Tortured Language & Video Game Violence

I just read an infuriating take on the recent violent video game law passed in California:

Wired News: The Tortured Language of the Law
Interestingly, the one moment of genuine clarity in the California law is when it frets about games where you can “torture” someone. The legislators define torture as when you intentionally cause someone else suffering — “mental as well as physical” — that is quite apart from the cut-and-thrust of battle. The language is suddenly much crisper here, and I wondered why.

Then it hit me: Because this is the one area of law where our governments have deep, recent experience. Three years ago, the federal government was painstakingly crafting legal memos about torture — not so they could ban it, but so they could perform it. Who could forget White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’ intricately crafted prose, saying that torture “must cause pain equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death”?

Consider that your final irony: Politicians work hard to ban virtual torture — while working just as hard to allow it in real life.

This goes to earlier cynical observations that I made about politicians like Hillary Clinton demonizing video games while in the same breath demanding that more kids be sent to fight the war in Iraq.

Seriously, what it is about these people and their inability to separate real world violence from video game violence? They claim their fear is that kids will become more violent in the real world as a result of video games, and yet… they support policies that actively put kids in harm’s way. Isn’t this the pot acting like the kettle?

More and more I think that video gamers need the equivalent of MoveOn.org – A place where gamers can rally around non-partisan issues that impact their culture and primary form of entertainment. Something like… GamerVoter.com The whole enterprise could be financed through donations and sales of merchandise like “I’m a gamer and I vote” bumper stickers or “You don’t (image of classic game controller) me.” t-shirts.

Isn’t it about time gamers stood together against the increasingly nonsensical and biased hatred that is being directed at them by a clueless and vindictive elder class of politicians? This is still a democracy right?

Btw, I think it is interesting to note that under this law a game like The Sims would be banned for sale to minors. Within the “dollhouse” confines of its world the player can perform actions that actively “torture” the Sim characters, ultimately leading to them urinating on themselves, going insane, and starving to death. Take note casual gamers, this law isn’t just about “murder simulators” aka first-person-shooters.

7 thoughts on “Tortured Language & Video Game Violence”

  1. So what can I say? I endorse you entirely on what you say, actually I never thought of a sponsered website. I’m 18, fresh from high school and I’ll say this. I got a bunch of buddies, a couple have medical ‘anger issues’ they go to therapy for. You know what they are suppost to do when they get mad? You guessed it, go grab a controller and blow the hell outta something. Nothing helps calm the rage inside that watching someone online blow to virtual bits… unless you’d prefer some kid going to school with a gun and doing it because his parents won’t let him express his need for violence on a Xbox. It’s a human need to be angry and violent, these politicians need to seriously stand back from the issue and look at it and say “WoW, I am such an idiot. I am totally against ‘violent games’ and ‘war games’ yet I totally endorse sending 18 yo kids into Iraq to draw some real blood from someone. It’s psychotic in my view. I’ll admit I’ve got some blood lust, I’ve gone to computer cafes and gotten uber p*ss*d. Now you probably heard some pretty bad stuff come outta my mouth but not once did I run over and punch the kid in real life or strangle him with his mouse cord… though you may have heard me say “I’m am gonna frag you so hard” or “I TOTALLY JUST BLEW YOUR HEAD OFF”… of course in the digital online sense. When you pull back and look at it realistically… kids, teens and young adults do more violent things because of drugs, peer pressure and gangs. You know any hard core gamers that have joined a major gang lately? (excluding a online ‘clan’) Seriously, Video Games is my anti-drug. Video games is my anti-Gang. These parents and such need to step back and look at the real problem… them. Video games are just entertainment… and a helpful one if anything.

  2. 1. Different lawmakers, different places. This makes an interesting metaphor and all, but it is by no means accurate or logical.

    2. Video gamers do need a place around which to rally, but I hope to God it is nothing like MoveOn.org. For one thing, MoveOn.org has never rallied around a non-partisan issue in its life. Those moonbats don’t even know what a non-partisan issue is! If we’re going to rally, let’s try to do it in a way that will not humiliate and cause a backlash against the industry.

