’t have time to cover everything. So they get a general feel for it, trust the developer to represent a fair portion of the game, and rate it based upon that. It’s that reason why we’ve seen the first two re-ratings of the games.

    Does that excuse them? Not entirely. But they are trying, and that is important.

    I kind of wish that was true.

    By which I mean I think we need more criminals attacking people with bow & arrows or swords. I know I would if I ever decided to become homicidal.

    Pathetic Poloticians Aand all those do-gooder groups (who have never played a Video game before I might add) are constantly claiming that the source of all violence is Video Games (Which they must believe came from the lowest pits of Hell, most likely brought up by that little brat Damian), I have played violent games all my life and I have to say that I have never been inclined to copy any of the content such as fighting (like Ryu in Mortal Kombat), murdering (Like CJ from GTA), smokeing (Like Cid from FF7) or stealing (Like Link in Zelda, lol) but these no nothing morons will never understand. It just seems to me like all they ever do is attack things that children are interested in, you wouldnt believe some of the things I have heard certain groups say about the Harry Potter Books (sigh), with all of the problems in the world such as Global Warming, War, Genocide, Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Terrorist Attacks e.t.c. you might think that these people would start thinking about the important things in life rather than the insignificant ones.

    I went to East Greenbush (a suburb of Albany), NY’s Columbia High School. As someone who has lived through a school shooting (no one was killed; only one teacher was injured, as the student with the gun was stopped almost immediately), I can say that the link between video games and violence will always be found by people who simply don’t understand video games. Jon, a member of my class (2005), was a fan of DOOM and the authorities claimed that this was part of the reason he wanted to kill people. What no one seems to realize is that people who already have violent tendencies are going to be attracted to violent video games. If one has fantasies of killing people, of course one will want to play FPSs! It only makes sense. I don’t put one jot of faith in the theory that the games themselves make teens want to murder people.

    Realy nice artical TML turly to myself i think you should mail this in to the goverment i belive the exact same thing adding on to that in a way its could be making younger kids smarter because it gives kids challenges and makes them more competitive yes some people say it makes kids lazy but parents can do somthing about that when i was younger i remember many times when i would get grounded from my N64 just that because my parents belived i had a right to go outside and play so i never fully got the lazyness that comes with alot of teens today but some times people have excuses i mean mostly every person on earth has been more bored then they have been having fun and when we are outside some people have nothing to do so they come inside and play their game of choice and nintendo can fix that too and make their games more phiscal this is just an idea but they could get this treadmil and when the treadmil moves are the bike pedles it does that on the game so either way we do it nintendo can fix the phiscal problem they just dont have the technology yet so parents just hang in their (also) im sorry i carryed this on to another subject i just needed to get that point across

    Weapons are cool.

    TML, you are truly amazing.

    I wrote an essay similar to this for my Rhetoric class this year actually, but arguing how video games aren’t as unhealthy as assumed to be. But man, digging into poltics? You hit everything, nicely done.

    Wow. I never thought of it that much, but it does make sence. My word, you were right about the movies. But honestly, you don’t think “KILLING SPREE 5″* made anyone want to commit murder! Okay, bad example.

    *Yes, this is totally made-up.

    You just explained what I was thinking, and you said everything I thought you would say when I clicked the title of the article.

    Quote: TML:
    …parents in general are completely oblivious to gaming in general…

    You wrote “general” too many times…But not only that. Parents sometimes think they know if a game is violent or not, and they’re often wrong. I mean, when my uncle lend me Metroid Prime… well, it wasn’t that violent, right? Comparing it with GTA, etc… but, of course, they saw the gun and they started saying… well, you can imagine it.

    You are really right TML. There are some M games I play, such as Oblivion and GTA games. But I’ve only played them, and my parents were dissapointed that my 15 year old brother bought True Crime:Streets of L.A. I see that most parents do sometimes care about game ratings, like mine, but many don’t. And the government is retarted. Movies and TV make people do violent things more. Wh blame video games? Nintendo has a lot of violence, especially Mario and Zelda, but that’s Fantasy violence. Compared to GTA and Fable, Nintendo is very orderly.

    That’s another thing:

    Violence in Zelda.
    Look at that plant boss in TP. You have to make him eat bombs, so his multiple heads explode, which I’m sure it’s painful. And then, you’ve to stab him to death… in the eye.

    Or Gohma in TWW. You have to break his skin, and shoot at his eye with a hook so you can make him move his head until you can kill him.

    That’s surely violent.

    Don’t forget the countless politicians trying to play the “moderate” field by pretending to care about family values. Regardless of how well the industry regulates itself those people will continue to attack it until a new form of media that gullible people are unfamiliar with (and therefore easily scared of) arises.

    Also, I imagine Mr. Thompson will have a field day with the Wii-Mote, given that it will “simulate murder with even more realism than before,” or something to that effect.

    I read an article that a person who was caught breaking into the house was addicted to Mortal Combat (he was caught playing it), so it seems more like video games take away our need to be violent, but also our need to be outdoors. I have no worries of the games, except for wrestling games, because I know a kid who acted out one of the moves (a lot) so he had to get him to stop, took us a while, but that kind on imatatable (I don’t know the proper spelling of this word) violence should be in T rated games.

