DC Trawler

Video games (still) do not cause violence

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Back when Grand Theft Auto 4 came out in 2008, there was some controversy over the things the game allowed you to do. For example, you could solicit prostitutes, and then kill them and get your money back. The game didn’t encourage you to do it, but it didn’t prevent you from doing it either. You could also drive down the sidewalk of a virtual city mowing down pedestrians, you could run around attacking people at random, and all sorts of other demented stuff that would be horrible in real life. But the “killing prostitutes” thing was what really got people going.

Now that Grand Theft Auto 5 has finally come out, some folks still aren’t happy about letting people be as sick as they want to be in a fantasy world that does not exist:

I can’t believe I’m saying this about college students, but some of them are right. It’s fiction. And fiction has always been filled with violence and depravity. Shakespeare, anybody? I’m not saying the makers of GTA 5 are Shakespeare, of course. Or even Tarantino. Or even Uwe Boll. But they’re operating in the same tradition. They’re playing to the groundlings. Cheap thrills for the cheap seats. The only thing that’s changed is the technology.

Back in the ’50s, moral scolds went after horror comic books for corrupting the fragile minds of America’s youth. Back in the Old West, hacks cranked out potboilers about notorious outlaws, and it was a sign of the End Times. The examples are too numerous to count. Fiction has always glamorized violence and brutality and moral decay, and it always will. And there will always be people who want to decide for you whether or not you can handle it.

Some people think video games cause violence. Other people think guns cause it. And busybodies on both sides of the aisle who think they know how to run your life better than you do are always stepping in. “If we could just put limits on [X], we’d have fewer problems with [Y].” Well, that’s not how life works. Violence exists because people exist.

I mean none of this as an attack on Caleb Bonham. He has every right to be disgusted by Grand Theft Auto 5, and I would advise him not to play it. I admire him for interviewing students about it and getting their reactions, and he presents a legitimate moral question. I don’t blame him for coming to the conclusion he does. I just don’t agree with what he thinks it all means.

And for the record, I wouldn’t approve of a video game that allowed characters to rape each other. So I’d take the appropriate step: I wouldn’t buy it.

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Jim Treacher