full circle

computergame violence as a result of economical competition

Media coverage on the amok run in Emsdetten on 20 November 2006 already dwindles away, but the discussion on computergames is going on—and I direly hope that it will go on for longer, as long as it stays above the naive level of “killergames”-rhetorics. There indeed is a need for a broad public and political discussion on computergames, I think—over here in Germany and everywhere else where computergames are sold and played [on the whole globe, that is?]. Although I am always quick to point out, that there is way more about especially first-person shooters than violence, I deem that the depiction and enactment of violence in computergames has to be an issue of debate.

First of all I am not against age-rating of computergames, quite to the contrary. Secondly, in my subjective view there indeed are games containing strong elements of violence and cruelty in a way definitely not suitable for children, and maybe also not for teenagers. Alas, public debate always seems to target the wrong games, like Counter Strike or Quake, which since long have changed into media of electronic sports, generating societal and cultural phenomena, not only within youth culture, which simply can not be evaluated negatively.

Now, let’s assume, just for a minute, that there are games produced on which societal consensus has been reached, that their distribution has to be limited and controlled because of excessive enactment of violence, cruelty, and gore. How should society deal with them?

Age-rate them 18+? Yes, definitely.

Putting them on “the Index”? Maybe, if a careful balancing of reasons justifies that.

Ban them completely? No, I am principally against simply banning certain computergames in Germany, unless the games in question bear content which violates the guidelines of the Constitution. But in every case this has to be ascertained above every doubt.

Should legislature, judiciary, and the executive branch strive to bar the industry from manufacturing this games, as it was proposed during the last days? That’s where we’ll come full circle in a minute. Apart from such a venture being completely unrealistic, because computergames are global goods and may be manufactured within the realms of totally unreachable legislations, I am of the opinion that such a step would mean putting the cart before the horse. The only gain of this approach would be taking the blame away from the politicians in charge, and putting it upon the manufacturing industry. But the computergame industry can not be blamed! The companies belonging to this line of business are competing with each other—just as society expects them to do, and if there is a demand for computergames wherein extreme violence is depicted and enacted, those games will be manufactured and thrown onto the market. And economical competition seems to be an unquestionable mantra within our society and politics. So, unless society wants to challenge its so dearly accepted economical principles like supply and demand, companies will manufacture “violent” games. The question is not why games of that provenance are made, but why there is a demand for them. I’ve got a whole array of possible answers at hand, but most of them are of speculative nature, only some of them are tested against empirical reality, and those can not be told in three short sentences. Not very satisfactory, I know, but that’s the way it is when dealing with cultural phenomena.

My point is that way more empirical knowledge is needed about how games are used, what games mean for gamers, what kind of practices surround them, of what exactly the background which informs gaming culture is composed and how. All that is not reducible to quantifiable parameters, hence an anthropological approach to gaming culture is indispensable. Nevertheless we have to sociologically grasp gaming communities, need categories, numbers, statisctics, and psychological insight as well, but we can’t do with this alone. We need to know what really happens with games, “down there” where they are played, have to understand the perspective of gamers and gaming communities. Judging games by eclectic standards picked from thin air does lead to nothing, to the emergence of resistance at best.