Editorial October 2006: Videogame Violence By Hilary Williamson
A few weeks ago, a shooter in a long black trench coat killed a young student - and seriously injured many others - in a downtown college in Montreal, Canada, near where I live. This was followed by a flurry of arrests of city high school students, who seem to have wanted to emulate the killer. Then came more school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and this week's horror in Pennsylvania. It seems like the first eruption - with all the media attention it garnered for the killer - drew out more.
The Montreal shooter was reported to have mentioned in his blog that he enjoyed playing a free videogame based on the Columbine shootings. I just googled the game and found numerous articles stating merely that it drew the ire of victims' families - surely it's offensive to any decent person anywhere! What next? A videogame of Auschwitz or the Rwandan genocide? I'm all for free speech and an open Internet, but what happened to good taste and responsibility?
In an interview with BookLoons, America's EducatorRon Clark said of today's kids that 'The Television, video games and computers are their main companions, and they are growing up without feeling a part of something special. That is why so many children end up in groups of friends who are bad influences, often joining gangs and spending time on the streets. They are so desperate to feel a part of something that they'll settle for anyone who seems to accept them' (while it seems that some of those not accepted explode into violence).
Steve Allen in Vulgarians at the Gate 'agonizes over a society that has sunk so low that most of its members no longer question the appropriateness of exposing its children to wall-to-wall sex and violence on television, in films, and in music.' And in Playstation Nation: Protect Your Child from Video Game Addiction, Olivia Bruner & Kurt Bruner tell us that 'the amount of time children spend playing video games is increasing exponentially, and the effects are almost overwhelmingly negative for the child - relationally, emotionally, and physically.'
Don't get me wrong. There are many great games - I've watched my sons improve their reading skills with video games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time and get a sense of history and the infrastructures of societal development via computer games like Civilization. But such games and TV exert a powerful influence. Surely those who develop them should be held to a higher standard than they are at present, just as parents need to be more involved in their kids' lives and in choosing the influences to which they are exposed.
Stanford's Dr. B. J. Fogg, author of the fascinating Persuasive Technology speaks of the strong influence that computing products can exert and would like to see them evolve to 'influence people in ways that enhance quality of life.' He also questions the ethics involved in the distribution of violent video games like Mortal Kombat. As should we all.
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