One of the most difficult tasks people can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games...            -- C.G. Jung

Ok, what this column is not about is whether computer games have an effect on human behavior. All media has an effect on human behavior otherwise why would we have advertising budgets in the billions? Why would the WB have an iMac in every other scene? Why would most of America be wearing Air Jordan's? Media is always about making an effect with a point of view. Some points of view are deadly serious, some are humorous, some are frivolous and some are just plain dumb. Some points of view are well-constructed logical arguments; some points of view have no logical consistency. Media in all its forms can move people to consider things they had not considered before. Media can not take over a mind and make anyone do something they are not predisposed to do. Media is at best a nudge.

Simplemente Maria

In 1969 Simplemente Maria, a Peruvian television soap opera aired. This was a Cinderella story about a household domestic who buys a Singer Sewing machine, learns to sew and changes her life. This was television, it was not real life and this show became very popular ... a lot of Singer Sewing machines were sold as an unexpected result of the show. Maria was a woman many could identify with, Maria was trying to take charge of her life and raise her standard of living. Many women watching the show wanted to do the same. Maria showed them a reasonable way to change their lives so they followed Maria's example ... and bought sewing machines.
[ Entertainment-education by Singhal & Rogers, 1999 ]

A Clockwork Orange

Recently, the movie 'A ClockWork Orange' was re-released for the first time in 25 years in British theaters. 25 years ago, just after the movie premiered a street person was kicked to death by a 16 year old in the same manner as depicted in the Kubrick's movie. Kubrick received death threats and felt responsible so he pulled the movie from distribution. It turned out that the person responsible for the brutal killing had not seen the movie; he had read Anthony Burgess' book. In this case you might say, the book 'inspired' the killing.
[ Associated Press: ]

Supposedly the computer game Doom was the game favored by the Littleton shooters.

Violent video and computer games had already been implicated in school shootings in Bethel, AL; Paducah, KY; and Jonesboro, AR. After it was learned that one of the perpetrators of the Columbine High School killings was an avid player of Doom, there was an immediate call for action on many fronts. The Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into the marketing practices of game producers and distributors. Hearings were held in Congress, in state legislatures, and in town halls. There were discussions about the effects of games on talk radio, talk TV, and over kitchen tables across America. Practically every major newspaper and magazine in the country started paying closer attention to the impact of violent video games with feature articles. A rash of legislative proposals to control violent games was introduced in a number of states.
[ The National Institute on Media and the Family, ]

Doom Situation Analysis:

You're a space marine armed with a mere pistol. Your mission is to locate more substantial firepower, blow your way through an onslaught of undead marines and mutant demons from hell, and navigate yourself off a radioactive moon base. In order to survive, not only do you have to make it through the first 27 blood-splattered levels of Doom, you also have to get through nine more incredibly tough expert levels in the all-new episode "Thy Flesh Consumed." [ ]

The media seems to have implicated Doom and other 'first person shooters' (fps) in a number of shootings around the country. It seems that if any shooting which involves anyone who is white between the ages of 12 and 18 and there is a hint of computer game playing in the story then a variation of Flip Wilson's old the-devil-made-me-do-it routine gets trotted out as the-game-made-me-do-it with an expert who does not play or even own computer games quoted to the effect that "we have a problem in society and the problem is the computer game."

This has always amazed me since it seems like we have a pretty good gedanken experiment going on between the US and Canada. Essentially we have the same culture and we 'consume' the same media in the same amounts. The obvious variable is that there are about 270,000,000 guns running freely through US society that are not available in Canada due to different gun laws. In the US it is much easier to go after computer game ownership than it is after gun ownership.

Right about now some one should be thinking: Hey, doesn't this guy teach computer game design at Indiana university? Doesn't he have a vested interest in computer games? Isn't he in a sense as biased in this issue same as someone from the NRA is biased in terms of gun ownership?

The answer is "yup, sorta." I am biased but part of this bias is a point of view on computer games which is informed by working with game designers at Indiana University and the Canadian Film Center's newMedia Habit@t in Toronto for almost 5 years. Most of these designers are young folk who expect game design to be a significant part of their lives well into the 21st century. For them this isn't just game design, this is the art of game design. Games are their media in the same way that television was the media of my generation (boomers) and books and radio were the media of my parent's generation.

These young designers inform my point of view. My point of view is also informed by a closer than usual association with the yearly Computer Game Developer's conference ( ) which takes place regularly in an around Silicon Valley in late spring. because of these two associations I decided to interview folks at the conference who are involved in game design. I am not presenting 'science', I'm merely presenting points of view which I have not seen presented in the media to date. After the interviews I'll discuss the state of the game industry and what I see as the incredible potential for responsibility and learning which can only happen if educators are willing to dive into this new media the same way they dived into books, film and TV.


From: Shane Preboy, High School student in Toronto

Do you think computer games are too violent?

I think that video games can be too violent. But the question is, is it too violent for some or not violent enough for others. Me, in my case, I like violent games but it also has to make sense. Thrill Kill { first person shooter which was never sold but placed on the Internet for free download -- this is a cult game ] is an exception. It had a unique feel. Something that..... well maybe it was just that nothing was ever done like it before. If all games were like it then the whole feel goes down the drain. What makes a video game too violent is the realism of the gore and guts but if the game isn't realistic enough, then it won't appeal to anyone over the age of 10, with few exceptions, like Smash Brothers, etc..

