This article was originally published as a user blog post on Game Informer.
I remember looking forward to the 2009 blockbuster video game hit, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I was around 15 at the time and had already played the fantastic Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. To my relief, it’s a T rated game that my parents didn’t have a problem with me playing, unlike M-rated titles such as Grand Theft Auto 4 (which I actually have no interest in). As I progressed through the first half of Drake’s Fortune, I was utterly shocked with the continuously repeated uses of s*** and “GD.” I’ve played games with the same exact rating, but this game has much more language than any T game and even some M games that I’ve played (like CoD4). So, right after Among Thieves was released, I resorted to an online forum and asked if the game has a voice volume option (if the language happened to be as pervasive as its predecessor). Little did I know that I had started a war among the members of that website. The majority of them told me, “Oh, so you don’t like bad words, but shooting people in the face is okay? That’s so hypocritical.” Some people agreed and said, “Look, it’s his opinion. The violence isn’t real. I’m the same way when it comes to playing gory games with language.” Man, I never asked a question like that ever since then. I barely even got a simple answer. I mostly got an upsetting debate.
I was recently roaming the internet to see if Left 4 Dead 2 had a voice volume option. I dared not ask the question myself, so I resorted to see if others had asked it. I easily found a few questions similar to mine. However, it was the same situation with these individuals. Almost everyone debated with and even made fun of them! In effect, all of this has had me thinking lately. I’m tired of seeing these people with their personal opinions and concerns assaulted with pointless debates and ridicule. I’m in a similar boat with them where violence normally isn’t a big deal, but too much language is. I’d also say on their behalf that sexual content is also a larger concern. You might be shaking your head at this seemingly hypocritical and odd opinion, so that’s why I’ve decided to present a decent case for this group of gamers. I would appreciate it if everyone in the comments could keep their cool, respect one another, and realize that there’s no definitive right or wrong on this issue. Thankfully, the majority of this community is awesome when it comes to this, so I’m not worried about it. 😉 Let’s go ahead and jump in.
I’m normally lenient when it comes to violence. An obvious reason why is that none of it’s real; or in other words, you’re only killing pixels. Though this sounds ignorant due to the realism of some games, it’s simply common sense. Every gamer that has it should be able to differentiate between the real world and the virtual world. There’s no reason why a game should influence a sound person to commit horrendous acts. You could bring up people like the Columbine High School killers as counter evidence, but they weren’t normal. They were psychotic megalomaniacs with hatred toward humanity. So it wasn’t games (Wolfenstein) that influenced them to murder, but rather their naturally violent natures that caused them to watch, play games with, write about, and then act out violence. ‘sigh’ Horrible. Oh, and if you look up the violence rate in the past couple of decades among younger people, it’s gone down a lot. I’m not going to bore you with the charts, but just trust me on this one. I’ve researched it a lot.
Another reason is that most games in existence are focused on some form of violence. There are different degrees of it, but it’d be pretty hard to avoid if you play games (or participate in entertainment media for that matter). Sure, I don’t think anyone would argue that Mario games are off limits to any person, but should specific people play heavily violent games? Little kids (at least up to 10 in my opinion) shouldn’t play them, but there’s still no solid answer to this. I’ll get into that later. Personally, I consider myself a mature and non-violent person. Ask anyone that knows me…I’m a goodie-two-shoes guy that happens to enjoy playing really violent games every now and then. I never play them to vent angry feelings or get some sick enjoyment out of virtually hurting and killing people. I play games to save the innocent and deliver justice to evildoers, to have a blast with friends while encouraging teamwork, to be engaged with deep storylines and excellent gameplay, and most of all, to have fun. Whether it be blowing up 8 bit spaceships or stabbing terrorists, I don’t do it for the violence. I do it to complete interactive, virtual objectives that give me senses of accomplishment, enjoyment, and emotion (such as attaching to deep characters or experiencing fear while playing a horror game). You could interject that there are also degrees of violence that affect the amount of satisfaction and accomplishment you feel. For example, a bloody headshot versus a boring shot to the chest. However, remember that these are still different degrees of challenges. A headshot is harder to pull off. Therefore, you get more satisfaction out of completing that goal. The level of difficulty and intensity of violence seem to go hand-and-hand when it comes to games.
I think, as gamers, violence is never the main goal; it’s completing fun tasks. When you win a chainsaw battle in Gears of War, you groan in disgust while fist pumping in your gory, bloody victory. Not for the violence itself, but for the accomplishment of humiliating your opponent in a fun game. To get the ball moving, the point is that I believe that games really motivate us to have fun and successful experiences. It’s an obvious, universal fact of gaming, but it’s needed here.
What may surprise you is that I do feel uncomfortable playing as the bad guy. When I “kill” innocent civilians, betray partners, or fight for an evil desire, the fun factor is weakened for me. And this is not necessarily a factor of violence, but of morality. What does Ezio Auditore Da Firenze fight for? He eradicates the corrupt and gives power to good, reliable people. I’m down with that. What does Niko Bellic do? He kills cops and civilians to advance his own selfish agendas (as far as I know). That’s not as satisfying for me because I mostly play games to save the world…not destroy it. So, for some reason, making the choice to kill “innocent pixels” bothers me a bit. It’s why I didn’t kill a single person in the Modern Warfare 2 “No Russian” mission. I could do it, but I’d rather not. I think it has to do with why you’re killing someone in a game. I remember not having a good grasp on the Nazis and what they did in history while playing Medal of Honor: Frontline as an 11 year old. I specifically remember shooting a Nazi soldier while he gasped in horror at his predicament. After lying there on the cold, bloodstained stone for a second, he reached his hand out to me with a facial expression filled with fear. Then, he collapsed and died on the spot. I’ll never forget how guilty I felt over that one guy, but now I kill Nazis with ease in games. Why? I’m more mature, know how evil many of those men were, and realize its just pixels. The same could be said for how I feel about innocent people in games (they shouldn’t feel my wrath). Morality can hang onto you in the virtual world despite the harmlessness of the choices and actions you make. In a sense, we “practice” our morals to an extent in games…or not, like a really great friend of mine that loves playing as the bad guy. I don’t know why, but he has fun being evil. I think a lot of people would also say “Yeah, I feel bad killing NPCs or making an evil decision in a game.” But many others say “Kill all the villagers and set fire to the town!” It’s fascinating how different we all are, so if you aren’t bothered at all by being virtually evil, then that’s fine. Be the villain, or be the hero. Save the innocent pixels, or destroy them.
