This is a guest post from Greg Toppo, author of the book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter. He is USA Today’s national education reporter.

More than 15 years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that intensive media coverage of suicides may serve to “tip the balance” for at-risk young people who are considering suicide. Research suggests that consuming this type of media makes vulnerable people feel that suicide is “a reasonable, acceptable, and in some instances even heroic, decision.”

Since the vast majority of school shootings are perpetrated by young people who are already suicidal, coverage of these attacks—especially coverage that focuses on the perpetrators, not the victims—normalizes them. It doesn’t “make” them do it as most people believe, but it shows them that they’re not alone in wanting to kill themselves in such a way.

Real-world media coverage is more dangerous than video games.
In the book, I examine decades of research, essentially all of which shows that video games have just the opposite effect that most people think. Violent crime rates drop when violent games are released or when new video game stores open, for instance.

Even as the number of young people playing violent video games has skyrocketed over the past two decades, juvenile crime rates have plummeted. This is not to say that games prevent crime, but if there were any correlation between rising gaming rates and crime, we’d have seen it by now, since nearly every young person now plays video games. We haven’t.

Look at your children holistically.
If parents fear that their child is becoming more violent, they should look at the issue holistically. I don’t doubt that for troubled kids with a lot of risk factors, hours and hours of unsupervised violent video game play without the assistance of someone to help interpret or process the violence can be harmful. But even among these kids, in the vast majority of cases, the play is actually serving as a protective factor (more on that below).

If parents are worried, they should look at everything that’s happening in their child’s life. Is violence present in the home, in the neighborhood, in the school? Does the child have any other way to process fears and anxieties than through media? Is the child suffering from an untreated or undiagnosed learning disability, anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder? Is the child being bullied or abused? Does he feel unsafe in general? If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, that’s the place to start.

Video games help kids cope with stress rather than cause it.
The media that he’s consuming is almost always the thing that’s least responsible for violent behavior and often the thing that’s helping him cope with life’s stresses. In fact, says media theorist Henry Jenkins, a child who responds to a video game the same way he responds to a real-world trauma could be showing symptoms of being emotionally disturbed. In that sense, a violent game could actually serve as a kind of affordable and efficient diagnostic tool.

 

73 replies
  1. jessica
    jessica says:

    My son came across a news piece via youtube about how Turkey is trying to ban Minecraft for kids because it encourages animal violence which, of course, will lead to real world animal violence.

    My son was really upset about this (Um, that’s not the point of Minecraft mom!) So he sat and made a rebuttal video listing his reasons why that’s just not the case.

    Kids have a voice too.

  2. Heather Bathon
    Heather Bathon says:

    Does the author intend for the the term ‘violence’ to include the horrific examples of misogyny in the gaming world?

    Violence against women is pervasive not only in the games themselves, but is frequently taken offline in vicious personal attacks and threats against female gamers. Are you saying there is no correlation between the activity in the games and the activity offline? No way do I buy that.

    Most gamers are unlikely to find themselves in a real world scenario approaching the level of violence in a game. Most male gamers interact with women, in some way, every day.

    • Isabelle
      Isabelle says:

      This is a great question, and I hope the author responds.

      Also– Penelope, do you have thoughts on this?

        • mh
          mh says:

          In gamergate, our protagonist is a woman, let’s call her Anita, steeped in feminist social criticism who sets ou to prove that the depiction of women in video games is not … erm… correct.

          She finds employment as a journalist, writing for a gaming magazine. She is paid to review games and recommend them to the readers.

          Some of the games she recommends are no dang good. Smelling a rat, some gamer types investigate a bit and find out that Anita is bedmates with the creator of some of these lousy games, which despite the low quality of the games, nevertheless received good reviews in her magazine. Her reviews are not objective. This becomes public knowledge.

          Having lost all credibility, a choice confronts Anita. She can acknowledge her mistake, apologize to her employer, and quietly resign to go find other employment. This would be the honorable thing to do. This is not what Anita decides to do. Anita begins sending herself death threats and rape threats and hits the talk show circuit to “prove” how misogynistic gamer culture is.

          Am I missing any facts here?

          If this is the correct way for strong, modern feminist women to behave, then the whole feminist system is built on deceit.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Oh, hang on, I did miss two facts.

            1) Gamergate has led to many paid speaking gigs for poor,poor Anita.

            2) The FBI is investigating her for making false death threats.

          • Heather Bathon
            Heather Bathon says:

            Come on. You’ve chosen one example on which to hang the hat of your argument – which is what exactly by the way? That there is no misogyny in gaming, that women are not portrayed as hapless targets for sexual and other violence? That the gaming community has not produced plenty of vitriol against female gamers?