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

I do think that video games could provoke someone into getting a gun and shooting someone. I think that it depends on the person. I know I would never do something like that because it would wreck my life. I don't know what goes through the minds of people who would shoot someone, like in the video games, but I think there should be some sort of testing, some sort of ID or something that prevents anyone who is prone to doing anything like that from playing that type of video game.

What is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill?'

Thrill Kill....... well like I said before, it has some sort of unique feel to it. It's hard to explain, but if I played it for too long the fun would soon fade away. I don't think it was totally the game but also the fact that there were about 10 people there and there were four players so we were all very competitive to see who was the best. Also it was exciting because it was banned from the market and only a few have it or have ever played it. The extreme violence had an extreme interest factor.

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

I like a lot of futuristic games, shoot 'em ups and strategy. I think that a sports game is a waste of time unless it has an extreme aspect to it or a futuristic feel because I could go and play the sport and have the best control and the best sound and performance and get the same adrenaline rushes.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?

If I were in the position of making a game then it would depend. If the game was marketed to younger kids, then the violence would be a problem. If it were for the majority of the market, the older kids or teens and adults, then yes I would pump the violence into the game and depending on how good the game was the violence would probably help the product sell.

If you had the choice between playing a game on a computer and playing soccer outside with real people, what would you do?

If I had the choice to play a game on the computer or play a game of soccer in real life, it would depend on if I had no new games or games that were interesting. If I didn't, then I would play outside. But usually I would play on the computer because it is more interesting. It is usually a different game every time I play it, so it is more interesting than playing a game outside where I know how the game goes.

What would make you choose real life over the computer game?

I would choose a game outside if it was always new. Not just new like someone kicks the ball somewhere else but new rules, people, new game entirely; if it were a completely new experience.

Mary K. Jones, producer for Edmark in Redmond Washington

How did you move from teaching to interactive media design?

I started out as a teacher. Edmark was looking for teachers to do science content development in interactive media. I created the content for the light module of Zap that is one of Edmark's most successful titles. Zap is a simulation of lasers and lenses and mirrors in a safe, non-expensive way for teachers in the classroom.

They hired me for my ability to research and create problem sets. I had to do a lot of learning because I didn't know anything about light.

Are you primarily a producer?

Yes. I start at the design phase and shepherd the project from start to finish from storyboard to the shelves. We have strong coordination with marketing. My main job is to hold the vision, hold the budget, coordinate marketing and actually sell the product

How long have you been with Edmark?

3 plus years. I went back to school late in life and started teaching in 1988. My last teaching position was as a computer lab coordinator.

I realize that what an Edmark does has almost no violence in their products. Is this correct?

Yes, we have no violence in any of our products. I'll give you an example. We have a product line called "Thinkin' Things" which takes place in a jungle and has a monkey who plays musical instruments. The monkey uses found objects or other animals. One of the potential things the monkey could do was to drum and we considered a turtle as a drum but we chose not to use even a turtle as a drum because it would mean hitting the turtle. That was too violent. We have chickens that get tickled with mallets and then squawk on key. Violence is not the Edmark way. We want to design a nurturing, guiding warm friendly environment for children recognizing their capabilities. Violence doesn't fit in at all.

Are you also a parent?

I am. I'm a parent and a grandparent. I have 3 children and a stepson. My stepson has 2 children.

Do you think your kids play games that have violence in them?

Yes they do.

What is your perspective on the issue of games and violence reported in the media these days?

I think it is too simple to point the finger at any media being responsible for the ills of the world. I think it comes down to parents making sure they to their children that what happens on the computer screen, the movie screen or on television isn't real and isn't ok in real life. years ago my son played Mortal Kombat and was really excited when he finally got the bloody version of the game. My children also love wrestling, the WWF, games that are very dark action games. Now they are in their 20's but when they started they were much younger, they were teenagers. I was comfortable enough with their playing because I know that they understood very clearly the line between fantasy and reality. It is ok on the screen but it would get them in serious trouble in the real world. It never came up as an issue. I never felt that my children were going to get lost in that world and get mixed up about what was ok and what wasn't ok.

Do you think there is a difference between computer game violence and violence in other media such as book, film or TV?

I think the trouble with computer game violence is that you actually cause it to happen as opposed to watching a passive screen, so you make choices in computer games. Still the onus is on parents to make sure that the kids understand the choices in violence on and off the screens in their lives.

Do you think it is possible for media violence to move someone to do violence in the real world?

I think there are people, children in all walks of life who don't get the moral issues, either they don't get it taught to them or it didn't sink in, it didn't click.

I think for those kinds of kids, this doesn't mean disturbed kids who are crazy, but even kids who just don't understand that this is ok on the screen but it is not ok in the real world. I think games can instill in them certain images, but I think they would go there anyway.

Can you see a time, sometime in the future when you might not be at Edmark where you might use violence in a game?

No, I wouldn't do it. My teaching background is so strong and my desire to make things right for kids is so strong, I have such a passion for that and I can't ever imagine putting hurtful images in front of children deliberately. I couldn't do it. I understand that others do it and it is ok but I couldn't personally do it.

Bill Dugan

Do you think computer games are too violent?

