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GameSpeak: Claude Errera

GameCore is a weekly column by's William Vitka and Chad Chamberlain that focuses on gamers and gaming.

In our ongoing GameSpeak Q&A series, one specific point of contention seems to be how violent entertainment affects children.

With that in mind, who better to speak about violence in gaming than a gamer who has children?

Claude Errera runs, proclaimed by Halo's creators to be the ultimate Halo fansite. He is a gamer and a parent. Now, he shares his thoughts on violence in gaming from that unique perspective.

What constitutes violence in videogames?

Violence in video games is the same thing as violence in real life - abusive application of force. Mostly, we're talking about the hurting or killing of human or non-human characters, controlled by either other players or the computer ... but we can certainly get wider with that scope.

What percentage of all games made would you say are violent, based upon your previous definition of violence in video games?

Almost all video games are violent to some degree. Even games like Tetris exhibit some level of violence - when you complete a row of blocks, they explode.

How many hate or violent crimes would you say are linked to or directly related to violence in video games?

I think that while there are certainly some crimes that can be linked to video games, the people who committed them would almost certainly have committed similar crimes WITHOUT the influence of video games; I believe that those tendencies are there, or not there, in each of us, regardless of game playing.

Does age or sex play a factor in violent, aggressive behavior?

It certainly seems that the onset of puberty in males, with its increase in testosterone production and corresponding inexperience with control, brings about some of the biggest rise in violent aggression. In general, aggression seems greater in men than in women - probably because of the higher concentrations of certain hormones, and because of societal forces.

Is there a correlation between playing violent video games and acting in a violent manner?

I think the answer is yes - in some people. However, for this group, almost any exciting activity would cause a similar increase in violent behavior.

Is gaming escapism?

Of course gaming is escapism - so is any form of entertainment that provides the opportunity to remove oneself from day-to-day activities. This isn't a good or bad thing, by itself.

I'm not sure that natural aggression can be 'channeled' - I haven't seen evidence that an aggressive person will be less aggressive towards others after watching violent television or playing violent games, and I don't think that people who aren't prone to aggressive outbursts will find themselves WANTING to be aggressive in person after playing a game like this. Aggressive people might find that they're more 'riled up' after an intense gaming session - but they'd probably be 'riled up' after a football game, as well.

Do you think the interactivity of game violence makes it different than violence on television, which is passive?

My first instinct is to say 'yes' - but I can't think of any specific examples of end results that differ depending on whether interaction is active or passive. There are certainly plenty of cases where fans at a sporting event (passive watchers) got out of hand ... and anyone who's watched a hockey game can see the same sort of behavior from the ice itself, when players are pushed too hard. I've never heard of a riot breaking out at a LANfest ... and I don't know of any cases of a crowd walking out of a theatre showing Terminator or something and trashing the parking lot.

Different mediums, as they've come along, have had their share of controversy. From pulp horror, graphic novels, to movies, music and television; is this part of a cycle?

There have always been entertainment media appropriate for adults but not for children. The problem today is that there are more and more outlets for entertainment in general, and it has become harder and harder to control all avenues. The job of parents has become harder; now, it is not enough to simply limit what our children see, it is now necessary to teach them how to handle what they DO see, and at a younger age than was previously necessary.

Is the self-imposed rating system for video games enough? Is the ESRB working? What is the relevance of a rating system for video games if the powers that be will black-list certain games because of their graphic content?

The rating system seems to be pretty accurate; guidelines for the various ratings are clearly delineated, and game manufacturers know what they need to add (or remove) if they're not happy with the rating their game receives. It is up to parents to make use of this system - to use the ratings as a resource to help them decide what's appropriate for their children. Deviating from the rules that govern how ratings are assigned can do nothing but weaken a system whose strength lies in impartiality and fairness.

How does free speech factor in?

Free speech is (in my opinion) subordinate to parental duty - if a parent believes that a certain product is harmful for his or her child, that parent has the right to say 'no,' regardless of whether the purveyor of the product believes that THEY have the right to SHOW it to the child.

Again, though, it's up to parents to exercise this right.

Are parents paying attention to what their kids play?

In some cases, yes, very well. In others, no, parents aren't paying any attention at all to what their children are doing. This hasn't changed in all of history.

Do you think that video games are similar to sports? There are much-touted statistics that link aggression levels to video game playing, but isn't that precisely what happens in any kind of competition?

Yes. I think that almost any activity that encourages competition will also encourage aggression - since aggression can help you win. Attacking a quarterback to keep him from throwing the next pass has the same potential for building real-world aggression as killing a Covenant Elite to keep him from glassing the next planet.

According to the Center for Child Death Review, 1,242 kids were murdered with guns and 174 children died from accidental firearm-related injuries in 2000. Aside from stories that get covered in the news [like Columbine], there are few, if any, actual statistics that show how many children's deaths are directly linked to video games. Do the facts speak for themselves? Or is it just that nobody is really keeping tabs?

I don't think I could say anything at all about those statistics without seeing trends (how many were killed in 1999? 1995? 1990?), or what other factors are involved. I wouldn't say they're meaningless without context ... but they're certainly very difficult to interpret in any useful way.

Jack Thompson said, "The federal government found that in the school year 2003, there were 48 school killings. The year before that there were 16, and the year before that 17. Something is going on. I submit that the video game generation is coming of age."

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Check the numbers in the 90's - rates of school killings are roughly where they've been for a dozen years.

I checked those numbers with the NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] sources; they're accurate.

It's all a crock.

Where does the accountability lie? Are parents responsible for their children's behavior? Society?

Parents are responsible for what their kids play, and for how they interpret what they play. Blaming society is a cop-out.

In the next GameSpeak, we'll hear from Jeff McAllister, site director of PlanetDoom.

By William Vitka

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