Various experts and parents are concerned about the effects of violence in video games and music. While I’m not a fan of first-person shooter games (antidotally the most popular and, by definition, quite violent), I’m not worried about most players taking up arms and going after their enemies. Studies have frequently downplayed the correlation between video games and violence, though I’m sympathetic to the idea that the negative effects of exposure can’t always be quantified in studies. So, Craig Anderson:
The 14-year-old boy arguing that he has played violent video games for years and has not ever killed anybody is absolutely correct in rejecting the extreme “necessary and sufficient” position, as is the 45-year-old two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker who notes that he still does not have lung cancer. But both are wrong in inferring that their exposure to their respective risk factors (violent media, cigarettes) has not causally increased the likelihood that they and people around them will one day suffer the consequences of that risky behavior.
But the question of violence is not my question today, but is related. Many video games have the concept of ‘lives’ that you can lose instantly and earn more (often effortlessly) of. My boys enjoy playing Super Mario Bros and (the comically excellent) Lego Star Wars on the Wii. In Mario, a player can get more live by collecting coins or green mushrooms. There are unlimited continues, ensuring that you can always play, regardless of your performance or choices. In Lego Star Wars you never fully die; after four severe hits (unless you gain more health), you dissolve into Lego pieces and return immediately.
There’s no way to quantify it, but I wonder how a generation raised with video games views death. Is there a correlation in one’s mind between frequent deaths on screen and with life in general. When someone dies in real life, it’s the ultimate game over. Death is the big enemy, not something that sets us back a few points.
Am I making too much of this? Maybe. Even my young boys recognize the fictitious nature of games and the cartoony characters. And their flippant references to my grandparents who passed last year are easily excusable for small children. But I wonder if there’s a difference in perception between a rural generation with a high infant mortality rate, for whom even the death of an animal was either an economic tragedy or a necessary part of nutrition, without violent movies and video games and a generation that enjoys relatively great health, and does not generally see real death in any form with any regularity.
Maybe it would help if, when your character died in a video game, you couldn’t play that video game for a week or so. Enough time to remember the finality of death, but to also get your money’s worth.
I suppose I’m just concerned that society has a high regard for life, or at least a higher one.