As a group, no. That said, a well-understood rating system to assist parents is a necessity.

There are many very violent computer games in which the game mechanic is to kill person after person after person. This isn't novel -- violent splatter films like "Dead Alive" feature scads of killings contain far more graphic, gory violence than any video game ever made. Computer games are probably receiving more than their share of attention on this topic not because the violence is novel, but because (a) people notice that very violent games seem to be more popular than very violent entertainment in other media, and (b) some people are concerned by the implications of the player acting out violence instead of watching it, as they do when watching a movie or TV show.

Part (a) is plain to see. Looking at the top 50 computer games in January, about 20 of them depend on the player killing someone (Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament), ordering someone to kill someone (Command & Conquer 2), or in two cases shooting a deer, which is a special case. That's about 40%. Nine of the games are first-person shooters in which you play by killing person after person after person. That's the game mechanic -- you get points, or advance in the game, by killing. There are various reasons for violent games' popularity. Game mechanics based on shooting things have a deep history in video and computer games (Space Invaders, Asteroids) and as technology has improved, game designers have simply extended the culture to include 3D-rendered soldiers running around with rocket launchers.

The temptation is always to compare games to movies and TV as a metric, and looking at the top 50 movies of last weekend, about 18 of them have PG-13 ratings or stronger due to violence -- about 36%. Clearly violence is popular in the movies. But none of the top 50 movies this weekend featured killing after killing as the main activity of the movie, except perhaps "Scream 3".

I'm not condemning Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament by any means, here; just pointing out that these very violent games are more popular than very violent entertainment in other media. (Some will say they are not "very violent" because the user clicks the mouse and watches a bunch of pixels blow up, which is different from driving a butcher knife into someone's heart. Fair enough. Some others of very tender sensibilities may argue that Space Invaders is violent because it simulates shooting (presumably) living creatures. I take a middle ground.)

Item (b) is speculative. Perhaps people become more aggressive as a result of playing these games. Who knows? There are no studies. Of course we all know that most everyone can distinguish fantasy from reality, and when speaking to any "hardcore gamer", you'll hear that they've been blowing people up in video games since they were 11 yet have never killed anyone. What's more certain is that very young kids shouldn't be exposed to certain subject matter -- I wouldn't want to see a two-year-old spend time playing "Family Violence Simulator" and learn that wife beating is an acceptable part of how families behave. Hence, a widely understood rating system is necessary for computer games. And hopefully by the time the kids start to get outside of their parents' control, they've already been taught a few moral values.

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

Cause? No. It could trigger violence in an unstable person, I suppose, but I also think that anyone with that degree of mental instability could also be set off by a headline in the newspaper, or just about anything he sees.

What do you think is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill, Duke Nukem, etc?'

As above: Game mechanics based on shooting things have a deep history in video and computer games (Space Invaders, Asteroids) and as technology has improved, game designers have simply extended the culture to include 3D-rendered soldiers running around with rocket launchers.

Ultimately I'm playing these games because they're fun. Target shooting, Laser Tag, and paintball are all fun.

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

Action games, strategy games, and RPGs.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?


Andy Brick, a composer based out of New York.

What do you do for a living?

I score mostly films and games. I've scored Little Mermaid 2, the film for Disney. I've scored 2 games for Interplay, a game for Broderbund and Ready Soft, a number of other kid's Titles.

Have you ever thought about the issue of games and violence?

I have. I scored a game 3 years ago. At the beginning of the game you had an option to bypass the violent scenes. To me that really was a great option. I think part of the appeal of the violent scenes for kids is not so much the violence as the adrenaline rush. From a composers standpoint there is a better way to skin that cat. I think I can give just as good if not a better adrenaline rush through the music than you will get watching some guy getting stabbed on the screen. I can build to it over two or three minutes. You can't really build to violence over that period of time, you can sorta foreshadow it. I can actually build to it and make it happen. I think any emotion expressed in the game can be expressed through the music, so if violence is an emotional action why not express it in other ways than just a physical or visual way ... with music and sound.

So are you suggested something similar to how some film makers build up to violence and then cut away before you see the violent action?

Sure, that is a great way from a visual standpoint. Or, remember that very famous shower scene? I mean how much of the impact from that shower scene was from Bernard Hermann's score, sitting there on the violins and their really tense register, just going 'yank, yank, yank,' just sawing away on their violins, creating a very intense sound. That music in that scene conveys as much violence as you never ever see on the screen. The music creates the suggestions and these suggestions are as good if not better than the actual visual event.

What do you think of implicit or explicit violence in the role of violence in any media, computer games, film; does it have a place?

Well' I think the public gets what the public wants. Do I personally think there is a role for explicit violence? I think to a certain extent, it depends upon how explicit it is. I don't think it is necesary to actually show the details of a death. I think it is more important to know in a game environment that a character has expired, that that character is no longer a viable option in the game. Does anybody object to playing Risk or playing Battleship or any of the other games where there is a lot of implicit death. No, I don't think people really object to that. What people really object to is the actual intimacy of the violence. Violence in and of itself is maybe not so bad, it is how intimate that violence gets. I don't know how intimate you can be when it is implicit. It is when it gets explicit that it become pretty intimate.

Do you have kids?