  3. It’s absurd for politicians to work diligently to ban images of virtual violence in a virtual world with one hand while using the other to inflict immeasureable amounts of actual violence in reality. I’ve been saying that for years, and it’s nice to see that someone as respectable as American McGee agrees. I don’t, however, agree with Clive Thompson that such a thing should be considered ‘irony’ because it makes perfect sense to me that politicians would want to give the appearance of looking out for the safety of our children, especially if you’re trying to make up for the fact that those same politicians are already actively engaged in warmongering that threatens the safety of all Americans. I’m not trying to be cynical here. I would speculate that on some level these politicians probably do have some concern for public safety, but to say that ‘making it harder for teenagers and kids to buy a specific form of art will make the world a safer place’ is delusional at best, and downright manipulative at worst. Since when is censorship an American value?

    That being said, I do believe that interactive media has a unique effect on the human psyche, and that it deserves further study. There is NO scientific evidence that violence in video games causes violence in real life simply because such a study has yet to be done. At any rate, all the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard suggests exactly the opposite: imaginary violence may have a cathartic effect. I personally believe that the repetitive nature of video games leaves a harsher impression than any other form of media out there, but that the residual effects are mostly harmless. For example, after a sleepless night playing Quake2 deathmatch back in high school, the next day irl I would find myself occasionally thinking that I should ‘switch to the double shotgun’ when i heard footsteps around the corner of an empty corridor, or visually inspect hard-to-reach platforms on nearby buildings for campers just in case somebody had rocket-jumped up there. But there were no consequences to these side effects besides a growing realization that maybe sleep should have been a higher priority than entertainment.

    An interesting question is whether or not I would have acted on that impulse had I been trained and equipped with a real arsenal of weapons. I don’t know the answer to that question–personally I think if a teenager is packing a rocket-launcher in his backpack you’ve got bigger problems than video games– but you might want to ask the United States Army about how well the ability to inflict virtual violence in their game ‘America’s Army’ translates into an improvement for inflicting real life violence since they seem to be the only ones using a FPS as a form of edutainment for soldiering skills. Politicians such as Senator Joseph Lieberman are free, of course, to continue to say that ‘violence in video games is America’s number one problem’. I’m no expert in such matters, but it seems to me that with all the terrorist threats, a couple foreign wars, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the lack of affordable healthcare, corporate irresponsibility, and the highest imprisonment rate per capita in the world that maybe, just maybe, America has a few other problems that politicians could concern themselves with instead of legislating against what is quickly becoming the most popular form of recreation among today’s youth.

    I’ve been told that I have an over-active imagination. I think that’s one of the reasons I like video games so much. You can pretend to be virtually anything: the last human being in a town taken over by zombies and vampires, a dinosaur fighting for his life in prehistoric Africa, the noble ruler of an ancient civilization, or an astronaut exploring distant worlds. However, there is one thing in this world that I find particularly hard to make myself believe: that politicians are the ones who know best how to create a world that is both safe and fair for everyone in it. I’m sorry, but my willful suspension of disbelief goes only so far. And even if repeating virtual acts over and over again does make me more psychologically predisposed to repeat that behavior irl–again, a claim with no scientific support– I’ll just have to try real hard to remind myself of the difference between fighting zombies and aliens in a video game and fighting zombies and aliens irl…

    Don’t laugh.

    The safety of our children depends on it!

  4. Don’t forget that while the government is demonizing video games, they are also creating them for free for the gaming puplic. America’s Army, anyone?

  5. I’m full heartedly behind you on this. I’m doing a report in my Collage Writing Class(yes I’m a senior in High School and only 17) on, yes you guessed it; Violence in Video Games and how it effects people! I myself am outraged by the slanderous comments being forced against the industry due to people who refuse to take a step back and look at the real issues. However we really need to take a step back ourselves and look at WHY we’re being targeted.

    Five Words: VIDEO GAMES ARE EASIER TARGETS

    It is much easier to wage a war against Video Games than it is to war against things such as: Gangs or Drugs, Simply because Video Games are legal. You can go online and easily find the Mailing Addresses, Phone Numbers, and the Names of those who lead the major gaming companies. They’re not underground organizations like Gangs or Drug smuggling lines. They’re HQs are out in the open for all to see and more over: They don’t run. So far the Companies and stood strong and firm in their beliefs and been damaged all the more by Censorship. Even with the recent ‘scandal’ in GTA with it’s “hot coffee mini-game” which was point blank hidden. Probably as a joke between programmers and then forgotten, however it got kicked out onto consoles everywhere, that was a huge ass mistake. If the ESRB would have known they would have rated the game AO and then the, maybe, two versions of GTA could have been marketed at S.A.’s initial Launch; an M rating, and an AO rating. The AO rating containing less censored materials which would only be marketed to…people 1 year older…but whatever…More money could have been had there. But that’s not the real point, the real point is: The GTA ‘scandal’ was a massive blow(no pun intended) to the industry because now the ESRB(which isn’t run by a single gamer)will be even more harsh on their ratings.

