Evidenced by the extreme difference between Pong and Call of Duty, video games have undoubtedly evolved over time. Gamers have gone from playing simplistic arcade games with basic objectives to engaging in expansive worlds and battlefields that often blur the line between reality and fantasy. While this type of development is certainly praiseworthy and seemingly harmless, many of today’s video games are instilling harmful behaviors within their audience. Whether this concerns the potential correlation between real-life aggression and video game violence or a teenage girl’s distorted outlook towards success, this particular entertainment outlet is powerfully impacting the lives of individuals. Let us not cast a shadow on the positive effects of video games, though, as new devices are also improving the intellectual capabilities of many gamers—both those in their youth, as well as the older community. For the purpose of this exercise, there will be emphasis on both the constructive and adverse effects of video games.
Violence has unquestionably become more prevalent within today’s video games. While there are certainly a considerable amount of sci-fi shooters that include aliens and fantasy enemies, many other titles have taken a more realistic avenue. One series in particular that has received a lot of scrutiny is the Grand Theft Auto collection—where the gamer has a free-roam ability to wreak havoc anywhere within an environment (loosely based off of actual cities, including San Francisco and New York City). While I have played—and enjoyed—many of the installments, I can admit that the freedom within these games is dangerous. I experienced this danger firsthand when I would leave my house after playing Grand Theft Auto, where I often had a strange desire to steal cars or to drive recklessly. Needless to say, I would never do these things, but knowing that this game had a lasting effect on my thought process gave me reason to worry—especially for people who are more susceptible to these influences. Although many people can separate this type of extreme violence from real-life scenarios, we should remind ourselves that all it takes is one person to misinterpret the severity of this content for something catastrophic to take place—such as the Columbine shooting (in this case, two people).
While males are usually associated with violent video games, females have fallen prey to a similar approach. This concerns the shallow messages within games that pressure girls into becoming something that they are not. In most of today’s PC games, women are relegated to living a basic life, where they tend to other people’s (mostly men) problems and engage strictly in heterosexual relationships. Moreover, white females often have more significant roles than characters of other races. This kind of content subtly pressures girls and manipulates their development.
Although it is easy to identify the setbacks of video games, many new programs and titles are taking a positive approach and including useful, educational content. What often makes these games so successful is the incentive that they provide for their users. For instance, if a gamer completes a certain amount of math problems, he or she is rewarded with coins or money that can be spent towards new items. Also, these games allot points to those with correct answers, which can serve as bragging rights. In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind seeing our academic institutions adopt this innovative approach.
Video games have certainly come a long way since the prime days of Pong. And while violence and sexist messages continue to overwhelm this medium, I am hopeful that the real potential of this outlet will be utilized. Perhaps this realm will someday allow its female characters to have realistic ambitions and aspirations, and force males to learn a math equation or two before breaking into a Ferrari.