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COMMENT: Violent Video Games Can Make Us Better People

Video games have been stigmatised throughout their entire existence.

Video Games
Video games have been stigmatised throughout their entire existence.
 
The industry has come a long way from labyrinthine PC text adventures and the crude but charming Pong machines, yet the stereotype of angry basement dwelling single adolescents persists.  
 
There seems to be an endless stream of studies making sweeping claims that games cause young men to become violent – including a recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) which claims to have definitive evidence of direct links to raised levels of aggression.
 
It would be easy to dismiss this study and others like it for failing to show a necessary causal link between playing games and becoming more violent.
 
The headlines ignore the many studies that show no links between violence and games because they would be boring headlines. 
 
More cynically only certain studies make the headlines because they feed into the narrative of a conservative non game-playing public who seek to demonise games based on factually incorrect stereotypes.
 
Games rather than being the enemy to the upstanding citizen can be powerful tools to teach us about the horrors of war, what it means to be a solider and question the moral complexities of violence. 
 
 
The ground-breaking 1998 game Metal Gear Solid raised the bar for interactive cinematic experiences.
 
The game, which features a covert agent Snake trying to prevent a nuclear war, wrestles with themes of the advancements in weapons technology, the psychological conditioning of soldiers, the glorification of war and countless other significant themes few artworks dare to cover.
 
In a particularly memorable scene you fight against Sniper Wolf fatally injuring her.
 
Throughout the game she has portrayed the archetypical stock villain through melodramatic antics and Hollywood quips.
 
However as she dies by your hands you learn of her history as a Kurdish freedom fighter, how she was born into war and how she despises it. You learn about the ambiguities of war.
 
Metal Gear Solid: The above click is rated for those 16 years of age and up
 
Perhaps more powerfully in the lauded Spec Ops: The Line you play as a gruff American solider sent in to ‘save the day’ in a fictional conflict in Dubai.
 
While starting off very much as your typical run and gun shooter, the game (a re-telling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) slowly revels its darker nature as a mature and unique exploration of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
 
The true game starts when you unintentionally attack civilians with white phosphorus.
 
The game takes every opportunity to make contemplate your horrendous actions, actions which it forced you to take. Just as the book before it criticised the brutality of British colonialism the game looks at some the consequences of Neo Conservative Imperialism.   
 
Spec Ops: The Line - The above clip contains scenes of graphic violence and is rated for those over 18 years of age 
 
There exists countless other examples of violent games which benefit us aesthetically, precisely because of their violence.
 
The violence, whilst not to everyone’s taste, is just as critical as the violence portrayed in A Clockwork Orange, Grimms Tales or the work of Francis Bacon. Not all games have the same level of maturity and significance, just as all books and films don’t.
 
Many games can rightly be criticised for reinforcing negative stereotypes about other cultures, genders etc. Consumers need to look for better more mature games. Those who do will be rewarded with some of the greatest insights into the complexities of war art has to offer.    
 
William Warren is a video editor and games journalist.