Videogame Violence: From the Screen to Real Life

An argument as old as video games themselves and one that will continue until we are naught but dust. It’s my firm belief that so long as their are at least 2 people on the planet there will be arguments about 2 things. The portrayal of violence in video games and the real life implications this brings about and who gets to eat the last Rolo. For a blog first I have actually done some research into this and haven’t just assumed I was right and proceeded to spew words to that effect.

DISCLAIMER: Before I start in earnest I would like to make it known that I am not an expert in this field (or in any field for that matter), therefore anything of my beliefs or opinions on this matter are not to be taken as fact.

The subject on whether violent video games make people violent or not is no way near a new topic. It’s one that has been going on continuously, popping in and out of public interest with each school shooting, act of terrorism as well as other types of horrible tragedy. In fact if you expand the subject matter out to entertainment and literature the argument stretches back even further. In fact the US government passed The Federal Anti-Obscenity Act (Comstock Law) all the way back in 1873 to ban literature that contained “obscene,” “filthy,” or “inappropriate” material, so by the time video games came along the idea of banning things you didn’t like was well established.

Having looked into the subject I can’t help but be staggered by the number of acts of violence and horrific tragedies that have been blamed by violent video games in one way or another. I also can’t help but think that for every one of these incidents there are hundreds if not thousands more incidents that will never see print. Most of them going along the lines of person X liked doing activity Y before committing tragedy Z so Y must be the cause. There is a simplistic crooked logic behind this way of thinking and it scares me that people gravitate to it without question. I mean we could probably find a specific breakfast cereal that is preferred by murderers but that doesn’t mean Coco Pops make a person want to kill another person.

So why point the finger at video games? Personally I think it’s because they are an easy target. People enjoying a medium where you control a violent person committing violent acts then going out and committing violent acts themselves, simple right? However, like the rest of the world we live in the answer is never this simple. To say that stopping violent video games with stop these incidents is both short sighted and naive. There are too many variable to be able to point at one thing and go “There’s your problem” like a plumber fixing your pipes.

One incident that came up a lot in my research was that of the Columbine High School massacre. I’m sure you are all aware but to those that are not, the Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting in Colorado in April 1999 in which 2 student killed 13 students and staff as well as themselves and injured 24 others. It was well documented that the 2 students were fans of the video games Doom & Duke Nukem 3D, both of these games fall into the class of violent video games. So as you’d expect calls for banning these games and their ilk we made. In fact there was a lawsuit against the developers for causing the massacre as were the makers and distributors of the films Natural Born Killers & The Basketball Diaries, Marilyn Manson and 2 pornographic websites. All the suits were unsuccessful and the calls for banning violent video games were denied mainly because video games are protected under The First Amendment (right to freedom of speech).

On looking into the matter, there is certainly an argument to be made that video games in some way had a role in these events (It was believed by journals that the 2 Columbine shooters gained inspiration from Duke Nukem 3D to use pipe bombs during the massacre) but I do not believe that they were in any way, shape or form the cause of these incidents. I personally find video games to be a refuge, a port in the storm for when life gets hectic or when I’m not feeling all that great about things. They act as an escapism for me and I can imagine a lot of people too. A lot of the perpetrators I’ve looking into when researching this topic felt betrayed and let down by life and society so it only makes sense for them to find an escape from these feelings. Elements from these games will get woven into their acts and from that the blame is cast against them.*

These are some very extreme cases but what about everyday acts of aggression, can video games be blamed for lesser everyday violence? I personally think sometimes they can, however I also believe that the violence portrayed in violent video games is not the main culprit either. Looking back to when I was younger there were more than a few moments that I would become violent during playing video games (these acts never escalated beyond me punching pillows for throwing controllers at inanimate objects). This was because I would be frustrated at not being able to get past a certain point of a game. I’d be upset over my own inability to do something and being too immature to accept my own short comings I’d lash out.

To clarify, there is no one video game out there that can flick a so-called “Hulk switch” in any person that plays it and suddenly makes them more aggressive. Then again, I can’t say that it will never happen to someone. Yes, there will be people that will be influenced by violent games and think that copying them is cool. This tends to be seen in children and people who have lower levels of mental maturity. To prevent these influences and protect them is the reason why games have age classifications, it’s a flawed system (as it assumes people of the same age are all as mentally mature as each other) but they do act as guidelines at the very least.