Do you think your response to the issue of games and violence would be different if you had kids?

I don't know. Everyone says that your perspective of children changes when you have kids. I have scored a lot of children's games and have been pretty active in the children's market but my gut reaction is that yes, it will change somewhat. I think I am a little conservative but I try to lean away from really heavy violent media.

Do you play games at all?

I like role playing games and amusement games, card games and ball games. Some of the race car games and some of the strategy games which can or can't be violent. Some of the role playing games can be really violent.

Give me an example.

Well, a game that I don't want to name but the whole point of the game was to assemble these rings. In order to assemble the rings you had to fight monsters because the monsters were always guarding the rings. the only way to get to the rings was to kill the monsters, so in order to win this game you had to kill, there was no choice. I think there could have been other options but I think the games focus was to create an environment where you were killing. In that game it was a mixed bag of implicit and explicit violence. And, the stuff that was explicit wasn't that intimate, so it wasn't that bad.

Do you think people interpret media violence in games and film as real violence?

Sure. I think everyone does. I think anytime we see violence whether it is real or whether it is animation, whether it is a film which is on a screen or whether it is a picture in a book, it puts into our mind a sense or reality. And, if you haven't ever seen a knife sticking out of a guys guts and all of a sudden you look at a picture book and you see a knife sticking out of a guys guts, that all of a sudden makes it real and if it is real that means you can do it. If you don't know it then you can't do it because you can't conceive of it but if you can conceive of it then you can do it.

Taking that point of view, do you think that media violence can actually move someone to real violence?

[ long pause ] I don't think it is a cause and effect relationship. I don't think it is that direct. I don't think you play a game and you get so charged up that you go out and shoot a classroom full of kids. I think it is more of a cumulative effect. I think that violence all of a sudden gets pacified. It is almost like a catch 22. There is violence and there is really violence, violence, and which is better? There is no better. There is just violence. I don't think there is a cause and effect. I don't think that violent games are the cause of violence in society. I think that the cumulative effect might bear some weight as to the violence in society.

Jane Miller, I work for a video production company. I do models and animate them.

Do you have any thoughts on violence and games as it has been in the news recently?

I think a lot of responsibility for teaching children how to control themselves falls on the parents. I, as a child played very violent games, jumping out of trees, hitting people over the head with sticks, and playing army because Vietnam was a big thing back then when I was growing up. And, I've been around guns. Living on the East Coast, handguns are for drug dealers and long guns are for old men who go out and kill deer.

You are an artist for a video game company. Have you ever had to do violent art?

Not specifically, not with human beings, not people getting their heads chopped off. Most of the titles we have worked on have been for younger audiences and have been about bugs, killing bugs. Or they have been racing titles, things like that where, yeah, you can knock somebody off the road but it's not like a specific tool-oriented, I'm going to kill you with this tool type of thing.

Do you think there is a difference between violence in computer games and violence in other media?

Wow, that is a tough one. Obviously there are going to be differences. In a movie while you are watching, you are wrapped up in its world, in its reality, belief is suspended. There is also suspension of disbelief in a game but in a game you are in control. In the movie, the movie is in control. It is telling you a story. In a game, what you do affects the outcome of the game. So, there is a difference.

Do you think violence in any media can cause someone to create violence in the real world?

I think the opposite. I think watching someone punch somebody, participant in that characters expression, his or her violence, it gets the violence out of you. Instead of inspiring you to go out and punch your brother it might relieve you a little bit. I've watched this act of violence. I listen to a lot of anger music and because of this I am very calm and pleasant to be around. It acts as an exit for anger and violence.

I've never heard of anger music?

Oh, you know Marylyn Manson? I think it depends upon the person. I'm sure some people would be inspired to go out and shoot somebody. But, that is someone who is easily brainwashed. People need to think for themselves. They have to decide what they think is right and wrong. And, if you are a teenager, that is what your whole life is about at that point in your life. It is about figuring out who you are. You are given a little bit of independence and freedom and you have to decide what you as a person are going to do with that freedom. Are you going to harm people or are you not? Those decisions are based on your up bringing, what your parents taught you as a kid. Did your parents love you or did they teach you that it is ok to abuse other people? Of course, by the time you are in high school I would hope you had decided some of these things but I suppose some people haven't.

Do you have children?


Do you have any close relatives who have kids?

I have close friends who have children.

Do you think if you had children that your thinking about games and violence would be different?

I'm not sure. I am very much pro gun ownership. I am also very much pro-education and pro showing the child what it is, a basic weapon which you can kill yourself with if you are not careful. Here is what will happen if I ever catch you aiming a gun at another person. And, at the same time, lock it in the safe and make sure the child does not know where the key is or what the combination is. It's like alcohol. You show the child what it is. You take the child to the firing range and show them that it is no big deal and it becomes just part of life as opposed to something coveted, something wanted, something sort after, something glorified. It is just a tool. If they don't have a gun, they can use a rock, or a chainsaw or a book or something. If you are determined to hurt somebody you are going to do it with or without a gun. I mean cave men did it with rocks, I mean come on it is human nature. We are competitive.

Do you own a gun?

No I don't but I have been shopping for one. I like target shooting, it is fun.

Eric Lengyel, Game Engine Designer and Software Engineer

Have you given any thoughts to computers, games and violence at all?

