Originally published on May 18, 2017.
Recently I was assigned a college paper that consisted of reviewing a video game. “Are you kidding me, I’m actually paying for this?” Was my response in the vaguest of terms. Although I am very aware of their immense popularity, I know nothing about video games nor do I play them. Due to their overwhelming acceptance, some of the information I provide here may be old news to you, but it was new news to me and what I found was shocking.
Popular games in a specific genre such as Grand Theft Auto have been the center of ample controversy. Many psychological studies have been performed to determine if these video game which condones violence, are linked to increased aggression. Analyzing whether there is a link between long-term exposure to games such as these and the moral apathy of the generations playing them, has been debated. Several video games are synonymous with murder, gender violence and the purchase of illegal sex. Players are actually rewarded for buying illegal sex. There are two camps in the arena of psychological study as to whether video games actually produce violent behavior. Although the American Psychology Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that violent video games should not be played by children and young adults, due to a potential adverse effect of increased aggression, other research shows that gaming may actually decrease aggression. Overall studies have found there is no evidence linking exposure to such games with gender violence or increased purchase of illegal sex.
Brad Bushman (2014) of Psychology Today stated, “One problem with violent video games is that they discourage players from exercising self-control. For example, in Grand Theft Autoplayers can steal cars, have illegal sex (then kill her afterwards to get their money back), and kill other characters including police officers. Rather than being punished for such behaviors, players are rewarded.” This has the potential to be an explosive cultural issue. But again there is no solid proof that video games lead to aggressive behavior, sexual violence or the purchase of illegal sex.
How does playing games such as these affect our world views? Is the buying and selling of illegal sex and violence in video games a form of anger management? (This theory has been signified on many occasions). And if this is a form of anger management, could it potentially lead to people acting out these violent scenarios in real life, with the impression that there would be no consequences? The answer is yes and there is proof.
Anita Sarkeesian, a pop culture critic set out on a campaign in 2012 to create awareness in the media about the opposed sexism and sexual exploitation in video games. Anita’s endeavor, Trope verses Video Games was a project that took a feminist view on women’s roles in these virtual realities. During her undertaking, Sarkeesian became the center of an epic cyber mobbing, which was initiated by anonymous online gamers. This unnamed mob, who claimed to be defending their right to purchase illegal sex virtually, hacked all of Anita’s social media accounts and distributed her private information. They crashed her website. She received thousands of emails and messages containing threats of violence, murder, and rape. The perpetrators created fake pornographic images of Anita and circulated them all over the world-wide-web. They also created an interactive knock-out computer game containing images of Ms. Sarkeesin. The premise of the game was to physically harm the main character which was Anita. Other bloggers and reviewers on the internet that claimed to support her work were also volatilely harassed.
Should such acts be labeled as common cyberbullying? Or are these actions by definition gender-based violence, subjugation of women and aggression with intent to harm? Although there is no “evidence” that video games have initiated violent behavior, I urge us to look at the context here. The framework of such video games glorifies the purchase of illegal sex, gender oppression, and sexual violence. The attacks made on Ms. Sarkeesian by the participants of these games reeks of gender violence. The notion that these strikes are not evidence of violent behavior in association with video games seems a general disregard for critical thinking and compassion.
Now any gamer you talk to will claim that exposure to such virtual scenarios does not change the psyche, nor is it unsafe by nature. We also know that the attacks against Anita are not a representation of the entire gaming population. There are many claims online that the purchase of illegal sex and gender violence is not the main objective of most video games. The women soliciting sex in these games are claimed to be nothing more than props, which set the tone for the game’s seedy realities. Yet an intention of the game is situated around the idea that having illegal sex is beneficial. Your player will actually gain more body strength and a longer life span. There are also several websites that produce an annual list of, “The Ten Best Strip Clubs and Brothels in Video Games.” I don’t think it is any secret that ten best lists in our culture focus on the most attractive features of places and products to drives sales.
Despite the violence and virtual reality debate which was reiterated by Cheryl Olson, public health specialist at Harvard University who stated, “One contingent warns that violent games reduce empathy and effective anger management skills. The other rebuts that such research is just playing into moral panic.” (Greenwood, 2010, p. 3). There is plenty of evidence that certain video games not only lead to a lack of empathy but gender violence. This is not a debate and yes we should be concerned. How else could we possibly label Anita Sarkeesian’s story?
How we spend our time matters. Sometimes things that may seem innocent are subtle attacks on the mind and the heart. In our culture we are inundated with images of gender subjugation, so let’s make sure we guard our hearts.
For more information on this topic watch Anita Sarkeesian’s Tedx Women’s talk, “Online Attacks Against Activist Who Oppose Sexism and Sexual Exploitation.”
Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking. She has been a tattoo artist for two decades, who owns and operates Inflicting Beauty Tattoo Studio with her husband in Florida.
Greenwood, Dara. “Grand Theft Auto Is Good for You? Not So Fast…” Scientific American, Nature America, Inc., 2010, https://www.scientificamerica.com. Accessed 23 April 2017.
Bushman, Brad. “Violent Video Games Decreases Self-Control.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2014. https://psychologytoday.com/basics/sex. Accessed 23 April 2017.