            To address your example for a moment though, Gamergate is not solely about the politics and actions of Anita Sarkeesian. Other prominent female gamers got plenty of mud slung their way too. Whether or not Sarkeesian is 100% credible is irrelevant to the overarching discussion.

            I think this blog post is yet one more example of the attention-grabbing, counter-intuitive information we love to gobble up. It appeals to those of us who pride ourselves on thinking outside the box, not running with the herd, swimming upstream …blah, blah, blah. It also appeals to those of us who allow our kids to play the kind of violent video games mentioned here, because we’re enjoying the refreshing koolaid, which allows us to believe that sitting inside, playing hours of violent video games is really not that different from hours of running around, outside, playing cops and robbers.

            What this post does and what I find it has in common with so much of this ‘surprise, surprise, how about that!’ kind of rhetoric, is that it presents a complicated idea – the effects of violent media on behavior – and strips it of subtlety. Isn’t the absence of violent behavior setting the bar a bit low?

            Why are we willing to believe that hours spent playing music or chess or building robots or hiking will have a positive influence on people, but hours spent playing games filled with intense and engrossing violence will have no ill effects?

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I don’t mean to interrupt your hate party, but do you have any reputable sources for your claims?

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I know the indenting here sometimes makes things unclear, but I was asking mh, Heather.

            I tried to look up support for her theory, but could only find conspiracy dudeblogs with more emotion than substance.

            It’s weird how this issue sends some people so off the rails.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            general comment to this thread – just read a comment section on essentially ANY article about women in tech, on any news outlet from HuffPost to NYtimes to CNN and you get an idea about the hate and misogyny voiced with respect to women in what is considered “male dominant professions/gaming/tech”.

      • Isabelle
        Isabelle says:

        If you think the only instance of this misogyny in games and the gaming world is in the “gamer gate” story, I don’t even know where to begin. I certainly wasn’t talking about that story in particular, but about a much wider (and widely accepted) problem.

        • Bailey
          Bailey says:

          I work in the gaming industry and am a woman. The game I am working on is a shooter. It is my personal belief that it is not video games that inspire/encourage/foment misogynistic behavior but instead the usually anonymous forums for interaction that come with video games. When people feel like they can say whatever they want and not be held accountable, you see some pretty ugly stuff. Take a look at youtube comments on nearly any popular video. This is not (merely) a gaming problem.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      This makes no sense to me. I used to play online poker and I was never harassed by male players. If anything, in my experience, playing online games in the 90’s the “boys” were more than happy to have female players and went out of their way to include me in games. I would know because one of my longtime friends is married to an actual misogynist and I have experienced his ignorance firsthand and not in a “you are good for a girl” kind of way, but actually saying that women and men should be separated during conversation. I’m not really friends with them anymore, it’s just not something I want to be associated with.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        My youngest brother (22) takes gaming to an extreme. Perhaps he’s one of those people that does it too much, as he does little else. I’ve overheard things said there that definitely bend my head (high volume language, terms that are derogatory, so forth) , but he’s extremely respectful to women in real life almost to the point of being a push over. One of my close friends is an Army Ranger and I’ve gone out with him and his battalion when they returned from Afghanistan- they said some *interesting* terms to one another that could be perceived as extremely derogatory, and probably just are. The point is, they are saying them to one another in reference to one another, and not to the women they are with. While I don’t engage in that kind of ‘slang’ or ‘language’, I think it’s more of a context bro-bonding type thing.

        My father is an actual misogynist. That kind of perpetual behavior is toxic.

      • Heather Bathon
        Heather Bathon says:

        I’m guessing you haven’t seen or played Manhunt, Call of Duty, Condemned: Criminal Origins and the like. I think there is a world of difference between online poker and those games.

        Check it out and see what you think.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Ok, so what are you suggesting? That kids who play games like cod turn into mysogynists? Or that people shouldn’t play these games? Just because I am on a diet trying to lose a few pounds by avoiding cookies doesn’t mean that other people can’t eat cookies. And it doesn’t mean that everyone who eats cookies needs to lose a few pounds.

          • Heather Bathon
            Heather Bathon says:

            What I’m suggesting is that there is no free lunch; you don’t get to do anything for extended periods of time without being affected by it.

            The questions remain, what is the effect – in this discussion, of violent video games – and does does the effect of one activity dovetail into other societal norms and how does it all add up?

