Ryan Reding Dr. Erin Dietel-McLaughlin Writing and Rhetoric FYC 13300 14 November 2011 The Appeal of Violence in Video Games The media of video games is a recent phenomenon. Since the first video games released in the early seventies, the industry has grown exponentially. Everything from the technology found within to the overall profit the industry makes has improved drastically. Gone are the days of Pong with simple block graphics and beeping monotone audio outputs. Today the aesthetics of videogames are simply stunning. The visual features come extremely close to realism found in movies and on television. In an advertisement that aired in the past month for the November release of the intensely awaited Battlefield 3, the video interweaves actual digital gameplay with real footage of military personnel, and then challenges the viewer to determine what is real and what is Battlefield 3. (YouTube.com) To be honest, it is very challenging to determine which is which. Similarly as the visuals, the sounds incorporated into games have also changed drastically. Auditory outputs are no longer simple beeps and bloops, but now include musical accompaniment and convincing voices. Not only have video games advanced technologically, but the industry as a whole has found incredible growth in production and earnings. In a report on the video game industry data constructed by The Entertainment Software Association, “consumers spent $25.1 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2010…and seventytwo percent of American households play computer or video games” (“Industry Facts”


theesa.com). Both these figures are substantial and help show that video games have been raised to prominence within society today. As improvements in technology have brought more realism within the visual and auditory components of video games, it has also created more power and influence that the media of video games have on the people that play them. Video games differ from movies, television, and music by adding an element of control and immersion. Barry Smith, Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama states “the element of control in a game can also cause the user to identify with a mediated character to a greater degree than is possible with characters portrayed in other media because the user, to some degree, actually is the protagonist” (B. Smith 43). Video games force users to become participants rather than just spectating. Players feel like they are experiencing what is happening on the screen. This is especially true with games, like Call of Duty and Halo, who offer first person views. This involvement within the media creates a potential for video games to more greatly influence its players. The immersion of players into video games “offers the sensorium a greater range of inputs than novel reading or film viewing” (Dovey, Kennedy 8). As technology continues to develop, the degree of immersion increases because “a more realistic portrayal of a virtual environment can make the illusion of immersion in that environment more complete” (B. Smith 45). This is what makes the incredibly realistic video games such a powerful mode of media today. As the video game industry continues to grow, not only has the technology, earnings, and power increased, but also the amount of violent content within video games. In his book, writer Arthur Berger lists multiple studies and research on video game content and in the end generalizes that “each successive generation of video games has become more technologically sophisticated, more realistic, and more violent” (Berger 3). However, you do not need to do all


that much research to be aware of the prevalence of violence in video games. Walking into a GameStop or spending any time reading an article from a video game magazine or internet site, one can quickly pick up on the very noticeable trend. The game marketplace is heavily saturated with games that not only feature, but pride themselves for being extremely realistic, violent, and bloody concurred by multiple sources including “a study conducted by Children Now in 2001, [which] found that 89% [of games] depicted violence as a content attribute” (S. Smith 62). Even games that the Entertainment Software Rating Board rates as E for everyone can contain violence. According to the ESRB website, “titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language” (“Ratings Guide” esrb.org). So even if kids are avoiding the brutal and bloody violence in top-selling Mature rated games like Call of Duty, Gears of War, and many others, they are still playing games that contain violence. When you synthesize these three components of video games, the extent of its prominence in today’s society, its powerful and influential nature as a media source, and the amount of violent content found within the games themselves, it is obvious why there have been incredibly heated debates about issues concerning video games and children. A societal war of sorts has arisen against violent video games. The battle cries of parents, policymakers, and educators is that game-related violence is partly responsible for some of the horrific school-yard shootings and making children more prone to aggression and violence. Commenting on the content found in Duke Nukem, Carmageddon, and Grand Theft Auto 2, U.S. senator Sam Brownback stated “defenders of these games say that they are mere fantasy, and harmless role-playing. But is it really the best thing for our children to play the role of a murderous psychopath? Is it all just good fun to positively reinforce virtual slaughter?” (Quoted in S. Smith 57) While there are


many people dedicating time and research into discovering the potential links between video games and the development of children, I would like to instead look into what makes the virtual slaughter and violence so appealing in the first place. Surely if you ask anyone, even children, whether or not the world would be a better place with complete world peace, they would certainly agree. So why do video games with violent content sell so well. Why do people enjoy participating in the violence of these games? What is it about the mediated violence that seems attractive? Figuring out what the appeal of violent video games is, could aid in answering several other lingering issues, debates, and questions involving the media of video games. I have witnessed the trend of young and adolescent boys being attracted to violent video games in my own personal experience. During my graduation party this past summer, after saying hello to the hundred or so friends and family, I felt someone tugging on my shirt. I turned around to find my shy eight year old and ten year old cousins Matthew and Jacob. They asked me softly “can we go play Xbox?” I walked them downstairs and asked them what they want to play, suggesting FIFA 12 or Rock Band 3. As I expected they both said they would rather play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Cautiously I decided to let them play; making sure my Aunt did not walk in and see her two sons playing the violent killing simulator. Both sat hunched over leaning toward the television. They were incredibly focused and excited. In the game whenever the older one shot his brother he excitedly shouted, “Gotcha.” I was the same way when I was their age. One of the most memorable Christmas presents of my childhood was when I was nine years old. I unwrapped the decorative paper around the Nintendo 64 and felt such strong emotions of joy that I can still recall my reactions to this day. In college, when you ask a guy what his favorite video games from his childhood were, it is almost


