Reading 11: The History of... Social Issues

Video games are a big part of many people’s lives. For some it’s an escape, for others a daily ritual, and others an occasional indulgence. They offer an enjoyable and typically low-stress opportunity for recreation. There is a concern though, that gaming can be addicting. A more serious concern is that violent video games can encourage real world violence in its players. I’m going to address those two concerns with this blog post.

First, violence. Specifically, first-person shooters can get a tainted reputation in the face of gun violence in the world. Our president has tweeted, “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it’s creating monsters!” Worried parents (my own included) ban violent video games altogether. Personally, I find this type of reaction to gun violence to be nothing more than political pandering at its most basic form. Research has shown in several different studies that there is no correlation between video game violence and real world violence. And yet, it’s easy for politicians and pundits to point fingers and look accomplished when leading a crusade against video game violence.

Now, shoot ‘em up games certainly aren’t my favorite genre. But lack of enjoyment doesn’t mean I should ignore and not care about the proposed regulation that could occur. Parents, in my opinion, should have the ultimate authority over their children. Children can watch an R rated movie with parental consent. Similarly, parents can buy an M rated game for their children to play. It may be worthwhile to ensure that before a parent purchases either the movie ticket or the game, they are explicitly informed of what content caused the media to receive such a rating, but ultimately that’s on the parent. It also would be nice to perhaps simplify the rating system between movies and games. Make it so that G, PG, PG-13, and R line up with E, E10+, T, and M. Then just choose one of the rating systems. (Because that will work nicely.)

Second is addiction. The concern here is that video games look and feel like slot machines at casinos. There have been tons of studies and anecdotes linking gambling with addiction, so this may be similar. However, this correlation between gaming and addictive behavior has also been debunked. Video games are usually games of skill rather than games of chance. Typically, there is no external reward, only internal leveling and mastery. As a result, games don’t promote the same type of addictive behavior as casino games of chance.

I think that there is one serious exception though, and that’s games that include a gambling mechanism within the game itself. Things like loot boxes allow a player to spend real world currency to have a chance at “winning” a really good item or attribute. This seems like an obvious inclusion of gambling, as opposed to gaming. There is no skill involved, only random chance. Recently, Belgium officially declared loot boxes to be gambling and categorized them as illegal. I would not be in any way disappointed to see other countries follow suit.