A little bit. I don't think it is a problem. I think it a place for people to vent their violent tendencies without hurting anyone.

Do you play games?

I sure do.

What games do you play?

Quake, Unreal, the shooters, mainly. Once in a while I'll get into an RPG (role playing game.)

Do you think there is a difference between violence in computer games and violence in other media?

What kinds of computer game media?

Let's say Quake and Unreal and Natural Born Killers in the movies.

OK, I guess the only difference is that you are the one, you are controlling the violence. The movies you just watch someone else's vision.

Do you think being in control makes a difference?

I think it is more entertaining.

Do you think that when someone experiences violence in a computer game that it increases the likelihood that they will create violence in the real world?

I don't think so. I think most people are perfectly capable of separating what's real from what's not and applying the same separation to their behavior in a video game and in the real world. I don't believe that any sane person would act with violence in the real world just because it was what was expected of them in a video game.

Do you own a gun?

No, I don't.

Do you have children?

No, I don't.

Do you think if you had children there would be a difference in your perspective on computer game violence?

Probably not. While they were very young I wouldn't let them play violent games but in their teens I would.

How old were you when you first played games that were violent?

Probably late teens.

What games were these?


Do you think Doom is actually violent?

Oh yeah. It is the same as Quake today.

Do you think Doom is violent in the same way that a car accident is violent?

No. I think those games are meant to be funny violence. unrealistically violent.

You would not take violence in a computer game as real violence?

No, more like a cartoon.

You have created a game engine. What responsibilities do you think you have in terms of games and violence.

I think it is up to the game developer himself. I just give him the technology.

You don't think of yourself as a game developer?

Actually I am. I've developed games in the past and I plan to in the future. Right now I'm just working on technology and I've put blood into games before. It is entertaining, it's funny. People like to see that.

Shane Wegner, Minnesota, 2 years of college at off St Olaf, CS & Psychology

Have you given any thought to the issue of violence and computer games?

A lot actually. I've played 20 - 40 games, which have a fairly high level of violence.

What types of games?

First person shooters a lot, those are the core violent games. There are a lot of other violent games, you've got your fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. There are a few games out there whose only point is to be violent like Postal, which is notorious. Mortal Kombat is notorious for the finishing moves which get more and more bloody as you go on, the only point is to have a big spray of blood. Mortal Kombat One's trademark move was to rip off someone's head and see the spine in there. That was pretty cool. In MK2 you can rip off people's skin. It is comical because that could never really happen in real life. I know that is not real but I think one of the things which happens with young kids is that over time the suspension of disbelief fades and the violence starts to seem more and more real.

So, you think that over time computer game violence seems more and more real over time?

The inability to really care and mentally say 'I know for sure that this is a total not real thing' fades over time. Kids if they think about it, know that it is fake and can't really happen but the brain, in my opinion, is so willing to accept what it is exposed to a lot that the kids don't think about the violence a lot.

Do you think there is a difference between computer game violence and other media violence? For example Doom and Quake and Natural Born Killers?

Well, let me see, let me compare. They are both for entertainment value. The main thing I can talk about is interactivity. In Natural Born Killers, they go through and kill for fun in the movie. If there was game which had the same mentality as Natural born Killers, which Postal does and a few others really do, then you are personally choosing to kill each character to make a statement or just because you think it is fun. It is all about the intention of the person who wrote the movie. Like True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the title itself suggests that this can't really happen so lets see how over the top we can do it with stunts, for example a woman drops an Uzi down some stairs and as it rolls it manages to shoot like 4 or 5 terrorists, so we go like 'Ha Ha that is comical.' I mean if you really saw people getting shot with an Uzi on the street that would be terrible but in a movie we kinda know it just stunt actors and nobody is really hurt. Yeah, some fake blood gets sprayed around. You get desensitized toward fake violence. How many kids have really been exposed to shooting violence in their lives? Actually seeing it. It is fairly rare. I think there would be a little degeneralization, that is the term I wanna make for what that blurring is all about. I know kids get desensitized toward movie violence. Kids can laugh and laugh and they can laugh because, oh it's just a movie and they can laugh because it's oh just a computer game. So, I think in some part of them they are still reserving a human reaction toward real violence if and when they find it but they definitely become desensitized toward virtual violence and the majority of children can tell the difference between virtual violence and real violence and guns in real life.

Do you think that media violence, computers, movie, television can move someone to real violence?

Hmm, well. I know one effect, which takes place if you act out virtual violence. Clicking a mouse with a right hand take place with the index finger, the trigger finger. Do that a thousand time and it is going to give you a kind of itchy trigger finger so to speak. After a couple of years of playing games I was really angry at people who had been making fun of me and making my life difficult. I would go to a mental place, a fantasy where pulling my head up was like going after them with a laser cannon or something which could never happen. I can see video game violence definitely leading people to fantasies in response to other actions. Now whether kids act out because of games I can't say there is a real strong cause and effect. One thing I have seen acted out is punching and kicking like anything you can see like on Ninja Turtles or any Ninja movie. I have seen lots of kids doing jump kicks to each other and I know that was directly from Street Fighter. They saw that move, thought it was cool and now they are kicking at each other.

When they do that move, do they really kick or do they kick at each other?

