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Don't Demonize Video Games

Artvoice has a great reputation for being a forward-thinking supporter of the arts, so I was surprised to find a slur against my medium of choice: video games. The phrase “a 20-year-old video-gamer killed 27 innocents” (“Our Whig Moment,” Artvoice, December 20) refers to the art not in passing, as a humanizing bit of trivia (as for example “dog-lover” or “movie buff”), but in order to further denigrate the murderer (along the lines of “porn addict”), and even to imply a causal connection (as would the phrase “mentally deranged”) between video games and mass murder.

As a professional game writer and producer, I sometimes hear the medium demonized by cultural conservatives, and I hear genuine worries from concerned citizens, especially parents. To the latter I say that over the past couple decades of my career, I have done a lot of research in the field, and there is exactly zero evidence that playing video games increases people’s violent tendencies.

The real science in this area centers around the study of adrenaline and other stress hormones. They’re burned off in natural fight-or-flight scenarios, but build up to slightly unhealthy levels when we watch reality TV, engage in office politics, or play video games. They don’t make us violent, but they may make us cranky or exhausted. That said, most people don’t worry about the excitement and stress aspect of video games, but about the representations of violence; again, there’s no evidence that even extensive exposure to virtual interactive violence (as for example, combat video games) makes people more violent (or, for that matter, better prepared for the horrors of actual combat).

Considering the enormous resources which cultural conservatives have invested in the attempt to demonstrate the harmfulness of video games, this complete lack of evidence is pretty impressive; I would say it’s conclusive.

I’ve also studied the philosophy of art rather deeply. (I hold a Ph.D. in the field, from UB.) Today’s cultural conservatives remind me of those who have always warned against the progress of the arts. How many of us today fear the corrupting influence of poetry, or the novel, or photography? In every genre and medium, one can find crass and mundane works, but one may also find works of genius. In my opinion, video games are poised to become for the 21st century what the moving picture was for the 20th century, and perhaps more. Aside from myself and the score of local actors I work with, Buffalo hasn’t much experience in the video game industry, but for the sake of art in general I suppose Artvoice might give some moral support to the artists who work in this area, and perhaps even some respect to this exciting new medium for its own sake.

- Steve Breslin, Buffalo

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