The belief that the media we consume affects us negatively is not a new idea. The debate that arose twenty years ago when the Entertainment Software Rating Board (or ESRB) was created to inform consumers of the violent content of video games was far from the beginning. It started with the advent of organized society. Governments have a long history of banning, imprisoning, and even executing any author or journalist for writing articles and books deemed a “bad influence on the public.”
Today, governments threaten to unleash a firing squad that would shoot giant stickers on video game boxes stating that, “Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.”
This movement arrives in the middle of the battle that was documented by the Wall Street Journal between Jane McGonigal, game designer and advocate for the benefits of video games on gamers in the real world, and Edward Castronova, Indiana University professor who questions the extent of Ms. McGonigal’s claims. Ms. McGonigal states that putting people in the role of “hero” in a video game makes players aware of their best selves. Professor Castronova claims that though we have already integrated video games into our lives, all media scholars agree that too much use points to the frivolity of games—that all games come to the same conclusion of valor, without showing players that everybody has varied views on what constitutes honor and morality.
I would otherwise jump to Ms. McGonigal’s side, using myself as an example of someone who has been bettered by games, someone who believes that video games can indeed do us good as a society. But that is too easy, and it will never banish the naysayers to the land of believers, no matter how hard Ms. McGonigal fights to prove that games can make us better people.
Instead, I will step out of the warzone, look away from what arguments are on the table, and look inside of myself. Why is my life better because of video games? Why am I confronted with my best self when I assume the role of [insert popular RPG character name here]? Why am I a better person now after I played [insert game here]?
I know my answers to those questions, and I will not explain them in detail here. This is why:
I believe that before we point fingers at video games or certain video game companies for promoting violent behavior, we have to remind ourselves that we are responsible for our own actions. We are responsible for controlling how the media we consume affects us. Parents are responsible for controlling how the media their children consume affects them. Whatever that entails is up to you to decide. You are reading this blog post, and you probably also read the Wall Street Journal articles by Jane McGonigal and Edward Castronova, and you are probably deciding for yourself right now what you think of all of them, which you choose to believe, and which one affected you the most.
You are in control. You are in control of how a video game affects you. Does it raise your moral values? Or does it threaten to lower them? Do you focus on the blood that results from the fight, or do you focus on the story, what your character learns in the game, and in turn, what YOU learn from the game?
You can choose to dismiss video games as an art or as a viable piece of entertainment. You can choose to connect yourself with the experience of a game, BE the character you played on screen, feel his or her emotions and learn what he or she learns. In any case, the good and bad in a video game are found within. How do video games truly affect us? The answer: you decide.