I've seen it both ways. I've seen kids actually kick each other but they aren't really trying to hurt each other. Has there always been play fighting among kids? Probably but now instead of play fighting on my own I'll copy the moves of my character on screen from Street Fighter. More than real violence I have seen tons of times a kid say 'Hey, watch this' and then do a Street Fighter move and they never come close to real contact.

Do you own a gun?

Not personally.

Have you ever shot a gun?


What was the context of your shooting.

I shot a gun with my friend who was a taxidermist, a hunter so he was well respectful of guns. They have the whole ethos that guns are a tool for hunters and should be used very carefully. Also, at Scout camp with the 22 range. Always within the context of a hunting or scouting tradition.

Right now you are at the Computer Game Developer's Conference. You are interested in games. Do you think you will create games at some point?

I am almost positive that I will.

Would you create a violent game? How would you deal with violence in terms of something you would create?

Hmm, if I included violence in my games, which I might make a first person shooter just to join in, I'd probably go with industry standards and take Unreal or Quake. I would never make a game, which seeks to just murder and torture people. There are a few games out there like this and they are not popular. There are like underground games and you play like a psycho killer and your goal is to murder and rape as many women as possible. I don't know any of my friends who would play that game.

Have you come up with any game ideas yet?

A couple.

Do any of your ideas have violence in them? In any of them is violence a critical element?

I have created some Unreal Tournament stages, so by making those stages I am sort of accepting the implicit violence in Unreal.
The next game I'm going to make is based on a constructionist game and building an entire world. It will be simpler than real life, like all games have to be. There will be wars with different groups competing for resources. I'd make it sorta like you could do it but it wouldn't result in points. Killing would not be encouraged. Almost every game out there, you get points for how many wars you have won as in Civilization. If you can conquer all the other races, that is a victory condition. By making scoring for killing it encourages it. I would not reward or encourage violence but I would allow it to occur but not make it very graphic.

Don Strawser Graduate Student-MIME at IU & Coordinator of the Bureau of Shenaningans

Do you think computer game violence is a problem?

I do not think that games are too violent. What are we measuring them against? Is TV or film too violent? There is a lot of violence in video games - no question. But it is mediated violence, violence that takes place through some sort of media platform. We don't consider fairy tales, or books too violent. And, although there are numerous arguments against violence on film and television, it isn't going away. Violence is part of human nature and people will always find ways to express or experience it whether it is pro wrestling, football, TV, film, or videogames.

Do you think computer violence is different from violence in other media?

I'm tired of games being the scapegoat when violence occurs and the person played a violent game. Extend this faulty logic to another situation. A man watches football for 12 hours on Sunday and then goes out and brutally tackles and beats his coworkers. Does the media blame football?

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

I mostly play fighting games. My buddy Cliff and I enjoy watching our avatars beat the living hell out of each other. However, Cliff and I (and millions of other fighting game fans) would never dream of doing this in real life (the sight of real blood makes me want to faint). I agree with some that these games and activities are ways that we sublimate the violent part of our nature.

What is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill?'

As far as "Thrill Kill" goes, I went under the assumption that the designers were trying to go so far over the top that it couldn't possibly be taken seriously. Yes, the game is VERY violent and sadistic. However, I find it hard to believe that someone would go out and try to do these things to a real human being just from playing the game.

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

Also, as far as shooting real people. How many people play QUAKE or UNREAL? Thousands? Millions? When someone shoots someone else why is the first thing asked what game they played? Columbine and the incident in Kentucky occurred not because of videogames, Internet pornography, or Hitler? They happened because very unhappy young people had access to guns and no supervision. No one asked where these kids' parents were.

There is no media, no game, no movie, no book, no song, or TV show that is going to cause you to go out and kill people. Anyone who believes that is looking for a pat answer, not an explanation.

Henry Jenkins, MIT professor

Do you think computer game violence is a problem?

Depends on what you mean by problem. I see computer game violence as a problem of limited creativity, but not as a social problem. Right now, we are pathologizing issues of taste. Anti-game activists are frightened because children and teens have tastes that aren't the same as theirs and they have projected all kinds of frightening meanings onto those tastes. They have produced little compelling evidence to suggest that video game violence leads directly to real world violence and much of the evidence they do present has been exaggerated and simplified to make political points. The reality is that there are still relatively few reliable studies to date on video games at all. Those studies that do exist show contradictory things. Some suggest, for example, that children are less susceptible to confusion between reality and fantasy playing video games rather than watching television because they are controlling what happens and they know they aren't really shooting each other, where-as on television, the line between documentary and docudrama can be rather slippery. It is a problem, though, that an over-reliance on formulas based on violence stifled the growth of the video games industry and blocks the full exploration of a broader range of stories and experiences that games might facilitate.

Do you think computer violence is different from violence in other media?