an automatic response. James Bond: GoldenEye and SuperSmash Bros, two games based on violence and fighting, are always listed. There were so many video games that I played when I had my Nintendo 64, but those two are the only ones that I seem to keep in the front of my mind. At nine years old, the violent games were much more entertaining to me than any other games. But why? This paper will compare and contrast several sources of expertise on the topic and try and use the synthesis of the research to form generalizations and proposals as to what about video games with violent content appeals to young and adolescent boys? I will look at certain psychological, biological, and societal factors and try to propose a few general reasons and causes for this phenomenon. The article Video Game Uses and Gratifications as Predictors of Use and Game Preference explains that “an individual’s media use and the effects of that media are largely … a function of the individual’s purpose for using the media” (Greenberg et al 214). So the question to ask is what is the purpose video games serve for young males. Simple answers might include video games are just used as entertainment, to overcome boredom. I would argue that there might be something more, reasons that lie within the subconscious or biological makeup of a young boy that pushes him toward picking up a controller and playing. In their article What Attracts Children?, Maria von Salisch and Astrid Kristen argue that children are biologically attracted to things “they expect [will help them] get ahead with their developmental tasks and other difficulties they encounter growing up” (Kristen, Salisch 148). I believe one reason that young boys are attracted to video games, especially some of the more violent ones, is because they help them with one of their most important developmental tasks:


forming concepts about differences in gender and coordinating social perspectives. While the topic of how gender stereotypes formed would require a research paper by itself to explain, it is important for the context of our discussion on the appeal of violent video games just to note that they do exist and more importantly that “children readily learn gender stereotypes and adopt the roles that society deems appropriate for their gender” (Carlson et al 360) because they want to be able to identify with the group they belong to. Video games provide a source for young males to identify with what it means to be male. In Learning and Games, it is noted that one of “the most important type of knowledge-building and knowledge-transforming tools [is identifying with] models” (Gee 27). “Examining 1,716 characters [in a large sample of video games], Children Now, found that males appeared almost four times as frequently as females (64% vs. 17% of characters respectively). Focusing on player-controlled characters only increases this gender gap (73% vs. 12%) (S. Smith 66). This data shows us that in the content of video games, there are many male characters that become role models whom show young boys the qualities that a “true man” should have. It is reasonable that because models are such a good tool of learning, that young boys are attracted to video games because it provides strong tools in developing their sense of gender differences. Protagonists in the violent action and shooting games always reinforce typical representations of masculinity. They are all big, strong men who heroically and bravely lead the charge against an overwhelming force, and by the conclusion of the game, arise victorious. When there are female characters in video games, they tend to play damsel in distress roles, waiting for the male protagonist to save them. Boys are biologically inclined to search out these examples of being male in order to develop a sense of who they are and how they must act in order to procure masculinity.


Another possible factor that could play into the appeal of violent video games is the male psychological desire to be powerful. As stated above, children want to identify with certain models in order to learn. The characters in video games show boys that power is very valuable, if not essential, to being male. It can be easily seen from an early age that boys want to attain the trait of being powerful. When you ask a small boy what he wants to be when he grows up, typical, if not cliché, answers include firemen, police officers, astronauts, or baseball players. Firemen have the ability to dominate the raw power that is fire. Police officers wield incredible authority of the law. Astronauts have power over the bounds of gravity and this planet. Professional baseball players have incredible talent and mastery. All of them are examples of people with power. Boys aspire to have this power one day. Video games give children freedom to experience and do things that they are not allowed or unable to do in reality. Also, video games offer a way for boys to demonstrate mastery and create rankings to see who the best is. Both of these aspects of video games adhere to the inert male psychological desire for attainment of power. Video games give players freedom to perform anything they want to do without the threat of consequence. It gives an incredible amount of control to the player. This absolute control a player has to do anything they want within the environment of the game takes the definite form of masculine desire for power. Professor of Psychology at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Valerie Walkerdine concurs that “the move of at once navigating virtual space and being immersed in it is also engaged with as a god-trick which presents the player as both inside and outside at the same time; inside feeling their way around and being immersed, and outside doing the controlling, which we could understand as an omnipotent fantasy of control, a masculine fantasy” (Walkerdine 30). Video games empower the people playing them. In