            If not in violent behavior, how about in a greater tolerance to violence in general? Is that ok? How much greater tolerance is ok?Maybe a positive effect is to reduce real-world physical violence because the apparent human need for violence is satisfied by gaming.

            My guess is that the violence and misogyny (and there should be no doubts about that), present in gaming have complex effects on people, and shouldn’t be summed up in any cavalier way, as in “violent games don’t make kids violent.” It’s simplistic and insulting to any thinking person.

            What kind of cookies by the way?

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Any cookie, really! Of course, it has to be organic because that’s how I roll… Right now I break off a tiny piece of dark chocolate with a hint of black currant and just let it melt… that seems to be suppressing my appetite. :)

          I get what you are saying, I guess I just don’t respond well to oversimplification of cause and effect. Like me saying because so many violent things happen in schools, schools make children violent. Maybe it is part of it, like violent video games…but there is something else going on, lack of self-regulation, lack of self-control, lack of parenting…

          Also, I am pretty sure that if every sexist and misogynist reference was removed from violent video games… it wouldn’t stop anyone from playing. They aren’t playing the games because of how the women are portrayed in them, they are playing for other reasons.

  3. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Maybe the Canadians are so nice because they take all their aggression out in hockey.

    Just kidding ;) but I finally get the importance of aggressive outlets for males in our society, which evolved fast but the testosterone stayed the same.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Yes. FWIW, taking the kids out to the shooting range is a good way to channel testosterone. I don’t like hunting because I don’t like camping, but I like shooting.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Scoffing.

          I won’t put my kids on ADHD drugs and they won’t commit any school shootings, eh? I won’t leave them to be raised in single parent households and they won’t turn out violent, eh?

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    “Violent video games cause children to be violent. ” This is a classic example of cause and effect fallacy. “Jenny got struck and killed by a car while crossing the street, therefore all cars will kill you” “When I stay up until 3am I feel like sh!t the next day, therefore 3am makes all people feel like sh!t”

    Seeing or hearing violence does not make me a violent person. It disturbs me to my core and I have to monitor and consider whether if I watch a scary violent movie I will be able to sleep for the rest of the week. Watching the TV show Gotham has disturbed me several times, but I have no desire to become a villain.

    This is another reason to model and discuss things with your kids. Did they just witness a woman being slapped in the face on TV or other media? Stop and talk about it, discuss and explain proper behavior. It’s not ok to hurt people and it is especially important to protect those that are weaker than you, as well as animals.

    My own little intuition tells me that psychotropic drugs and medicating boys all the time is what is causing these violent outbursts. We could be making kids insane by drugging them or their mental health could already be compromised.

    My kids had their friend over to play and they played with toy cap guns, toy daggers, lightsabers, thor’s hammer, and other toy weapons and had a blast! They also love cuddling, sleep with 50 stuffed animals on each bed, and tell us how much they love us.

    My kids play Minecraft, WoW, and SuperMario World occasionally. I am not going to run out and purchase Grand Theft Auto or whatever the specific game is that bothers everyone and I would explain and talk about all the things that happen in it so it is not some arbitrary thing.

    I don’t know…whatever.

    • Trilby
      Trilby says:

      It might not make people more violent, but do you think it makes us more tolerant of violence?

      When I started working downtown in my city, I was somewhat shocked by the number of people totally f*ed on drugs in the middle of the day – passed out in doorways with soiled pants, or stumbling around in the street. Then the day came when a girl slammed into me in a coffee shop after shooting up in the bathroom, and I wasn’t even surprised.

      We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to participate in it. But if we see something often enough, we get used to it. And sadly, we start to accept it as the way things are.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        You mean that seeing more violence on a regular basis makes someone develop apathy? I’m not sure I agree with that. I lived in an urban area in my early 20’s and never developed a state of apathy. You wish things were different but you can choose to not do anything about it, or you try to make a difference, even if it is just donating a can of food…start small.

        • Trilby
          Trilby says:

          I’m not saying it does or it doesn’t. More just curious about it. Regardless of how we choose to act, I wonder if seeing something often enough changes our gut reaction to it? I still do the same things to “make a difference” as I did before, maybe more so. I just am no longer surprised when I see the grittier side of life, and that makes me a bit sad.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I think what I am trying to say is that perhaps this is a way that you developed to cope with your situation. I don’t think being aware of events, regardless of how horrific, is detrimental or causes someone to become desensitized. There are underlying factors at work. Otherwise we would all be saying that school is the cause of violence since so many violent things happen at schools.

