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GameSpeak: Ctrl+Alt+Del

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

And the experiment continues.

Last week, we had a Q&A with Jack Thompson, a lawyer and video game regulation advocate.

Now we get another take on the issue, a viewpoint of those heard far less often: gamers and those who are actually members of video game culture.

This week's Q&A is with Tim Buckley of Ctrl+Alt+Del who shares what he, not just as a gamer but someone ingrained in gaming life, thinks about violence in gaming.

There will be more from gamers, parents and readers next week with Scott Ramsoomair of VG Cats, Claude Errera of and Jeff McAllister, site director of PlanetDoom.

What constitutes violence in video games?

The same things that constitute violence in real life constitute violence in video games. Blood and gore, for instance, is just as much violence in a video game as it is in real life. However there is a psychological difference with video games, in knowing that, just as in movies, what is happening on the screen is not real, and is stylized and even exaggerated.

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

I would say that easily at least half of all video games could be classified to contain some sort of violence. Even the original Mario game features Mario stomping on the head of goombas. I'm sure that, while not bloody or gory, could be construed as a form of violence.

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

Very, very few. I think it may seem like more just because the ones that are in any way related to a video game get so much publicity, it gives us the impression that it's a constant issue, an epidemic even.

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

I'm sure that males are more prone to aggression than females, and younger people may not have the life experience necessary to properly differentiate between right and wrong. But this is the case with everything growing up. Nobody is born knowing right from wrong. That is something that is taught. Parents either teach it to their kids the right way, or ignore their kids and let television and video games do it for them.

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

I don't believe so. I think that if someone plays a video game, and then goes out and harms another human being, or themselves because of what they just saw in the video game, they were screwed up in the head long before they got their hands on a controller. In my profession I have met thousands and thousands of gamers, all of whom have played the same type of violent video games that I have, and we've managed not to kill each other.

Is gaming escapism?

Gaming absolutely is escapism, in the exact same way that a book is. It allows you to be someone else, to go on adventures and experiences that you would never be able to do on your own, and to do some from the comfort and safety of your own home. And I also feel that it is a healthy way to relieve some natural stress and aggression, in the same way a punching bag would be. If you had a bad day at work, better to come home and let loose in a video game than to let loose on your friends and relatives.

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

I think that violence is violence, and that if someone doesn't have the capacity to differentiate between real life and fiction, that they have a problem that precedes their exposure to violence in the media.

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?

It most certainly is part of the cycle. People will find any reason they can get their hands on to shift possible blame off of themselves.

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?

As with any rating system, it's only as good as the people who enforce it. There is no "magic system" that will automatically keep mature games out of the hands of kids. If we put an "Adults Only" tag on a video game, but then the parent still goes out and buys it for their child, or the store clerk still sells it to a minor, nobody turns and yells at the parent, or fires the store clerk. That same parent will even turn around and attack the video game companies for putting out a violent game, when it was their own ignorance that placed it into the hands of their child

How does free speech factor in?

I think that free speech should cover video games as well. Quite simply, the free speech amendment states that people have the right to speak their mind, and if someone else doesn't like what they are hearing, they have the right not to listen. So how is it different for video games?

Video game companies have the right to make the games that they feel are entertaining, and if a parent or someone else doesn't want to play it, or doesn't want their kids to have it, they have the simple choice not to buy it. It's really not terribly difficult to keep an eye on what your kid is playing, or doing with their life.

If your kid gets his hands on a game that he shouldn't be playing, you take it away and discipline him. But some parents just can't be bothered with raising their own child. They expect others to simply stop producing things that they feel their child shouldn't be playing, instead of regulating the child's behavior.

Are parents paying attention to what their kids play?

Some do, certainly. Not all of them do. And the ones that don't are the first ones to start crying when they've found out their kid has gotten a hold of a violent video game, or heaven forbid, that they've bought one for their child themselves.

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?

The goal of any competition is to win.

We hear stories about football players getting drunk, doing drugs, raping girls at parties, injuring people in bars, etc. But I don't hear anyone suggesting that we ban high school football. Aggression is part of competition sometimes. Most people can separate competitive aggression from using aggression to solve trivial problems. Some people can't, and you'll find these people in any hobby imaginable, not just video games. I'm sure that at one point or another a golfer snapped and beat someone to death with a 7-iron.

Let's ban golf, shall we?

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 that there are very many deaths that are directly linked to video games. However, in any violent instance that does arise, if there is even a video game system in the ROOM, the media will jump to point out that the violence must be somehow related. Or the parents will, out of reluctance to admit that perhaps it was a lack of attention or shoddy supervision that lead to a tragedy.

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

There will always be a scapegoat.

Comic books, movies, video games, whatever. People will find any reason that they can to make it someone or something else's fault.

I think that bad parenting has a lot to do with it. Parents who don't pay attention to what their child is doing, or can't be bothered with taking some time out of their own lives to keep tabs on their kids. Parents who want television to raise their kids for them. But that's not to say that perfect parenting is the answer either.

It's entirely possible that even in the most loving, attentive family possible, a child could have some sort of learning defect, or other abnormality that wouldn't allow him to properly differentiate reality from fantasy, or right from wrong. There are so many factors that need to be taken into account, but to say that video games are the sole culprit is irresponsible and naive.

And to deny everyone, all of us who do know the difference between video games and reality, when parents could simply moderate their child's video games on a case-by-case basis as they saw fit, is completely ridiculous.

Author's note: Due to the volume of questions I've received about this GameSpeak Q&A series, I feel that I should clarify some points.

First, I purposely avoided follow-ups for this round (as I said in the first column, this is an experiment – one with no end in sight). There are reasons that I structured things the way I did: I wanted everyone to respond to the same questions and I knew I wouldn't be able to duplicate tangents with each individual.

I was also trying very hard to avoid adding any of my own editorial input. Since I personally have extremely strong feelings about this issue, I had to keep myself in check and not go on my own rant, hence the very cut and dry Q&A format.

The real purpose of this series is to open the debate floor and let everyone involved say what they want. I chose not to correct anyone interviewed. I wanted people to see what was said in the rawest form I can print.

And finally, this is not the end of the series. I'm looking forward to speaking with more authors, more gamers, more lawyers, anyone with a strong opinion.

I think we really need to hear from some politicians, don't you?

Everyone should sound off.

I encourage it.
By William Vitka