    Robert-UK said:

    Ryu in Mortal Kombat

    i’m sorry what

    TML I have a question for you- Have you ever heard on an American Politician called Jack Thompson?

    Im sorry for the double post but I have to say this, Jack Thompson is a Politician who is always claiming Video Games to be the root of all evil within society as people can tell from his latest statement - “Only two kinds of people go into the street and shoot people in the face, Hitmen and Video gamers”, why does this man hate Video Games so much?

    Because he’s one of those crazies who thought that when Pac-Man ate a ghost, he thought it was a murder and never got to sue the company for such “violence”. I know that those kind of people are mad men who got away with little stuff like killing animals, and never got a good schooling, and never got proper obedience from their abusive parents. You can see where I’m going, right? In theory, when one gets addicted to the musical and magical properties of a video game, they become more docile, and lazy ( I’m my own test subject) I never have thoughts of even going up to some stranger and hurt them in ways that might make me either mentally problemed or a terrorist, but pranks I do think, and to people I know enough to like or dislike as friends. If one should look back into the days when videogames are thought of witch craft or such, you’ll know that even children worked hard, and they don’t mind, the only times they don’t work are:
    Eating, sleeping, playtime, and Sundays (particularly church) and that generation doesn’t exsist anymore (except in the Amish) so who do we have to blame for the exsistence of hitmen? Ourselves, because if we let children get away with it now, they’ll get away with it as Neo-Hitlers or something.

    BRAVO TML!!!! That was the best article to date.

    Zen Blade said:

    Weapons are cool.

    Your not helping.

    Robert-UK said:

    Im sorry for the double post but I have to say this, Jack Thompson is a Politician who is always claiming Video Games to be the root of all evil within society as people can tell from his latest statement - “Only two kinds of people go into the street and shoot people in the face, Hitmen and Video gamers”, why does this man hate Video Games so much?

    I don’t think he’s ever heard about Al Capone, the Irish Mob, the Mafia, Napolean Bonaparte, Hitler or Stalin. They didn’t even know what a video game is, and they were some pretty bad hombres!

    My family is wierd. Every month or so we go to a nice R rated movie as a family (sweet yet akward).

    Robert-UK said:

    TML I have a question for you- Have you ever heard on an American Politician called Jack Thompson?

    You people there are still gamers in the world who haven’t?

    I agree. It’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people. Sure, we expose ourselves to these kinds of things, but we all should at least have the common sense to know reality from fiction. Hm… Perhaps there should be posters or something of the sort wherever video games are sold so that parents (if present) can take a look at it and decide whether or not they’re going to let their kids buy and/or play that game. These things should also be enforced in places where video games are sold. Hm… Here’s an idea. Whenever someone is born (here in the U.S.) or they come to the U.S. (excluding illegal immigrants, since they’d avoid it because of their lack of paperwork) then they should have some sort of microchip or something of the sort placed under the skin of their arm that has information such as date of birth, place of birth, blood type, and other information and also have plenty of memory space for additional information, such as health conditions. This way, whenever someone goes to purchase a video game, they have to have that chip scanned in order to identify them and if they aren’t old enough, then purchase of the game can be denied. Oh, yeah, and it should also have a GPS system inside it so that any American can be found wherever they are in the world. I think that would solve just about everything, how ’bout you?

    Jack Thompson really is an odd man, most serious hard core gamers risk having a heart attack when they run for the bus, lol.

    Excellent article TML…I think you covered all the underlying forces of the video game violence controversy. It seems to me that it all comes down to video games being farther from the main stream compared to other media. Think about. It’s far more likely that parents will be movie watchers than that they will be game players.

    Emily posted something really smart too. If someone has violent tendancies, they probably indulge in violent media. That’s the problem with corellations, they are no proof of causation. Unfortunately, there are too many people who see a correlation and automatically believe that one causes the other.

    Thats what annoys me though, if one of these violent people has a collection of violent movies and violent video games the Police and the Press will always say that he was influenced by the games and not the movies which really annoys me, there was one story here in the UK anout two years ago about a young boy who murdered his friend because he owed him money, the press immediately said that he was influenced by the game “Manhunt”, now the thing that you should know is that this game was found in the bedroom of the victim and not the murderer but oh no as long as it gives the reporter a story to make money from its ok if you bend the truth/ LIE, wgy is it that the press, politicians, interfering Mothers for whatever groups have so much hatered and miss-trust for something that they have never actually sat down and played, why exactly do they want then all banned. What really bugs me is how they complain about the effect that these 15 or 18 certificate games will have on the children who play them, THEY HAVE AGE RATEINGS ON THEM THEY ARE NOT FOR KIDS, but they never say that do they, they just ignore that to prove a point. Now I know that some kids are playing games that they shouldnt, I know of an 8 year old boy who plays the GTA games and theres npthing I can do about that but at the end of the day that is the fault of the parents and not the children and if these games do have an effect on the children who play them then I think that the parents should be held responsible for bad parenting.

    I agree with ganon master the parents dont even check the rating completely and what about games that dont have covers

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