See above. Many critics of television violence argued that it was harmful to children because it pumped them up and then left them no direct outlet to explore and release those aggressive feelings. Television was bad, in other words, because it was passive. The attacks on video games assume the opposite -- video games are bad because they require children to directly participate in violent acts. The reality is simple: children, especially boys, have always had an interest in blood and thunder entertainment and these desires have been mapped onto whatever media is available to them at a particular historical juncture. The same debates have been staged around series books, comic strips, films, radio, comic books, television, and now video games. We can even trace their roots back to debates surrounding theatre in ancient Greece. Some historians have pointed towards a pervasive anxiety throughout history about theatricality -- about the assuming of fictional roles or the staging of fantastic acts. Much of this debate stems from the confusion, on the part of media activists, between fictional representation and real events. My experience has been that children are far less confused about this distinction than reformers are. They understand that you do things in play you would not do and would not want to do in reality. They understand that pretend fighting is not the same thing as real fighting. If two kids are pretend fighting in their backyard and one accidentally kicks or hits the other because they are getting too rambunctious, there is an immediate display of concern; the fighting stops. David Grossman argues that the same thing does not occur when kids are playing video games -- they score points from hurting people, he argues. But this is sophistry because in the video game, they are still only play fighting and when they "hurt people," they are "hurting" imaginary people, virtual people, who have no flesh and blood. There's no reason to stop the game, because you are still in the fantasy and there is no real world consequences for beating up what amount to glorified cursers.

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

No. Well, at least not anyone who was already mentally stable and socially adjusted. The demons, which were unleashed in Littleton originated in Harris and Kleibold and in their immediate social environment. What happened to them when they were at school, in what was by all reports an abusive environment hostile to any and all forms of cultural diversity, was far more powerful in determining their actions than what media they consumed. Real world actions exert real pressures on us, limit our actions, destroy our dignity, and can not be escaped by turning off the computer.
What is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill?'
I am afraid I don't know this specific game, but this is really the core question we should be asking. The media effects people assume a pretty simple stimulus-response model for how all of this works. I think we have to investigate the meaningfulness of violent stories -- not violent images. I have proposed a range of explanations:
  1. empowerment -- Kids who often lack power and control within their real world environments seek some kind of compensation in their fantasy life. Given the currently limited vocabulary of computer games, violence becomes the most immediate way to represent power, control, autonomy, and mastery, all things these boys are seeking. They are also the things boys have historically sought from their backyard play. The images in video games are the same ones that surface in the drawings we used to make on notebook paper in the back of classrooms or the images we had in our heads when we hurled pinecone "grenades" at each other in our backyards. The difference is that many kids no longer have access to their backyards, so this play with power takes place in the living room and is no more open to adult scrutiny.
  2. transgression -- as kids carve out an autonomous space for themselves, they are drawn to material that is shocking to their parents. This "shock" value includes scatological humor, slimy Gak, and violent stories. The pleasure comes not in the content -- what content do green slime toys have -- but in the act of taking delight in something that meets adult disapproval.
  3. Intensification -- since teen's lives are an emotional rollercoaster, they seek forms of entertainment that are stylistically and emotionally intense. Here, the rapid-fire violence of video games takes its place alongside the loud music, the flashing lights, the brightly colored clothes, the intense tastes of soda pop and candy, the speed of fast moving cards, etc.
  4. Representation -- this is less true of video games than other kinds of violent entertainment, but often such works are the only ones available to kids that represent the experience of being a cultural outsider, of not being trusted by adults, or perhaps even more powerfully, the only kinds which acknowledge the dark realities kids face in their day-to-day reality -- broken homes, abusive parents, dangerous environments, diminished economic hopes, etc. The challenge is to recognize and respect why kids consume violent entertainment so we can develop a broader range of products that respond to those needs. Can we expand, for example, the vocabulary for representing power in digital media?

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

I am certainly not representative of the hardcore gamer. I am interested intellectually in games and do play them, but they are not a central source of entertainment for me. When I play games for pleasure, rather than for research, my favorites have been Tetris, Simcity, or a range of trivia games. These reflect the taste of a mid-life academic, not of the average American teen though.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?

Again, this is a question better directed at actual game designers. I know right now they are asking themselves hard questions along this line and many of them are choosing not to work on violent games or to construct games which pose ethical choices about violence and focus on the consequences of those choices. Talk to Warren Spector sometime, who has been working on a game where you start with a limited number of bullets (5 or 6, I think) and each bullet you fire has major consequences for the course of the game action. This may be a violent game but it is a game specifically focused on the impact of violence, not one where bullets fly and nothing much matters.

Greg Costikyan, game designer | consultant| writer

Do you think computer games are too violent?

My personal objection to violence is aesthetic, rather than moral. Violence is a part of life, and is--and should be--a part of life. Hamlet is violent. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is violent. QUAKE is violent. They all use violence effectively and well.

When I object to violence in games, it is because it is used in an inappropriate, distasteful, and pointless way--POSTAL springs to mind.

Should game designers spend more effort conceiving of ways to make their games an interesting and engaging framework with which to struggle rather than making the easy recourse to the use of violence to overcome obstacles? Certainly--better design, and an appropriate design aesthetic, is devoutly to be desired. But I would no more eschew or prohibit violence in gaming than in any other creative form.

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

Absolutely not.

What is the attraction of a violent, shooter games such as 'Thrill Kill' & Doom?

A visceral, edge-of-the-seat, tension-filled experience in which fast action and mastery of the interface is key to success. From a design perspective, games like DOOM are not a lot different from relatively non-violent games like, oh, a driving sim. The 'violence' of the game lends an edge, to be sure, but I think you'll find that the fans of shooters will happily play "nonviolent" games with the same visceral appeal.

Do you think there is a difference between game violence and violence in other media such as film?