          • Trilby
            Trilby says:

            There’s a difference between being desensitized to violence and being a violent person. I’m not saying I care any less about how hard drug use can devastate people’s lives. I’m just not surprised to see it firsthand at 10 am. And I have different perception of what it might be like to live the life of an addict and how hard it must be to overcome it.

            My point is that the things that we expose ourselves to are going to influence us in some way or other. How much they influence us will depend on the other influences in our lives. So violent video games aren’t likely to make people violent. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any influence on anybody.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Yes, I agree that it very much depends on a whole host of factors, of which, exposure to violence may or may not play a part.

            I know you are in Canada so I am not sure if you have ever seen the Rocky movies or not?? I have watched the Rocky movies an unhealthy amount of time in my youth, dissecting it, breaking down the scenes, character analysis etc etc. Having been exposed to the life of a fictional boxing character has never made me want to be a boxer or start fights with people.

            Playing violent video games as a child, granted they were different back then, hasn’t made me a violent person. It is a very simplistic viewpoint to have. I remember back when the Harry Potter books came out I received a hysterical email from some of my religious friends about how reading Harry Potter would lead children to practice witchcraft… it is borderline hysteria, and actually is making something a scapegoat when there are many other variables contributing to negative behaviors. Having open dialogue about these situations is a positive.

            I have three daughters. We don’t plan on burying our heads in the sand by not playing video games or crying foul at every turn. But, this is kind of irrelevant for me personally since my girls are all highly sensitive and would be devastated if exposed to dark plot lines or gory violence. It’s not my job only to provide physical safety, but I need to provide emotional safety as well. We keep a healthy dialogue so that they are all comfortable discussing anything.

          • Trilby
            Trilby says:

            That’s interesting about your daughters. My daughter is the same way. She’s a major feeler and hates seeing anyone get hurt, even if it’s in sport or make believe. My son, on the other hand, is like my husband – super into video games and MMA and all of that stuff. I’m not worried it’ll make him violent, although I did notice he was a lot more physical in his play when he was on his Karate kid fix. :-)

            I once read an article about how violent video games can be therapeutic to veterans with PTSD. I think the idea of what influences us and how is very interesting.

      • lizmomomof5
        lizmomomof5 says:

        I agree with this. I am a Nurse and my husband an ER Dr. When you see new nurses come in they are often so upset when say a 20-30 year old gets cancer or some other disease. I worked on a surgical floor as a new nurse and we would take care of all these patients with huge abdominal incisions. I remember asking at times “why did they have their colon removed? Was it cancer? An obstruction? Ulcerative Colitis?” The longer they had been a nurse the less they knew about the
        “personal story”. They only cared about what they needed to know to take care of the patient post surgical.

        Same with my husband. Things are pretty tragic at times with the things you see in the ER, but you do have to and become somewhat desensitized to do your job efficiently. It may not be apple to apples in comparing this to violence and video games, but I think its at least apples to pears comparison in regards that we easily become desensitized to things.

        I know many time my husband tries to tell a “work story” and people get hung up right away on say the age or diagnoses when that isn’t even where he is going with the story, It may not even have to do with the illness at all, but the car they were driving.

  5. jessica
    jessica says:

    Yeah,

    My kids chased me down the street yesterday with play swords and daggers. I put on a medieval helmet and joined in the fun laughing across the fronts of starbucks, the post office, the subway, and finally arriving at the bank.

    You know what the numerous people did as they passed us? They SMILED. I don’t think they thought my kids were going to grow up to be serial killers.

    We need more play and imagination.

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    But… violence is so much more complex. Looking at crime statistics, which present a complex interplay of who is convicted for what (sentencing for smoking pot has changed dramatically over the last decade), general economic outlook, level of education and much more. The fact that crime has decreased overall does not allow to establish causality with respect to video games. Whether video games have a negative impact on a kid or an adult is situation dependent – family life, do you play for days without break or just binge once in a while? play a few minutes each day? do other things or stay holed up in a darkened apartment?

    But a high level of violence in a game has in all likelihood not always a positive impact – the same as a high level of violence and abuse in a family will have a negative impact. It does not mean that someone who has been abused as a child will become an abuser but it is more likely. I have to agree with Heather – we can’t say that some type of online activity is great and educational and has a positive impact, and neglect the impact of extremely violent games. Maybe the kid does not become a criminal but will sleep poorly, have bad dreams, and is deeply disturbed and struggling with the violence in the game? And by the way, I don’t even find the violent games most disturbing but the level of casual and extreme violence in TV shows seems to get more each year (check out “the following” for some really disturbing examples – what gets me most is the casualness of murder and torture…).

