Saturday, September 15, 2012

Parental warning: they're not just harmless video games

Video games started as a novelty in the early seventies with the first commercially successful products called Pong and Computer Space. In 1979,  Pac-Man was released and Centipede in 1980. Today's manipulative and sophisticated video games are no longer something new or mere amusement. These games continue to play a part in shaping and defining our culture; they have also become big business. And where huge profits are at stake you can be sure that morals and truth are sacrificed. Did you know that video games in Canada and America now sell more than the music industry? In 2011, in Canada video games accounted for $1.7 billion in sales and in the United States it was close to $15 billion. Women tend to play less than men; they use games more for lifestyle "improvement" as in the case of My Weight Loss Coach or Quick Yoga Training. But as they have done with smoking they are quickly catching up to men.

Let's look at some examples from current games, and we will see why they are not just about mere entertainment anymore. Video games expose players, like young children, to a violent world often devoid of right and wrong and a distorted view of the human person. It's too often an anti-Christian world. Many of the games are extremely violent; it's a cyberspace "reality" where killing has its rewards and the degradation of the human person has few moral limits. For example, in Batman: Arkham City the player will hear such phrases as "I'll make you meow, bitch" and in Duke Nukem Forever, a player's ability to survive and beat another gamer is based on how "good" you are at killing others. So, parents should be under no illusion that if their children are playing these games, they are possibly complicit in the formation of their children's negative view of the world and of the human person.

Video games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are considered "men's games" and contain language and actions which are insulting and hateful of women. In Grand Theft Auto, for example, the characters can buy the services of a prostitute and then kill her. Of course many who play these games, and the companies that produce them for profits, claim that they are just harmless products for fun and recreational play. But the truth is that video game designers and programmers are selling much more than a product. Why else would websites like (I will not dignify this site by providing a link) be asking women to post derogatory and insulting comments made about them by male gamers. The need to shame male players because of what they say reveals the hidden sexism and hatred of the human person embedded in these games.

Too often companies rationalize the hurtful effects of their products by saying it's all about fun and that human beings have always been portrayed in negative ways in works of art and film. Players know it's all about exaggeration and games are not to be taken on a personal level. However, the fact is this: in playing a game that is misogynistic and degrades human beings, a player enters and becomes part of that world and its values. You play and react for "real". We may not know what the ultimate effect of this may have, but why expose oneself, especially young players with formative minds, to this violent and negative world of video games. How can we best defend ourselves against this visual exploitation? Don't buy the games, and don't give them as gifts for birthdays and at Christmas. Make sure your children aren't buying and playing these violent games. If they object, explain to them why you have made your decision, and perhaps you may want to declare your home to be a video game free zone.

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