Video Game Violence -- Ethical Issues --. Kim Anttila & Thomas Larsson Mälardalen University December 12, 2003. Overview. A preferred leisure activity Examples of game violence Effects on individuals and society Research results Game industry’s standpoint Ethics principles
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Kim Anttila & Thomas Larsson
December 12, 2003
“GTA III is a game so suffused with sadism that its considerable technical attributes are lost in a nihilistic realm that thumbs its nose at any sense of propriety or responsibility”-- LA Times
There is a consensus among experts:“the data point overwhelmingly to causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children” --- a joint statement by the following six professional societies American Psychology Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Psychiatric Association
What does the prevalent fascination of violence as entertainment say about our society?
Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more”.
"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed".
”We have further moral obligation towards our children, and that is to give them the best we can, including the best influence we can design for their happiness.” 2
1: Karl Popper and John Condry, La television: un danger pour la démocratie, Paris, Anatolia, 1994, p.33
2: Karl Popper, Lesson of this century, London, Routledge, 1997, p.36
…that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance,
Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.
Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth".
Ever since his early childhood, Al’s dream has been to design and create video games. Now he is 29 years old and he has a wife and two children to support. Three years ago he completed his academic education with a degree of Master of Science in game development. Immediately after graduation, he started to work as a professional game developer at Utopia Fantasia Octane (UFO) Incorporation, one of the leading game companies in action games. The first and only title so far, he has had a part in developing, is a recently completed and commercially very successful first person shooter game, which includes realistic depicturing of lots of gruesome killings. Although Al would have preferred to develop games with more peaceful story lines, because of an ongoing debate over the potential harmful effects of violent game play, he didn’t object when he was assigned to this project. He reasoned that he needed the job and the experience, and that he was not responsible for choosing the violent theme of the game.
A week ago, Al was promoted to the project leader for the company’s next big title called Extreme Combat --- Warfare Vietnam, a highly realistic simulation game of the much debated and criticized Vietnam War. The main character in the game is a much feared Vietnam veteran, Sergeant Try Hard, whose first mission is to lead his troops in a battle against an army of 1500 Viet Cong soldiers to the bitter end. Al is of course flattered by the promotion, but in this case, he finds the role as project leader ethically troublesome. Therefore, he approaches his superiors, revealing his moral feelings about this assignment and asks for a reassignment. His superiors, however, tell him that there is no evidence at all for any harmful effects of violent video games, and leave him with two choices. Either he must accept his assignment as a project leader or step back and continue as game developer for this new title. Of course he can also choose to leave the company. What should Al do?
Because of some recent schoolboy shootings, with absolutely horrifying and devastating consequences, the Government has requested a thorough investigation regarding the effects of exposure to violent video games on children and adolescents. The young shooters had been playing highly violent first person shooter games obsessively, prior to the massacres, according to the police reports. The aim of this investigation is to better understand the reasons behind youth violence and take preventive actions. In the investigation, input has been gathered from psychology researchers, school leaders, parents, and game industry leaders. The investigation concluded that exposure to media violence, including violent video games, increases aggressive behavior in children and adolescents and that it was far too easy for children to buy and play mature rated games. The game industry, however, referred to the free speech legislation (for example the First Amendment in the U. S. Constitution) claiming their right to produce whatever games they want. They want free hands, in the same way as the TV, film, and music industry. Bill, the leader of the nation, wants some help to discuss ethical aspects of the issue. In particular, he wants guidelines on the following actions:
(1)Legislate against too much violence in video games. Future games have to pass strict censorship.
(2)Establish an independent organization which rates all games according to a government-sanctified game rating system. Make sure the ratings are enforced at the retail level by criminalizing sales to minors. Also, offer all employees in game companies to attend courses in ethics to make them think more about their values and actions, and the consequences thereof.
(3)The freedom of speech has to be protected. It’s one of the most fundamental rights on which our society is based. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their children are safe. Thus, no further actions are required.
(4)The right to free speech has to be protected, but means must be provided to educate and inform school leaders, teachers, care takers, parents, and children about the dangers of media violence.
Single parent Mary lives with her son Pete (named after a famous rock star) who is 16 years old. For several years he has been deeply engaged in computers, the Internet and video games. Recently, however, he has started to isolate himself from his friends and family. Mary suspects it might have something to do with his addiction to computers, but she thinks it’s probably a natural part of his development as an adolescent. Two days ago, however, one of his teachers called Mary to discuss Pete’s behaviour in school and his school work. His performance in school is not how it used to be, and furthermore, it turns out that Pete hasn’t attended the obligatory school activities for several days. This might have something to do with a fight he had with his math teacher last week.
After the phone call, Mary went into Pete’s room at looked through the items in a box under his computer desk and found several game titles which chocked her. The covers depictured highly detailed aggravated assaults and killings. Some of them were rated Mature (not for ages under 17) and Adults only (not for ages under 18). After confronting her son with these games, he became furious and he questioned her rights to go through his belongings. He left the house, slamming the door after himself, without telling where he was going. What shall Mary do?