    In addition, if you game a lot you indeed learn stuff – you get better at the skills trained in the video game. Those might be beneficial for some few professions but are useless for most others. Gaming is mostly entertainment, a hobby many people enjoy.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Yes, we can’t forget that humans created the games. So the gamer is playing within the confines of someone’s rules and creation, as a pawn.

      I am not a gamer. But I live in my head a lot. It has been difficult to figure out how to do practical things which do not require such mind focus. Something about moving around, physically making things happen (cleaning a trashed kitchen comes to mind, or even eating when I am hungry). I am excellent at organizing physical, tangible things…maybe because that does require the same part of my brain as creating ideas in my head. I also am very aware of my surroundings, and my kids, even though I am in my head (I am guessing gamers are not?). I need to explore this more…

      I am “skillful” in walking down dark streets, applying all my senses to what is going on around me. I know how to walk and carry myself and send off vibes which have made grown men cross the street (if I am dressed so it isn’t obvious I am female at-a-glance). I think a gamer can avoid the bad guy in a game, on a screen; but does that transfer to real life abilities, using ones body, energy and senses in relation to real-life surroundings?

      It is helpful to be away from TV and then check it out a while later to see the excessive stimulation. The same goes for fashion magazines–being away from them resets the brain so the absurdity is so obvious.

      I am conscious about what I allow in my headspace on a regular basis. Not because I am concerned I am going to be a seriel killer or a wanna-be barbie. But because those things don’t make me feel good. I also don’t want those things to be normalized in my head.

      It is harder to dig deep to figure out what our band aids (distractions) are covering up, what needs they are attempting to fulfill, than it is to just use the bandaids.

      I think paint ball would be an excellent way to combine strategy with being in touch with ones own body. But I feel like including cooking, eating, cleaning up, and sleeping in the mix (camping + paintball) would be a much more holistic and useful experience.

  7. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Some of this stuff baffles me.

    Of course there’s misogyny and video games. Because mysogynists made them and mysogynists play them. Also, very adequate gentleman and ladies make them and play them.

    If I’m telling my kid to not play games because the gaming community is violent against women then I might as well tell him to not do anything but stay home because were swimming in a soup of violence against pretty much any type of person. Physical or emotional or verbal violence.

    And violence against animals.
    And violence against the environment.
    And violence in politics and in business and…

    We’re all violent.
    I see how COD is an outlet for the men in my life. It’s a box to safely place that violence without hurting people.

    Saturday night my soon-to-be sister-in-law brought taco soup and I sent Chris and my brother to the store for chocolate wine. My brother asks his fiancé “do you want anything?” She says no. But when they came back he handed her a little treat that said “cutie pie.”

    And it was the sweetest thing because she is petite and because I realized my brother hasn’t changed since he was a little boy.

    He is also the same young man who I trust my babies to. He’s changed diapers and spent hours playing with my toddler in a cardboard box house he made for him.

    He is not an anomaly. He’s not outside the average. There are millions of players that log onto COD. And they all tell you to have sex with your mother or that they already had sex with your mother.

    When it’s over they turn off the console and resume their lives.

    The dotting husbands and fathers and boyfriends and brothers return to being the same.
    The rapists and mysogynists and fedora wearing obnoxious people return to being the same.

  8. Heather Bathon
    Heather Bathon says:

    A final thought – in the post and in the discussions there hasn’t been any talk of what age range we mean when we say ‘kids’. Karelys referred to the men in her life in her post, as being decent human beings who can enjoy gaming and are still good people. Did they start gaming at 10, 11, 12 years old like a lot of ‘kids’?

    Is COD the same game to a 10 year old as it is to an 18 year old or a 30 year old? Does 10 or 20 years of gaming under one’s belt make any difference at all in one’s perspective on violence?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Well isn’t this where parenting comes in???

      For example, of course I wouldn’t allow my 7 year old child to play COD, just like I don’t take him to R-rated movies (Games have ratings….).

      Now that you bring it up, I want to point out my younger brother has played COD for years and years- 12 actually, since he has been 10. He hasn’t turned into some murderous psycho. He enjoys ‘acting’ in the game.

      Based on all of this talk, I’m coming to the conclusion that no- video games don’t cause one to become inherently violent. I actually think it’s a bit like theater- you can play a character and then leave the character at the door.

      I think it’s the people and environment in one’s real life that can contribute to an unhealthy individual.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        This is what I have been trying to say as well. I guess I was being too subtle.

