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Video Games & Virtual Evil

The growing cultural presence of video games cannot be denied. In terms of revenue, the interactive entertainment industry currently grosses just as much or more than other forms of mainstream entertainment such as movies. Video games have come along way since the days of Pong – and some wonder if they’ve gone too far. In The New Yorker, Simon Parkin asks the question: How evil should a video game allow you to be?  He gives special attention to the new Grand Theft Auto V, which topped $800 million in first-day sales, boasts “unprecedented” scale and detail, and was made on the largest producing budget of any video game in history.  Beyond its central story, it offers gamers the freedom to do whatever they want, from running triathlons to stealing cars to murdering innocents – rekindling an age-old debate about onscreen violence. But Parkin notes that the debate should jump to another level when considering video games:

Video-game violence is, like all onscreen violence, an act of play. But the medium has a unique capacity to inveigle, and even implicate, its audience through its interactivity. When we watch a violent scene in a film or read a description of violence in a novel, no matter how graphic it is, we are merely spectators. In video games, whose stories are usually written in the second person singular – “you,” rather than “he” or “she” or “I” – we are active, if virtual, participants.

Due to this interactivity, Parkin argues that game creators have the responsibility to add meaning to realistic screen violence in order to prevent gamers from a degrading experience. In other words, a morally ambivalent stance isn’t enough. What do you think? As video game trends turn toward realism, should gamers and game creators be held responsible for the actions they do and don’t allow within an interactive game?

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