5 Myths About Video Games

5 Myths About Video Games

I think I’ve well established the fact that I’m a gamer. I like experiencing stories, whether it be puzzling it out through a point-and-click or making the tough choices thrown my way in an RPG. Despite the growing popularity of the gaming industry, people still cling to certain myths surrounding the media.

1. Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior
It seems in the wake of every major tragedy these days, this myth pours out of the wood-work. The obvious causes of violence are ignored in favor of the second amendment, so we need something else to blame (blame is apparently very important to establish in the wake of tragedy). In the past it was music, movies and TV that got the heat for people turning to acts of gross violence but today the favorite scapegoat is video-games. Why? Because video games are interactive, thus allowing people to ‘live out their violent fantasies.’

I think the TGS podcast covered this one best back in January; there have been a long list of studies on the correlation between video games and violence and the best answer anyone can come up with is that the evidence is inconclusive. Or as this article by Psychology Today puts it: “As for the question of whether video games are really harmful, the lack of a clear answer after decades of research suggest that the real problem may well lie with our not being able to ask the right questions.”

Video games don’t cause violence any more than ice cream causes polio. People who play violent video games and then commit acts of horrific violence usually have other reasons for turning to violence. Such as mental disorders. Which begs the question; who thought letting them play violent video games was a good idea in the first place? People can keep beating the dead horse, but it isn’t going to get back up and start walking.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that justifies the inclusion of gratuitous and pointless violence in video games, but there’s no reason for people to get their knickers in a twist every time such a game pops into existence. Myself and a few friends liked to try to get the army to come after us in Grand Theft Auto back in high school, but to my knowledge all three of us are still upstanding, well-reasoned citizens who wouldn’t ever consider taking a gun into a shopping mall.

2. Video Games are Addictive in the same manner as Drugs
Parents have been abuzz with talk of ‘video game addiction’ for several years now. Even gamers sometimes refer to games as addictive and talk about having to break their addiction. But I’d wager most gamers are joking. Video games don’t produce a chemical in our brains that make us want to sit around like drooling zombies in front of our computers or game consoles all day. In fact, the first ever addiction clinic in Europe claims that video game addiction can’t be treated in the same manner as other types of addiction.

It isn’t the repetitive behavior to which gamers become ‘addicted.’ Instead, the owner of the clinic suggests that video game addiction is a social problem, rather than a psychological one. Gamers who become ‘addicted’ to games usually have difficulty tearing themselves away from their virtual worlds specifically because of what awaits them in the real world. These gamers are usually shy, bullied or have difficulty finding acceptance when dealing with people face-to-face for various other reasons.

In the online world of a game, you get to decide who you want to be. Sometimes you get to make your character look however you want, but even when you don’t, no one can see your real face. Much of the time they can’t hear your real voice either. So people are able to present themselves however they want. This anonymity and lack of consequence can lead to a lot of rude behavior. But it can also make it much easier for some people to connect socially. It’s the social interaction, the feeling of acceptance that people become addicted to.

Unfortunately there’s a great deal of choice involved in video game ‘addiction.’ People who spend all their time playing online games usually know they need to stop, or cut back, or tend to other areas of their lives. But they choose to devote the time to gaming instead because it makes them happier than facing their real lives. The simple cure for video game addiction is a good, solid support base outside the game. All things in moderation, and in moderation video games are harmless.

3. Women Don’t Play/Aren’t Interested in Video Games
The primary audience for video games seems to be men. Especially young men around the age of 18-24. There’s been a great deal of talk about sexism in the video game industry of late and whenever I read the articles I’m shocked at the number of people who still think video games are an exclusive male market (and shocked by the number of people who would make comments found on the other side of that link. This is 2013 people, seriously).

I don’t really need to link to another article for this one because I’m living proof that women enjoy video games. My first game was Super Mario Brothers (the original) on the Nintendo Home Entertainment System. My first computer game was Final Fantasy VII. And every weekend I login to Guild Wars 2 with my husband and a friend for various activities.

This myth might perpetuate itself because it isn’t uncommon for women to play male characters in online games. I have one male character in GW2 and he just so happens to be my primary character, so it’s the character people find me playing most often. I think that some women choose to play male characters out of a desire to camouflage themselves. Women are generally treated better by other gamers if they believe her to be male. In my case, it’s just that the particular character I wanted to make first happened to be a guy. But it’s also true that men tend to play female characters in online games (not always to stare at the boobs that video game designers just can’t figure out how to cover), so you’re just as likely to be talking to a guy when you’re talking to a female character.

In a certain sense I like that because it puts everyone on an equal playing field. We’re all gamers. Male, female, it doesn’t matter (and it shouldn’t matter). So all the teenaged boys (mental and physical ages alike) on YouTube shouting in poorly typed comments that video games are for men and women need to STFU really need to pull their heads out of their asses. Which brings us to our next myth…

4. Men Don’t/Won’t/Aren’t Interested in Playing as Female Characters
Game developers these days struggle to come up with interesting, unique character designs. I’m not going to complain about games having male protagonists. I happen to like a long list of male protagonists. But it would be nice if women didn’t always have to have large breasts and hit on the main character to get screen time in a video game. I think the recent kerfuffle over Lara Croft’s history in the new Tomb Raider game shows we still have long way to go before game developers really understand what draws a player to their main character.

Because it’s ridiculous to think that men can’t identify with strong female characters or aren’t interested in doing so. In fact this rather lengthy article about the difference between male and female Shepard in Mass Effect 2 illustrates that many men are choosing female characters because they find them more interesting. Young white man with rippling muscles and stubble saves the world/steals all the cars/does all the things has frankly been done to death. Gamers seem hungry for a chance to connect with someone even remotely different than your average cookie-cutter protagonist. Yet game developers seem to think the only way to appeal to the broadest audience is to keep appealing to young men – because clearly young men are the only ones who play video games (see above).

It’s a vicious cycle, one I hope we’ll break out of fairly soon. Maybe when game developers start taking the ladies on their staff seriously (seriously guys, do this).

5. Video Games are for Children (and thus not a viable form of critical media)
There seem to be a lot of things in our society we regulate to the realm of ‘for kids.’ Cartoons and video games seem foremost among them. But studies show that the average age of gamers is increasing. Probably because those of us who grew up on Super Mario Brothers and Sonic are entering our thirties and haven’t lost our love of the media. And while I’m sure there are still plenty of kids falling in love with video games and taking up the mantle of gamer-for-life, that doesn’t mean we should regulate video games to the realm of children. Because doing so inevitably resigns every attempt to use video games as a medium for serious messages to triviality.

There are those who believe video games can’t be utilized to send a deeper message. The author of the Witcher books (on which the Witcher video games are based), claims that the only way to tell a valid story is via novel (so much for movies). He firmly believes the success of his books is in no way related to the Witcher video games and openly admits he agreed to allow the games to be made for the money. But I’ve seen a fair bit of the Witcher 2 and I’d argue the story is excellent. It certainly seems a shame to dismiss the topics broached by the story simply because they appear in a video game. In fact it’s the kind of tough choices games like that force you to make that allow video games to broach important political and social ideas in ways other media can’t manage. Because instead of being a passive observer, you must actively participate in the events of a video game, sometimes forcing you to live with the consequences of your decisions. And video games aren’t and shouldn’t be limited to topics meant for children.

As for whether or not someone can take a medium supposedly reserved for children and use it to create something relative to adults… well have you seen the first ten minutes of Up?

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