Videogames don't create violence in society, they reflect it

Art and society are often seen as almostinseparable, leading to the question whether art influences society or viceversa. When video games entered the field of discussed art and design, it wasno surprise that people started wondering about the violent nature of some ofthese games and  their influence onmodern day society. Like Caravaggio, Vermeer and many others of their time,game designers are  heavily influenced bysociety. Their work reflects what many people are feeling, but have no way ofexpressing themselves.  Therefore,videogames don’t create violence in society, but merely reflect it. 

Games are a form of art

As the Designers compare to Caravaggio and Vermeer, Game design in general is related to impressionism, popart, the rise of movies and thus every new movement in the art world. Why? You might wonder. The resemblance lies in the way they were rejected by the existing elites of the time, waiting to be accepted by society and only later seen as a true form of art.

Richard Hamiltons' finished collage 'Just what is it that makes today's home so different?'  presents all the multiple ways of communicating information available at that time, reflecting Hamilton’s ironic interest in popular culture and modern technology. It shows a domestic interior complete with armchairs, coffee tables, pot plants and lamps. Such domestic appliances as a hoover, a television showing a woman talking on the phone on its screen, and a tape recorder that would have been considered state of the art in the 1950s now appear extremely out-dated.

In 2012Jonathan Jones, art critic for the Guardian, wrote that games do not qualify asa form of art, but rather as playgrounds where the player creates their ownexperience, through the interactions set up by the designers and developers bythe game. The question is if Jones is right and if it even matters. KeithStuart, blogger for the Guardian responded to Jones only a month later, stating:“Certain critics will always attemptto barricade themselves against the flood of the new, to fence in what theyunderstand and can safely ascribe meaning to – but new art always seepsthrough. The next time someone tells you that something isn't art, that itcan't possibly even qualify, know that what they're really telling you is thatthey are bewildered by change. That's okay, it's human, but it shouldn't bemistaken for criticism. Are games art or aren't they? Nobody need answer. Gamesare beautiful and important, we can leave it there and know that we are right.” 

Susan Sacirbey states in apublication for the Huffington posts that not only did history influencedevelopments in the possibilities for game design, it is also vice versa, withtopics such as the Iranian Revolution reflected in Grant Theft Auto 1979Revolution. But can any game influence society? Or are games influenced bysociety?

Violence is as old as human history

In 2013Polygon published an article from Brian Crecente in which he discusses violencein videogames with Kate Edwards, president of the International Game DevelopersAssociation and Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft.

Edwards: "The role of violence instorytelling is as old as human history, and it has long served a purpose inconveying values of honesty, courage, confidence and perseverance. If gameswere the first medium to have a compelling influence over society, I couldunderstand the obsession with imbuing them with powerful qualities of changinghuman behaviour at a fundamental level. But this is not the case. As one of themore recent forms of artistic expression, games and their interactivity areproviding us with a new way to explore ancient themes. "

We all know the stories of big heroic fights in the spartan times. Assassin's Creed Odyssey reflects those old themes in a hyperrealistic fighting game. But is this really a game we need to be worrying about? Or is it an old theme on a new medium. 

The creator isn’t responsible

 If game designers are in fact artists, let us think about the responsibility we lay on other artists. Are musicians responsible for the feelings someone has while listening to their music? Is a painter responsible for the emotions someone has looking at their colours? I think not.

This painting can be compared with the David with the Head of Goliath in the Galleria Borghese, which dates from either 1607 or 1609–10. The two are very similar—Caravaggio frequently explored a subject in multiple variations, most notably his many versions of John the Baptist—but the Vienna painting is less dark in mood, the David more triumphant than the introspective and oddly compassionate David of the Borghese, and the head of Goliath, widely accepted as a self-portrait in the Borghese work, is more generic.