        For most kids, it is acting. I am raising an actor, she is always in character, always on, able to take on any role and then leave it and go back to being Hayley. Right now she has her captain america shield on her wrist and a sword in the back of her shirt and a walkie-talkie to call “police” for back up in her quest to fight bad guys.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      My brothers are 24 (twins) and my husband is 28. My husband grew up with video games as a typical American kid of the 90’s.
      We didn’t have access to expensive gaming systems and my brothers only really dove into it by the time they were earning money to buy expensive consoles.

      But here’s the thing, when we moved to the U.S. they would only hang out with the skater kids and only ask for skateboards and black clothes and they grew their hair long.

      My mom hated it. She was convinced my brothers would devolve into drug addicted hooligans.

      To this day they haven’t tried any drugs besides alcohol. Which is what they drink until one of them passes out in the bathroom and the other two forget about him until the next day.

      One of the twins is always earning bonuses at work because he works very hard and has a girlfriend that believes he’s the nicest guy around. The other twin is not work driven. He wants to earn just enough for the bills and have lots of free time to be with family and master the next song on the piano (Currently working on Claire de Lune).

      For all the years they spent in a drug and slacker infested environment didn’t change who they were all along.

      I’m sure if they had been people who seek the next high they’d be susceptible to drugs. I’m not 100% sure why some people are susceptible to some things and not others. I know id be anxious and driven and always hoping to launch a business whether I lived in Mexico or here. That’s just who I am.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I played a lot of video games in my youth and not once have I turned into a blue hedgehog looking to collect gold coins.

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          I’m going to bed condolences and sympathy are in order. I’d be so sad if I never achieved my goals of becoming sonic with a huge bag of gold coins ;)

  9. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Commenter,

    You said: “It’s weird how this issue sends some people so off the rails.”

    I think this is part of having similar personalities so I completely understand this statement and use it regularly. In any setting people can count on me to be the Spock of the group. I bet you can relate. Even with issues that I really care about I rarely get emotionally charged, it seems counterproductive.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      The part I don’t understand in specific is just what is so disturbing about Anita Sarkeesian’s work that people who are otherwise rational and kind would invent or repeat defamatory and insulting slurs against her.

      I think just about anybody who is both amused by games and thinks about literature and society would find her series interesting.

      I have watched several of her videos with my son and we have both enjoyed them and found them thought and discussion-provoking.

      As a person who enjoyed studying literature and literary criticism in graduate school, I appreciate finding such an accessible, contemporary, and cogent example of feminist theory. I think the series Tropes vs Women in Video Games is an excellent contribution to the field of literary theory and to society.

      I just don’t get why anybody would get angry and mean about it. It is not angry and mean. It is thoughtful and enthusiastic.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        You and me both. I don’t understand the subtlety of specific behaviors sometimes myself. I have a hard time understanding groupthink and why people participate in it. It seems, to me, to be primitive behavior.

        I like the idea of not allowing anonymous comments like Greg suggested he has done on his online published interviews. Keeps it real.

  10. Greg Toppo
    Greg Toppo says:

    Hi, all:

    This is Greg Toppo, author of the original blog post (and of the upcoming book).
    I am really glad to see this debate unfolding and I’d like to respond to it briefly.
    First of all, here’s a heartfelt thanks to Penelope for elevating the conversation on her blog. This is exactly the kind of discussion I had hoped the book might generate.
    Heather Bathon, you raise a really important point about misogyny, one that deserves a response.
    I spent a lot of time thinking about these questions while researching the book and was only able to include a portion of the discussion in the final product. I won’t wade into the whole “Gamergate” controversy – enough ink has been spilled on that — but the larger question of whether gaming somehow worsens the problem of violence against women is worth pursuing.
    First of all, I want to be clear about this: As parents, we shouldn’t underestimate our ability to have an opinion about the media our kids consume. But if we want it to be an informed opinion about a video game, the only way to do that is to play it.
    In the book, I suggest sitting on the couch with our kids, playing alongside them and talking about what’s happening onscreen. Play badly if you must, but ask them what they’re getting out of it. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you should toss the game in the trash. I don’t deny that there’s offensive, misogynistic material out there, and parents should be the judge of what’s appropriate for different ages (I see you’ve already had this discussion).
    That said, I tend to look at this in much the same holistic way I look at violence: All play, digital and real-life, takes place within a fantasy world, and we don’t check our personalities (or our values) at the door when we play – or when we consume media in general. Some previous comments from folks like YesMyKidsAreSocialized have suggested this.
    We don’t become more violent or misogynistic people when we explore these worlds – we mostly use media to reflect on how we feel about the world and figure out how to fit into it.
    But Heather asks what is perhaps the key question: “Why are we willing to believe that hours spent playing music or chess or building robots or hiking will have a positive influence on people, but hours spent playing games filled with intense and engrossing violence will have no ill effects?”
    Media theorist Henry Jenkins has offered what I think is the best response to your question. He said: “Media is most powerful in our lives when it reinforces our existing values and least powerful when it contradicts them.”
    I don’t doubt that a troubled young person with no one to help interpret what’s happening onscreen runs the risk of harboring lousy, stupid, perhaps even dangerous ideas about women. But if you’re worried that this could be your kid, play the games alongside him (or her).
    In the book, I make a suggestion that will probably get me into hot water, but here goes: In 2013, after he spent four days straight playing through the latest Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game, critic Tom Bissell concluded that GTA “is basically the most elaborate asshole simulation system ever devised, a game based on hurting people and doing whatever you like.”
    If your kid is playing a lot of GTA, maybe, just maybe, he wants to try out being an asshole. This is not to say he wants to be an asshole in real life. He wants to try that particular mask on and see what it feels like. That’s normal. Maybe you should try it alongside him.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Hi Greg,

        Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough response. I am glad that you facilitated the discussion, I think it is interesting.

        Congratulations on your book.

        -Elizabeth

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Thank you for your feedback on the discussion. It’s a really fascinating subject.

        I’ve found I come to Penelope’s site for 50% her writing and 50% the discussion. Great content all around.

    • Heather Bathon
      Heather Bathon says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thank you for your response! I agree with Elizabeth, that it is thoughtful and thorough.

      Still, the area of cause and effect that most interests me regarding this topic remains unsatisfied with the quote you mentioned, by Henry Jenkins. To wit, “Media is most powerful in our lives when it reinforces our existing values and least powerful when it contradicts them.”

      That idea makes complete sense to me. But, this part of Penelope’s blog is about educating kids; what remains unexplored is how media affects kids, whose values are still being formed, and are more vulnerable to absorbing wholesale, images they don’t yet have the capacity to analyze and think about. Those images zip easily from the games to the psyche without the pesky roadblocks of self-awareness in relation to what they’re seeing, to some degree.

      I know this is where parents come in. On a personal level I admit to feeling torn between acknowledging that cultural norms change and that my kid is living in a different world that the one I grew up in and that I have to trust her to figure it out for herself, and also wanting to stem the flood of often inane, crass, soul-sucking junk that pervades every device that blips and bleeps.

      And another thing…

      Kidding. I know I sound like a crank, but this stuff can be exhausting.

      Best of luck to you and best wishes for the success of your book.

      Heather

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        We’re going to unschool. And no matter how much I read that limiting screen time doesn’t really do damage (I’m probably paraphrasing badly here) I am always too scared and after there’s been enough time to shake off the sleepiness I distract Murphy, turn off the tablet and hide it.

        When he asks for it to watch Mickey mouse I pretend to look for it really hard and be heartbroken that I can’t find it. He forgets and plays with something else. And I avoid a fight for putting a limit on screen time.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I definitely watch how long my kids are consuming versus creating/contributing. It’s about options and balance isn’t it? If there is a group activity going on, my older son would rather do that than sit and watch youtube…etc (my little extrovert!). I actually abstained my youngest from tv/tablets/phones completely with my younger son until recently. I’m seeing how it goes…he does get upset when I take it away if he hasn’t removed himself for a while, but I’m thinking this is a 2 year old phase thing.

      • Greg Toppo
        Greg Toppo says:

        Heather, you speak for a lot of us as being “torn between acknowledging that cultural norms change and that my kid is living in a different world that the one I grew up in.”
        Actually, when it comes to games, your kid is living in a different world than the one SHE grew up in!
        You can stem the flood of “often inane, crass, soul-sucking junk that pervades every device that blips and bleeps” (though don’t take away my Drop7 or Kingdom Rush!). But that’s just in your house. Your kids are going to experience this stuff in other people’s houses.
        I guess my position on this is that I wanna be ready when it happens. As parents — myself included — we are so focused on exposure, but we underestimate the awesome power that we have: our ability to help kids process what they see.
        The way I see it, we need to be present, available and, above all, credible. That’s not just with games but with movies, news footage, Facebook posts, Kim Kardashian photoshop pics, etc.
        By the way, re games, I would say the good stuff outweighs the soul-sucking junk more and more these days. But I am also in post-“Monument Valley” bliss, so ….

