| Rhetorical Elements|
Point of View
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In recent years our society has experienced tragedies, such as Columbine, in which teens have committed heinous crimes for no apparent reason. The question has become who is to blame or what inspired these attacks on these innocent victims? This question has become an epidemic in our country. We live in a violent world and young people have easy access to it whether it's on television, in music or on the Internet. But with the explosion of media entertainment in recent years, video games have come under scrutiny as to whether or not violence in video games numbs children and teens to the consequences of real-life violence. The answer to this question is yes. Young children and teens are very easily influenced, especially in a society in which violence, whether fictional or real, thrives. Video-game violence has become a common link in tragedies, such as Columbine. The content of video games desensitizes a young person to the ramifications of real violence.
Although there are many critics who support the idea that video game violence does desensitize youths, there are also those who oppose this view. An example of this comes from video game designer, Greg Costikyan. He wrote, "Violence is a prominent theme in video games and some have depicted violence in crude and ugly ways. The first person shooter games that do center around violence actually benefit society because they give young males a way to vent their antisocial impulses without harming anyone" (Costikyan 245). What Costikyan falls to shed light on is the unfortunate Columbine High School incident. There is evidence that the two boys who committed the Columbine murders, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were in fact influenced by a game called Doom. Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., author of an essay entitled, "Violence in Video Games Is a Problem", wrote about the evidence found, "It is very clear that Harris and Klebold wanted to tell the world a story whose script they seem to have learned through the entertainment media-particularly from the ultra-violent films and video games. Harris tells his story in front of a video camera with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a sawed-off shotgun cradled in his lap. He calls the gun Arlene, after a favorite character in the Doom video game" (Provenzo Jr. 45). Costikyan argues that first-person shooter games are a way to let young people vent out their frustrations and impulses without harming anyone, but what he fails to see is that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did in fact harm people and were partly influenced by the game Doom, which is a part of a game genre that he feels "uses violence well" (Costikyan).
Violence is not something that can be "used well," whether used in video games or in real life. Harris and Klebold, on the other hand, thought the opposite, in real life and in video games, with Harris going as far as creating their own customized version of their favorite game, Doom. Craig A. Anderson and Karen E. Dill, professors of Psychology at the University of Missouri- Columbia and Lenior-Ryhne College respectively, commented on this personalized version of Doom in writing, "In his version there are two shooters, each with extra weapons and unlimited ammunition, and the other people in the game can't fight back" (Anderson & Dill 772). Harris' version of Doom is eerily similar to what happened on April 20, 1999, in which Harris and Klebold shot at innocent victims, incapable of protecting themselves. Just as in the game, they were invisible, possessing all power over defenseless victims. An investigator from The Simon Wiesenthal Group, an organization which tracks Internet hate groups said Harris and Klebold were "playing out their game in God mode" (Anderson & Dill). The problem is that this was no game and real people's lives were taken and affected forever, unlike a video game.
While the effect that violent video games have on children and teens is almost impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, writers Judith A. Vessey and Joanne E. Lee wrote, "Despite these limitations, data support that repeated exposure to media violence is associated with a desensitization to violent behavior; less trust, increased fearfulness, and decreased empathy when dealing with others; and a disinhibition of aggression for some youth." After the murders, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold showed absolutely no remorse or empathy for what they had done. The videotape they produced before committing the murders is evidence of that. Shortly after committing the murders Harris and Klebold committed suicide and did not have to deal with the repercussions of what they had done. Just as they didn't have to deal with the consequences of their actions, characters in violent games don't either.
Other than violence in video games desensitizing the minds of adolescents, it also teaches children about violence and most importantly and alarming, how to be violent. Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., wrote about this matter, "video games not only teach children about violence, but also how to be violent. When violence is stylized, romanticized and choreographed, it can be stunningly beautiful and seductive. At the same time, it encourages children and adolescents to assume a rhetorical stance that equates violence with style and personal empowerment." Because of how violence is portrayed in video games, young people begin to see violence as acceptable without considering the consequences. There are no ramifications to the violence in these games, so for some adolescents this becomes a reality as it did with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Yes, it is true that violence in video games may not distort real-life violence for most young people, but then again there are those few people who are so influenced by these games and their content that they may be inspired to attacks such as the Columbine incident. For example, Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, a former Professor of Psychology at West Point says that first-person shooter video games "are murder simulators which over time, teach a person how to look another person in the eye and snuff their life out" (qtd. in Provenzo, Jr.). Keep in mind this important fact: in first person shooter games, players are not responsible for what they do. There are no consequences for other children, for families, or for society. As Mark Siouka explains in reference to the CD-ROM video game Night Trap, the game allows its players: "To inflict pain. Without responsibility. Without consequences. The punctured flesh will heal at the touch of a button, the screams disappear into cyberspace" (qtd. in Provenzo, Jr.).
Playing video games with violent content, such as that found in Doom and Night Trap, may have helped inspire Harris' and Klebold's acts, but had they lived they would have found that their actions do, in fact, come with responsibility and consequences, something that they did not see from playing violent video games, such as Doom. Studies have shown that violence in video games can cause desensitization to real violence, making it more likely that a young person may engage in violent acts. An example of one of these studies is found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which states: "Students ages 13 to 17 who played more violent games engaged in more aggressive behavior ... and can have long lasting effects (violent video games)" (Fox 9).
Steven Vizcarra, 16, a gamer since the age of 9, agrees with this. He said, "It's more than believable that kids who play violent video games are known to be more aggressive or violent in real life. Kids learn from different things, mostly from what they see and experience. Some learn from their parents and some learn from video games because those are their outlets." His younger brother, Ernie Vizearra, 14, also agrees with this study's findings. He said: "Games influence kids. Sometimes after I play a violent game I feel invisible, but I never act out those feelings, but some kids do, like the kids from Columbine." Steven and Ernie are both very young and can see what is going on with violence and video games in our society. Just as accomplished professors such as Craig A. Anderson and Karen E. Dill believe that there is a connection between desensitization to violence through violent video games, young persons, such as Steven and Ernie, concur on the same thoughts on this subject.
With incidents such as Columbine occurring in our society more frequently, we need to be able to see what the problem is. Violence in video games isn't the only reason why more and more young people are committing murderous crimes, such as the Columbine incident, but at the same time it is one of the reasons. Those that oppose this view, such as author Greg Costikyan, fail to address the tragedies that have been connected to violent video games in their arguments against this view. How can video game violence not desensitize youth? The facts are clear cut. They may not inspire all adolescents to commit violent crimes, but they may inspire some and that is where the problem lies. Just because it doesn't affect all the young people that play violent video games, doesn't mean that it isn't a problem in our society, leaving the blame against game makers for creating such content in their video games and helping desensitize the nation’s youth.
Anderson, Craig A. Karen E. Dill. "Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 78 (2000): 772-791.
Costikyan, Greg. "Games Don't Kill People-Do They?" The Contemporary Reader. Ed. Goshgarian, Gary. Longman, 2002. 243 -247.
Fox, Robert. "Video Games, Violence Linked." Communications of the ACM. 43 (2000): 9- 10
Lee, Joanne E. and Judith A. Vessey. "Violent Video Games Affecting our Children." Pediatric Nursing: November 2000.
Provenzo, Eugene. "Violence in Video Games is A Problem." Vizcarra, Ernie. Personal Interview. 9 November 2003.
Vizcarra, Steven. Personal Interview. 9 November 2003.