Perssonagrees and stated to Polygon: “A lotof game developers are game developers because they're passionate aboutgames.They make the games they want to play themselves, and as adults, thesegames might not be the same as the games children want to play. Personally, Idid not create Minecraft in an attempt to cater to kids, but rather just made agame that I wanted to play myself. Creators have no responsibility towardsanyone to do anything; they should simply express themselves as much as theycan through the means they choose. Some material produced might not be suitablefor children, and that can be regulated with a rating system and responsibleparents.”

“Developers consider many complexsocial issues that may arise in their games. On the issue of violence, I thinkmost game designers are cognizant of the role that violent actions serve intheir games' stories, very similar to how a film's scriptwriter or a book'sauthor leverages such acts to serve the stories they wish to tell. Havingworked on many major game titles over the years, I can attest firsthand thatthe writers, designers and developers are usually very conscientious of theircraft and how certain actions — violent or not — serve the purpose of theirgames."

Minecraft is considered kids friendly and aggression free, but wasn't created at such. It came from the mind of Persson, who states that he does not design games for it's players, but foremost for himself as the designer. As all art starts out as a way of speaking it's artists mind.

The media is obsessed

In 2018Kevin Anderton published an article on the impact of gaming on society in whichhe explained through infographics the influence that games had on the gamers’lives. More than 850 games discussed 251 topics, such as stress, friends,problems and aggression. Not only does 89% believe that gaming is beneficial tosociety, 93% stated that they think the media’s obsession with linking violenceand videogames is not justified.

BBC writer Tim Harford is sure thatvideo games have shaped the economy: “In 2016, four economists presentedresearch into a puzzling fact about the US labour market: the economy wasgrowing strongly, unemployment rates were low, and yet a surprisingly largenumber of able-bodied young men were either working part-time or not working atall.”

He continues: “Most studies ofunemployment find that it makes people thoroughly miserable, againstexpectations the happiness of these young men was rising. The researchersconcluded that these men were living at home, playing videogames.” 

‘Mediaviolence’ has been around in America since the NRA (National Rifle Association)blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games and wasdiscussed by the American prospect in 2013: “The greatest art canchange us forever, and less meaningful art may make us feel something only fora moment.  That being said, it's a far, far cry fromacknowledging that media portrayals of violence might get some people riled upto saying that they are the primary, or even a significant, cause of crime andviolence in our society. Compared to things like genetics, childhood trauma,material deprivation, and the availability of guns, media violence makes onlythe tiniest contribution to our society's level of violence, if it makes anycontribution at all. Even as our movies, television, and videogames have gotten more violent over the last couple of decades, crime hasfallen dramatically. Because the other factors are the ones that matter.”

A quick search on Google Newsreveals more than 103 million articles about the dangers of certain media typeson violence or even worse: filled with claims how media is directly connectedto a certain kind of violence.  These are often bold and false claims . Ameta-analysis by Buschin, Allen and Anderson in Violent Media Content andEffects concludes: “The effect of violent media is not limited toshort-term effects; there is also a range of long-term processes linking mediaviolence to aggressive behavior. The basic notion behind most of theselong-term processes is that consuming violent media alters an individual’smental concepts (or knowledge structures). In other words, people learn.Individuals then apply these concepts outside of the media context.” 

The call of duty series carefully reflect the, what we would think of as honorable, role of American soldiers in the war on terror. “While yes, arguments can still bemade for video games and their connection to violence, there can conversely bearguments made for video games and their beneficial, positive, effect on ourworld today, the world has been molded and shaped today by the characters wegrow to love and adore, and hopefully, as video games continue to make leapsinto a new future, so shall we.”  Sacirbey concludes on the matter.

If anything, society influences society

Any form ofart has the power to teach the audience. How we learn and if we take thelessons learned outside of the given context, is the responsibility of theviewer, not the artist. Even if we strip video games of all their artisticcharacteristics, the problem is not with the game, but the consumer. It issimple: if violence sells, it is violence we create.  While the media blames the video games, itwould be fairer to blame the society they reflect. 

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