Sunday, January 30, 2011

Censorship of Violence in Video Games

Violence has been a part of video games since their inception.  There are entire genres of video games, such as the first person shooters, which require the player to commit acts of violence to progress by nature of their design.  As the visuals in video games become more and more realistic due to more powerful computer hardware, these fictional depictions of violence can become difficult to distinguish from reality.

Some have accused violent video games of inspiring real life acts of violence.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the infamous perpetrators of the Columbine school shooting, were known to play video games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D.  Some have argued that after getting in trouble and having their computer use restricted, the pair was forced to seek alternate means to vent their anger.  In a move that can only be taken as either a brilliant act of artistic creation or a display of complete tastelessness, an independent party has created a role playing game depiction of the shootings.

Several governments have implemented measures to restrict graphic depictions of violence in video games.  In Australia, after controversy over violent video games such as Mortal Kombat, a classification scheme for video games was introduced in 1994; games which did not meet the fairly strict requirements for a MA 15+ rating were effectively banned.  This has lead to situations such as the release of Left 4 Dead 2 in 2009, where after having their game rejected by the Australian Classification Board, the developers were forced to create a version of the game with toned down gore in order to sell their game in the Australian market.

The game play of Left 4 Dead 2 involves the player and three other survivors cooperating to fight off a seemingly endless onslaught of infected, humans who have contracted a virus which transforms them into a violent zombie-like state, using a diverse array of close quarters and ranged weaponry.  In the "uncensored" version of the game, the player's weapons can cause grotesque damage to the infected, severing limbs and causing body parts to explode.  During intense battles, the player's screen can become so inundated with blood splatters that it can be difficult to play the game.  The level of gore is strongly toned down in the Australian version.  The player's weapons no longer causes the infected to graphically lose body parts, the amount of blood produced during combat is drastically reduced, and the screen no longer becomes clouded by blood splatters.  However, even though the gore is reduced, the core gameplay of the game is still, at its essence, highly violent.

Examples such as the Australian release of Left 4 Dead 2 have been criticized as examples of government censorship.  In the United States, fictional depictions of violence in video games are relatively unrestricted, although games with sexual content such as The Witcher have had "censored" versions released for the American market.  Government restrictions on the content of video games are especially contentious as there does not appear to be a clear correlation between playing video games and aggressive behavior.  If violent content in video games cannot be shown to have an effect on aggressive behavior, how can this censorship be justified and does a government have a right to restrict the content in video games in the first place?  Furthermore, how can such a rule be fairly enforced?  It would be difficult to quantify the level of violence in a video game - or sexuality or any other quality worthy of censorship, for that matter - and the classification schemes in place rely on an entirely subjective judgement call.


  1. The law should be based on empirical evidence in this case. Smoking has been empirically linked to health problems in the smoker and people near the smoker, so laws are in place to reduce smoking. Violent video games have not been empirically linked to violent behavior for the consumer so the law need not restrict them.

    However, violent behavior is only one negative effect. If it can be empirically shown that violent video games hurt child development then the law ought to restrict sales to minors, which it does in many places.

  2. I will argue that there is a good amount of censorship in violent video games inherent in the rating system imposed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB is an official rating system used to rate video games on the basis of the quantity of violence, sex, drugs, and alcohol use found in a game to categorize them for the correct age groups. One may notice a trend in video games having more “realistic” violence in them as technology evolves and allows for greater detail, but the amount of violence available in a games has reached an asymptote somewhere around the Mature (M) rating. The last thing a video game company want to do is cross the line into the Adults Only (AO) rating, where sales reach an abysmal low: have you ever even seen a game with an AO rating? Therefore the reason why even in America, we don’t see more disemboweling, sodomy, and killing of children (scenes common in Blood Meridian), is not our technological limitations, but censorship in the US caused by the ESRB.


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