Let’s talk about age. Should young teenagers be playing M rated games or even slightly violent games? I think there’s no set rule to this except maturity and personalities. Should a 13 year old that displays adult-like behavior play Call of Duty? Sure, as long as it doesn’t affect him negatively in a moral or mental sense. How about an angry-prone 15 year old that finds enjoyment in watching virtual violence? I wouldn’t recommend violent games to this kid because people like him are never helped with something that allows that kind of behavior to continue to flourish. Overall, this is simply a personal issue with many different answers for specific personalities. The ESRB already gives great ratings to follow, but they’re just guidelines. A recommendation. If you’re a parent and know your 14 year old is mature and responsible enough to handle something like Medal Gear Solid 4, then let him have at it. However, if it’s the other way around, I’d be cautious in your decision. Now, if we’re talking about language and sexual content, that’s a different story.
Language is real, whether in virtual worlds or the real world. It doesn’t change over those two dimensions, unlike sexual content (to an extent) and violence. In our culture today, language is widely used without care. I assume that you most likely grew up with early exposure to all sorts of language, so it’s not a big deal. I’ve grown up in a religious environment with constant reminders of how vulgar language is. That’s why I’m not comfortable with being exposed to bombardments of it. I can take a few words (after all, I hear them all the time), but I never cuss myself. Get this, you’d never find me saying, “crap.” It just sounds unpleasant to me and unnecessary when you could just say “mess” or “bad.” So there’s a point to where I can tolerate language in games (like Call of Duty), but I don’t like constant exposure to it because I’d be very annoyed and uncomfortable. It’s different for a lot of people because language can be an everyday thing, where violence and sexual content are much bigger things to be concerned about. Again, this is where personal life experience influences your opinions.
The same could be said for me in regard to sexual content, except at a way more extreme level. I don’t like to take pleasure in watching or hearing sexual acts or moods from video games. It tempts me to think about things I shouldn’t think about. It’s why I shut off the TV when Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood had a certain scene in the beginning. I bought the game because I knew I could skip a scene like that with ease. Something like Duke Nukem or Heavy Rain would be too much to handle (language-wise too).
What about the other spectrum of the table? I assume that some people enjoy sexual content (which is certainly a common thing) and others may not mind. It all depends on your acceptance of such things. However, I do believe that this and language are more influential than violence for the simple reason that they are less serious than violence in real life. If applying this view, violence is treated as being a bigger or equal concern compared to sexual content and language. Therefore, the affects of the latter on gamers are more impressionable (especially if kids way underage play games like that). Look around you at the amount of language and sexual stuff in games today compared to the 1990s game era. I’d dare say that violence has been pretty consistent (in context, not realism), but games have gotten so much worse in the other two categories (like entertainment media in general). It’s why I think they are more influential than ever, and it’s hard to catch that.
This is definitely a tricky issue to discuss. I do know that it’s a good idea to understand where everyone is coming from when it comes to these concerns. You think watching sexual content is worse than virtually chopping heads off? Or do you think it’s silly to compare that to a graphic display of gore? Although I would go with the former, I assume some would choose the latter as well. I think that’s fine because we all live by certain rules, principles, and beliefs that affect the games we decide to play. I think it’s important to realize that none of us are right as to who should play what and when they should because we’re all unique. We ask ourselves questions like “Will this game’s language be constant and bother me?” or “All this violence looks disgusting…should I play this game?” Regulating our decisions for the purpose of personal views is one of the many ways we look at video games. And sure, asking people around you if making a certain decision with a game is wise too. If you’ve ever questioned the judgment of others in terms of playing certain games, ask yourself why they’re doing it. It may not make sense to you, but realize you might not make sense to the other person either.
Oh, yeah, just one more thing. Who thinks that the gore and language “turn off” option in the Gears of War games are awesome? How about the similar one in Treyarch’s Call of Duty games? I’m always really surprised when I see developers include this kind of option in their games. You don’t mind violence, but would rather not listen to language? Or vice-versa? Epic Games has got you covered, and I wish all developers did this. Some of my friends could play so many games if this awesome option was available more often. Developers could also do the same with sexual content. For example, if a sex scene comes on, I think a warning screen should pop up asking if you want to watch it (like the “No Russian” mission). These kind of options would be so great and could even open up for more game sales. Parents would be more lenient to their kids to buy these games or, if you have a family and have to play M-rated games in the late night, you wouldn’t have to worry about playing some of them whenever you want. I wish I could go into every game knowing that I could shut off or tone down something I’d rather not see/listen to. It’d make everything so much easier.
There you go. Man, I’ve left you with a lot of points that can be expounded upon and other things that can be added. Feel free to do so if you like. And now, here’s the best part! What about you? Do you have rules you abide to when it comes to playing certain games? Or do you do what you want? Should specific people play “age-appropriate” games? Or is it a matter of maturity and other factors that determine who should play what and when? Where do you rank the “bad levels” of violence, sexual content, and language…and why? Do you wish you could tone down/turn off some of these things? Comment below, and thanks for checking out my blog!