technology, ethics and video games
Since the dawn of violent first person shooters, our self-appointed guardians of morality have been on a crusade to warn us of the dangers of playing video games with a little edge. According to them, if you play long enough, you’ll become desensitized to graphic scenes of death and torture, emerging from behind the console as a murderous monster ready to kill his fellow humans at a mere whim. Now, as video games are getting more and more sophisticated, there’s a renewed sense of panic. But this time, it’s not from the usual suspects. Instead it’s from a tech writer…
In an opinion piece, “Can Games Become Virtual Murder?,” writer Benj Edwards has some scary speculations to share with us. Violent video games in which you have to kill endless armies of humans and aliens to win, are getting better and better rendering technology and once our gaming systems can render photorealistic targets in 10 to 15 years, the old warnings of anti-game crusaders could come true.
Games like Halo, Quake and Grand Theft Auto could become virtual reality “murder simulators” which would desensitize players to wreaking havoc and mayhem in the real world by presenting them with true to life depictions of gruesome death on a repeated basis. Oh great. That’s just terrific. Like we already didn’t have enough things to worry about in the future.
But hold on a minute. Edwards’ job in writing an op-ed is to make us think about the implications of future video game technology and he absolutely succeeds in that. However, when we consider the reality of creating photorealistic games and what the end product would actually look like to those playing their brand new PlayStation 8’s, there are major flaws in with his premise.
The rest of my rebuttal at Discovery Tech is here. My goal was to add a little reality to what amounts of a false controversy fueled by an over-estimation of what it takes to make games as realistic as movies and the mechanics behind how the end product will have to work.
Of course on the human end of the question, what’s really happening here is simple scapegoating. We’re afraid of crime, we don’t really understand what motivates some of the most gruesome and violent events we have to live with, and in our fear we turn to an easily available culprit. It’s simpler to blame pop culture and games for vicious robbers and murderers than accept the fact that humans can be both very violent and very irrational, engaging in crimes for many reasons outside of our direct control.