Do you know of any hard research which has proven any connections between media violence and violence in the real world?

No. Rather, I know of many studies that purport to show an increase in aggressive behavior in a controlled laboratory environment, but projecting from that to the real world is an endeavor fraught with peril.

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

"Builder" games such as CIVILIZATION II and (recently) ROLLER COASTER TYCOON.

If you have children, do you allow your children to play violent games?

Yes. Indeed, I frequently play QUAKE with my older daughter. She hasn't shot any of her schoolmates yet.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?

No. I would (continue) to attempt to use violence, where it strengthens a game, in what I believe a tasteful fashion; to make an analogy to other media, I'm happy to do the game equivalent of a murder mystery, but not the game equivalent of splatterpunk horror. But my work is fairly low on the violence scale, in any event.

Matt Toschlog, President of Outrage Entertainment

Do you think computer games are too violent?

In general, no. There are some violent games that get a lot of attention, but as a whole games are not that violent.

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

Not directly, though it seems likely that exposure to violence in the mass media may increase violent tendencies in children. As far as I know, the good science on this topic has been done with television; I don't think anyone knows if games have a stronger or weaker influence.
I do think there's a big difference between children and adults playing violent games. I had a non-violent upbringing, and I don't believe that exposure to violence now is likely to change me. I suspect that it's a different story for children who grow up exposed to violence.

What do you think is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill, Duke Nukem, etc?'

I find the most extreme games funny -- I think it's the transgression of boundaries that interests me. But those aren't games that I actually enjoy playing. When a game like that comes out, we'll look at it and laugh, but not much else.

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

All sorts, really. I like abstract arcade games, simulations, action games, and so on.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?

[I assume this question was written for the kids you interviewed. I of course *am* in the position of making games.]
We certainly think about violence in our games. I can't say that we won't make a very violent game, but our preference is for less violence.

April Jones, publicist for

Do you think computer games are too violent?

If you look at video games overall, I would definitely say no. Some are too violent for my taste, so I don't play those. However, there are plenty of non-violent games out there and they are very popular with the market as well. Roller Coaster Tycoon came out last year, has been on the best seller list, and is still one of my favorites. The premise is that you build and manage every aspect of your own amusement park...who wouldn't want to make roller coasters?

Do you think this alleged violence could cause someone to go find a gun and shoot someone?

Not at all. Videogames are a form of entertainment, much like books or movies. It's very unfortuntate that there are people in our society who are unstable enough to commit real violence against other humans. However, I don't think simply playing a game or watching a movie would "cause" someone to act. I think the act of violence is caused by other factors which have roots much deeper than simply pushing some keys on a computer.

What do you think is the attraction of a game such as 'Thrill Kill, Duke Nukem, etc?'

I think part of the attraction with "first-person shooters" is the excitement of being in a battle for your "life" that that which would never happen to you in reality. There is also the "fantasy factor" to consider. Part of the joy I find in Roller Coaster Tycoon is that I love amusement parks, but in reality, I would never be in a position to design my own. This game allows me to fulfill that "fantasy" and I know other players like to find that thrill with other genres.

If you look at your game playing over time what types of games do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy strategy games the most. Some recent examples are Roller Coaster Tycoon and Pharaoh. I enjoy games that make me think, plan, and control things I would never be able to in real life.

If in the future you were in a situation to actually make and market computer games would the violence issue influence the products you'd develop?

I am in the situation now where I do market video games and the violence issue does influence my decisions personally. I am also fortunate enough to work for a company which also factors violence into the equation. Red Storm has proven that there is a way to portray realistic situations that involve violence, while still showing the value of human life. In our most popular game series, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, one shot kills and dead team members don't magically appear for the next mission...they are dead and you as a player feel their loss on the team. The main goal of most missions in the game is to rescue hostages so if a hostage is killed, automatic game over. There are even some missions where you can't shoot anyone at all and you can't be seen by anyone. The gaming community has really enjoyed the reality of those limitations and we have recieved many awards for it. I am proud to promote a game that is able to draw those moral lines, and for those very reasons, this is the only "shooter" game I will play in my free time.


Wrap up!

The interviews above are not science by any stretch of the imagination. They are just points of view from folks I have run into, folks who design and play games, folks with common interests and folks I have taught. It is obvious that the folks quoted above have a passionate, critical relationship with this thing we call the computer game. They have studied games the same way that writers study how words work, painters how paint works, musicians how sound works and film makers how the screen works. This new art must be mastered. It is not frivolous to say that this $9 billion dollar market is art and is significant in today's culture the same way that books, film, radio, TV and Rock and Roll were the significant media of the past. The game is the new thing and it is in the driver's seat at the moment.

For educators, I think the most obvious way to think about computer games is to actually design them. What can be more educational than having children designing and critiquing their own and their classmates' designs, peering intently at why they represented a person, gender or race in a particular way. Thinking about how someone will experience their creation, about how the blood and carnage they depict might affect the player of their game. And yes, considering how a computer game that they have designed might just be the nudge to send someone over the cliff. Building and design is a very deep way to understand anything. Nothing is as frightening as presenting your work and having the teacher turn around just after your explanation of your work and asking this roomful of inquisitors: so what do you think? They all think and they will tell you what they think. This is called learning.