    • Greg Toppo
      Greg Toppo says:

      Thanks for posting this, Vanessa.
      Here’s my reaction, for what it’s worth: I don’t deny that terrible behavior exists in the gaming world. And as the article says, respectable gamers, tournaments and gaming companies are doing what they can to stop it. But to go one step further and suggest that the games themselves are causing the behavior seems a bit unfair.
      About a decade ago, newspapers like mine began a huge online experiment in “community building” that included expanding reader comment sections of our website. The result, in very short order, was chaos. Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic and just plain ugly comments soon flowed in the space beneath our news stories. It got so bad I began telling my interview subjects they should simply NOT read the comments. One of my colleagues quipped, “We’ve created a community that you wouldn’t want to be caught in after dark.”
      We moved to nip the ugliness in the bud by demanding that commenters use their real names or log in with their Facebook accounts. That helped. But nowhere, at any time, did anyone say that reading newspapers makes you racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or misogynistic. It was the imperfect forum that made the ugliness happen.
      Obviously this is not a perfect comparison, but I guess my larger point is that we should extend the same courtesies to games as we do to other media.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Greg,

        I think the flaw in your comparison of media is the same place a lot of people get stuck. Pointing out the misogyny in games laden with T&A isn’t blaming the medium any more than pointing out the misogyny in Hustler is saying magazines suck.

        If you were publishing a magazine called How To Be An Asshole Weekly, should you be at all surprised to find some of your readers are assholes?

        As a parent, I don’t understand why mothers who wouldn’t drive their kids to a perv shop to buy them rape/murder fantasy porn would buy them GTA. That’s not blaming the medium of games, but the content. Games should neither get special blame nor a free pass not extended to other media.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Hi Commenter,

          Would you mind explaining this a little more? I am not really following the logic. Is it the same as reading the atrocities from war and seeing mangled flesh in real life? The difference is, that content is real and not imagined fantasy role playing like a video game.

          Don’t get me wrong, I am not a GTA fan, but it is an interesting conversation.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, I think we can agree that emotionally successful adults have separated the realms of fact and fiction to a good degree. A bunch of little boys will always go chop-socky on each other after watching Power Rangers, but adult fans of Game of Thrones don’t go around raping thirteen year olds no matter how much Martin encourages them. My four year old is truly horrified if I “kill” a pixilated cow in minecraft, but my ten year old son can be disturbed by fighting in real life while enjoying pvp in-game. (Though he still won’t kill the bunnies). Establishing the distinction between fact and fiction is part of growing up.

            I suggest that, whereas we adults are aware of two different realms, the borders aren’t as tight as we imagine. If they were, we wouldn’t cry at sappy movies. We wouldn’t elect politicians who act like movie cowboys. Novels wouldn’t affect how we see the world and understand our lives. And fantasy misogyny would stay safely locked up in the realm of fantasy.

            I understand the use of fantasy as an escape. It has long begun in childhood with fairy tales. When I read LOTR to my then seven year-old, I didn’t worry he’d start hacking at his friends with swords or run off in search of adventure. But I did imagine the bravery of Frodo and the faithfulness of Sam might stick with him. Most of the fantasy stays put, but some of it comes back with you. What might stick with the boy who watches Bakshi’s Wizards at that age? It’s just fantasy? I don’t think most people really believe the border control between reality and fantasy is perfect. And I don’t think we’re wrong.

            In any case, I recommend Tropes vs Women as well-produced, intellectually engaging, and a fun walk down video game memory lane, whether you agree with her assumptions and conclusions or not.

        • Greg Toppo
          Greg Toppo says:

          I think we can agree that GTA is not for children and that, as you say, any mom who wouldn’t indulge the trip to the perv shop shouldn’t buy it. Totally agree. Beyond that, though, I’d push back a bit on your magazine analogy. For one thing, some of the readers of How to Be an Asshole Weekly may be trying to figure out how to DEAL with the assholes in their lives, or how to be less of an asshole. Also, I’d say games actually do deserve a privileged spot, all other things being equal: An asshole game would allow a player to inhabit and think about his personality and how he interacts with others in a way the magazine can’t.
          Then again, there are a lot of great books about assholes and we not only don’t censor them — we put them on HS reading lists.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Greg, it seems to me that if games were used to ‘Inhabit and think about one’s personality,’ then the most useful game mechanics would replicate real-world consequences of being an asshole (like having no friends) rather than setting up vile behavior as the path to winning.

            I also suspect that fewer people would play those games.

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