    When we really stop and look at this: that’s fair. The ESRB should be harsher, not because we want them to be, but because Rockstar Games messed up the industry was punished. Cause and effect. If Rockstar would have thought things through and been more careful when they ran a last check over the game before sending it off to the ESRB things would have been fine, but whoever put the code for that part of the game in there is a moron, not because he’d made the code and put it in there, but because he forgot to take it out, or intended to not take it out.

    But I digress, my main point is that I support you and I think that a site to rally behind is genius, I hadn’t thought of it myself. All I’m saying is that we need to take a step back before we go forward and look at what’s making the Video Game Industry an easy target for Censorship.

    What I think is making it an easy target:

    1) People are looking for something to blame, especially parents! They want someone to blame for the recent boost in violence in the USA…. they don’t want to even think it could be their fault for raising their kids wrong.
    2) The news is biased and not putting up anything in the defense or Violent Gaming, or worse; No one is trying to launch a defense on the news!!!
    3) Distributors are not carding the youngsters looking to buy games above their age, not because it’s wrong for anyone who’s 16 to play ‘M’ rated games, but because it gives the enemy (censorship happy loonies) ammo to blast us with! For the love of Atari, every sixteen year old I know has at least 1 friend who’s 17 or more!

    All right, that’s all from me for now… Now that I’ve found this great site I intend to become vocal about my views… thanks to whoever runs this… it’s a great outlet.

  6. I am 100% behind you on this, I’m 16 years old and I am composing a report for a school project that relates video gaming and violence in youth, more specifically, teenagers like me.

    I have had far to many arguments with my mother, who’s mind is totally fixed on the idea that video games have the power to turn all teenagers into in hell bent, blood lusting killers that will stop at no end to bring violence to the world…I tell her that she couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t beleive in any way that playing video games(and I play a LOT of video games) has made me violent in any way at all, if anything, it gets the anger out of me before I get the chance to release it irl.

    I totally agree what you are saying about how Politicians are trying so hard to have more boundaries put on video games and the age limits pumped up, yet they spend so much time and money creating armies and weapons of mass destruction.

    The United States are spending billions of dollars on buffing up the Army to fight other countries, when there are things such as poverty and homelessness thriving in our own countries, and even a small portion of the money being spent on the Army and their weapons could help those people suffering from poverty enormously, and would be invaluable for the morale and reputation of the country.

    Although video games have taken a harsh beating over the years, the problem could all be fixed if the adults that are today condeming video games would just give them a try, I am sure that their mind would be eased, if not persuaded into the fact that video games actually help releive anger and help prevent violence irl.

    One major fact that I make to anyone I talk to about violence in video games and how “bad” they are for you, I can’t help but bring up tactical war and fantasy games. This genre of games has probably helped me more in my logical way of thinking than just about any passive activity or school subject, other than the core subjects. This genre of games help stimulate the mind and make the player develop skills suck as analysing a situation before taking action, and taking your time before making an important decision.

    All in all, I think research needs to be done before Politions and parents resume their relentless precrastination of video games, and I think they should realize that it is problems irl that cause the most violence-related probalems in growing children and teenagers.

    I would like to thank the person who runs this site, it has helped me greatly with my report, and has also helped me share my thoughts on the topic.

    — Thank You American McGee

  7. i swear, some people are so stupid sometimes it’s not even funny.

    “hey guys, i know! let’s ban violent video games so that people don’t do violent things on tv or computer, but let’s send people to kill other real people in Iraq! hyuk hyuk hyuk, i’m sure that’ll work!”

    honestly, stupidity of people today amaze me. and of course, violent video games have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to affect the way we are in real life. If you’re a nutter, you’re born a nutter, and if you’re a sane person, then you’re BORN a bloody sane person!

    Honestly, i’m living proof. i play some of the most violent video games ever invented (fatal frame, silent hill, RE 4, etc.) and you can ask all my friends, and they’ll tell you i’m one of the least violent people they know. honestly whatta bunch of bloody idiots, politicians. that’s why i’ll never be one.

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