Video games are huge these days, and unless you are still challenging your grandfather to games of Pong, you have probably noticed that video games have improved drastically in our lifetime. Today’s video game graphics have evolved simultaneously with computer-hardware technology, which means that games with realistic and jaw-dropping visuals have become industry standard. While popular culture still treats gaming as niche, the industry pulled almost $20 billion in revenue in 2009, an increase of 250 percent since the beginning of the decade. Sixty-five percent of households in the U.S. own a game console, further proving the growing power that interactive media has over the next generation of Americans.
This new power has caused many people to look at games with harsher scrutiny. Video games that are violent are often subject to heated controversy from angry parents who see their kids glorifying guns, car theft, and gang violence. A game using religious background music was recalled from shelves after outcries from certain religious groups. Take Two, a game developer and publishing company, had to pay $20 million because of a sex scene found in a Grand Theft Auto, a game that was already riddled with sex, violence, and drug use, that was only accessible to those who could hack their copy of the game.
Even further, there have been claims of racism in recent video games. For example, Mafia 2 was deemed a “pile of racist nonsense” by Unico National, an Italian-American service organization. The group argued that the game would cause younger Americans to associate Italian-Americans with violence and organized crime. Another game, Left for Dead 2, was accused of being racist by a blogger from The Houston Chronicle. His argument was that by including African-American zombies that a player has to shoot, you make the game unpublishable and racist.
However, it must be acknowledged that elements of race-based caricaturing have been accepted in video games since the inception of the first console. The poster boy for Nintendo, Mario the plumber, was first introduced in 1981 and has since appeared in some 200 games. Many can argue that his appearance and mannerisms represent horrible Italian-American stereotypes, but has Mario really been bad for America? Additionally, the Punch Out! series of video games from 1987 has the main character battle ethnic stereotypes with names after their respective cuisines (Pizza Pasta and Vodka Drunkenski). Much of the hysteria regarding irreligiousness, racism, and general tastelessness in video games is, in fact, due to an oversensitive public.
The general public needs to stop terrorizing the video-game industry. Like novels, video games tell a story of an alternate reality, where the reader or player can escape to for a few hours at a time. Yet, the consumers of video games feel entitled to be able to demand the content that they wish to be sold. Games with lots of violence, sex, or otherwise objectionable content would not be sold if nobody wanted to buy them, and if one doesn’t want to be subjected to its content they can simply not play those games. There is no requirement to buy video games, and a consumer can avoid ones that they don’t want to play by looking at the ratings that are required to be put directly on the front of each game. If parents are concerned, they should more closely monitor the games that their children play.
Game developers have a job to create the most captivating, quality games they can make, not to spread social commentary. Settings such as the Civil War, post-Katrina St. Louis, and World War II may push buttons with some, but they are just as valid for use in a video game as a setting in a novel. It’s important to lend respect to these video-game developers as much as you would to author or an artist. Ultimately, as consumers, we have the ability to dictate the content we receive by buying only the things we want to see and boycotting products that we don’t find suitable.
Peter L. Knudson ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House.