Banning violent video games will never stop acts of violence, we are not suddenly going to ascend to a utopian society by banning violent video games. The only true cures are education, reform, understanding, tolerance and acceptance. Then again as flawed beings I don’t think we will ever reach such a high moral plain as a species so I guess we are doomed to suffer until the end of our days. I do hope that I am wrong about this but I suppose only time will tell.

*I would like to make it clear that I certainly DO NOT sympathise with the perpetrators of these acts. It is my view that the reasons I mentioned are never justification for acts of violence, cruelty, injury or death. I also do not condone any actions undertaken or any actions similar in relation to this.

Loot Boxes: A Chance Worth Taking?

I was originally going to lump Loot Boxes and Micro-Transaction together and have one article that covered both but in the end I just wouldn’t have been able to do both topics justice if I watered them both down for one piece. There is far too much to say on both subjects, so as such they are both getting their own spotlight. Plus since I quite enjoyed the change of tone in my article about conflict minerals I’ve decided I wanted to ride the momentum of this wave and see how many more pieces I can fire out before it subsides.

Loot Boxes (for those who are unaware), are items in video games that contain random loot which can vary from cosmetic items (such as skins or costumes), gameplay items (such as weapons or characters) or in game currency. How to achieve Loot Boxes varies from game to game but the usual methods are through in-game achievements (such as levelling up your character or team) or by purchasing them using either in-game or real currency.

In a number of countries across the globe there have been discussions raised asking whether or not Loot Boxes are a form of gambling due to the rising numbers of video games containing them that are aimed at children as well as the addictive nature that surrounds them. People who are pro Loot Boxes will argue that they are not gambling as you cannot trade your Loot Box prizes for real currency in the same way as casino chips for example, plus since you are guaranteed a set number of prizes for each loot box there is no risk of loss, much in the same way as a toy gumball machine will always guarantee you a prize. On the other hand however, those opposed to them will tell you that since they are a game of chance and the addictive nature of them, they should be classed as gambling and as such not marketed to children.

I personally think the subject is far too complex to sit wholly on one side or the other. I personally don’t think they should be classed as gambling. I see loot boxes in the same light as Pokemon cards or football stickers but nobody’s been in an uproar about these being a form of gambling. The main thing to me is that in gambling there is an element of winning and losing. You can get a return on your stake or you can loose it, this isn’t true with Loot Boxes. Like trading cards you are guaranteed a set number of rewards, you don’t get any more or less each time you buy. It’s also true that some items will be rarer than others but in the end you still get something. With this in mind, a tombola is closer akin to gambling than loot boxes but we still let our kids buy tickets.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with loot boxes in their current format. The biggest being that even if there is debate about whether or not they are classed as gambling, they still create the same feeling that gambling does, which can lead to gambling addiction. This can potentially be dangerous, especially since a lot of games with loot boxes are available to children, who are more mentally susceptible to addiction. This is what leads some people into spending thousands on loot boxes and other micro-transactions (I will go into this in more depth in my post on Micro-transactions).

So how do people get addicted to loot boxes? It’s the same way people get addicted to gambling, some people win big and get one of the rarest items and continue buying in order to re-create that winning feeling, some will keep playing because they have had poor box after poor box and will keep going wishing to “recoup their losses” or that “the next one will be the winner”. There are many reasons but what most of them have in common is that they all chase some sort of reward and a sense of a high that comes with it. As these players “win” more they can become desensitised to winning causing them to take higher risks in order to maintain the same states of euphoria.

I understand why the games industry has shifted to including elements like loot boxes and micro-transactions. With the rising development costs as games get bigger and require more staff and resources. In order to keep the game costs low for the gamers, developers have to subsidise the cost by generating revenue elsewhere. Back in 2016 US$650million was spent on EA’s Ultimate Team Player Packs across all their sports games, accounting for about half of EA’s entire micro-transaction revenue that year.

I do believe that the games industry should be doing more to combat problems caused by loot boxes. They should be making sure that those who buy loot boxes can do so in such a manner that it is sustainable. Games should be just as playable with or without loot boxes in order to allow them to be an addition to the game rather than one of it’s major components. Warnings should be provided to help warn both gamers and parents about the contents of the games they are playing or buying for their children, and support should be made available to those who need help. Laws should be put in place to enforce this as well. Here in the UK the Gambling Act was last updated in 2005, long before anyone saw the rise of loot boxes. In the case of children, parents should take an active interest in the games their children play and the content within them. Being a little game savvy will help both you understand the games your kids are playing and also provide a new ground of common interest. If we all band together and do our bit we can protect the most vulnerable among us without sacrificing on the games we love.