Grand Theft Auto, you can steal any and every car that you want and then continue to drive them recklessly without any need to pay attention to traffic laws. There are no consequences that the player will have to immediately face in the real world. Players have the power to do whatever they will so long as you are in the realm of the video game. The violent video games help young boys by providing an outlet for their desire to be powerful. In violent video games, the player can express their power by physically dominating opposing forces. Boys can take on the form of the stronger and braver war hero protagonists. As I talked about in the introduction, games offer an immersion that helps create a level of relating with the characters of the game that are incredibly strong. As a player you are immersed in the game and you feel as if you are experiencing the action first hand, and therefore you feel as if you actually have the power the character you are controlling possesses. Part of the masculine desire for power includes mastering certain skills as well as achieving a high rank when compared to the skills of others. This is why boys dream of being star athletes who are the masters of their respective sports, and who receive recognition for their skills. Video games provide players with a chance to learn and master new skills. Expert James Paul Gee claims in his article Learning and Games that “humans and other primates find learning and mastery deeply, even biologically, pleasurable under certain conditions” (Gee 24). It makes sense that games which throw players through “sequences of frustration and anger followed by success and triumph … lead to feelings of pride and control” (Kristen, Salisch 156). In violent video games, killing an opponent, demonstrates a player’s dominance. However, when a young boy picks up the game for the first time, he might get killed several times. This could be very frustrating. Only after time is invested into learning the skills needed in order to succeed in the


game can the young boy kill opponents. The transition from frustration to success amplifies the amount of pride received. Games further extend the potential to feel powerful by allowing for people to be ranked based on skill. In a study documented in Video Game Uses and Gratifications as Predictors of Use and Game Preference many people were surveyed as to why they play games. One of the most frequently stated reasons for playing video games was to prove to other people who have the best skills and can react or think the fastest. An interesting fact of the study was that “typically the competition response came from male respondents who spoke of competing for pride or money” (Greenberg et al 219). Hence, video game competition serves the function of a dominance display among males similarly seen in sports. The appeal of video game partly stems from the “reactions of others to the dominance shown by the player, establishing a relative position in the peer group’s hierarchy” (Greenberg et al 219). Video games are attractive to boys because it allows them to conquer some obstacle through the development of new skills, giving them a sense of pride in their ability and a feeling of mastery by dominating challenges and others. A counterargument someone reading my paper might raise would critique the fact that I narrowed my focus to only the relationship between young boys and video games. The source Video Games: A Popular Culture Phenomenon written by Arthur Berger argued that women play games, even violent ones, almost as much as men, stating that “[it] is a commonly mistaken generalization” (Berger 112). If writing more on the specific topic of the appeal of video games, Berger would conclude that the major factors that create the appeal of violent video games would have to stem from components of the human body and mind that do not vary between genders. My response to this argument is that it is false, because of one misinterpreted fact. Yes, women do play games almost as much as men. The Entertainment Software Association states that


women make up forty-two percent of all players. However, digging deeper into the demographic data presented on the Entertainment Software Association website report, you find that players under the age of seventeen consists of seventy-two percent male. This paper tackles issues relating children and video games and young boys play video games more than girls. Sarah Smith agrees that “It is well known that girls spend less time playing video games than boys” (S. Smith 66). So it is most important to look at factors that are specific to why young boys play violent video games. In conclusion, I speculate that the reasons why young and adolescent boys are attracted so greatly to video games, especially ones with violent content, are found within the biology and psychology of the young males. Specifically, video games help young boys develop concepts of gender differences by defining models of masculinity. Also, video games adhere to the inert psychological desire for males to attain power. While I understand there are many more factors that create the appeal of violent video games, I believe the factors I have described in this paper are both the most important and the most influential.


Works Cited Battlefield 3 - TV Commercial (Live Action & Gameplay – Official). YouTube, 2011. Web. 14 November 2011. <youtube.com>

Berger, Arthur. Video Games: A Popular Culture Phenomenon. New Brunswik: Transaction Publishers, 2002. Print.

Bryant, Jennings and Peter Vorderer, eds. Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Carlson, Neil, et al. Biological/ Psychological Research: Evidence: Psychology: The Science of Behavior. Seventh Edition. New York: Pearson, 2010. Print.

Dovey, Jon, and Helen Kennedy. Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media. New York: Open University Press, 2006. Print. Gee, James. “Learning and Games.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Ed. Katie Salen. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 21-40. Print. Greenberg, Bradley, et al. “Video Game Uses and Gratifications as Predictors of Use and Game Preference.” Bryant and Vorderer 213-224. Kristen, Astrid and Maria von Salisch. “What Attracts Children?” Bryant and Vorderer 147-164. Smith, Barry. “The (Computer) Games People Play.” Bryant and Vorderer 43-56. Smith, Stacy. “Perps, Pimps, and Provocative Clothing: Examining Patterns in Video Games.” Bryant and Vorderer 57-76.


The Entertainment Software Association Website. The Entertainment Software Association, 2011. Web. 14 November 2011. <theesa.com> The Entertainment Software Rating Board Association Website. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, 2011. Web. 14 November 2011. <esrb.org> Walkerdine Valerie. Children, Gender, Video Games. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

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