Violence in Video Games: What’s OK, What’s Not

This is one of the hardest topics that I have had to write. The reason is that it is a touchstone for so many people. Everyone has their own idea of what’s acceptable when it comes to violence in video games. The more I began to research, the more I began to see violence in even the most benign games.

Cartoon Violence

When I look back to my start in video games I can see that even then there was violence. My second gaming system ever, the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1984, even came with a gun. Sure, it was called a Zapper, but we all know that it was shaped like a gun and had a trigger.You could use the gun with certain games, such as Duck Hunt and Shootout. In Duck Hunt, you shot cartoon ducks, and if you missed, a cartoon dog would laugh at you. Who didn’t try and blast that smug mutt at least once?

That is cartoon violence. Cartoon violence is what you are going to see in many video games. From throwing blue turtle shells in Mario Kart to smashing characters and LEGO bricks in the LEGO games. There is violence happening there, even if it is on a preposterous cartoonish level.

Right now, as I write this, I have Marvel Future Fight playing on automatic next to me, with characters punching, blasting, and shooting each other until one side or the other falls. I think nothing of it because they are superheroes and villains who have fantastic powers that no one else has. The violence is mostly crazy swirling lights and colorful explosion. In cartoon violence, you are not going to see something realistic, bloody, or gory.

Arcade Games

When I was younger, one of the games that had many parents upset at the arcades — I’m that old, I played in arcades — was Mortal Kombat. In Mortal Kombat, you furiously mashed buttons to kick, punch, stab, and slash your opponent. The characters would get bloodier and bloodier. The finishing move — when the judge would boom, “Finish Him!” — would often end in a fatality. Each player had a finishing move that would utterly destroy and kill the other character — all the way down to ripping their head off and holding it up attached to the remnants of their spine. It was bloody and over the top, but it seems rather tame compared with today’s game graphics. The game continues to be a big seller, and the blood and gore has come a long way since the pixelated days of old.

I’ve personally always enjoyed fighting games. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and even some Mortal Kombat. I picked up an XBox One S before Christmas, and so many old games were now open to me. I immediately bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 because it was about $8. I’m a huge Marvel fan and couldn’t wait to see Wolverine’s Berserker Barrage move. (I think it was more about hearing the announcer say “Berserker Barrage.”) It is a fighting game, and it’s so fast-paced and over the top that it is silly in its execution. It has become one of the games that my kids want to play with me the most. Both my son and daughter enjoy the game. They love to try to beat me, and occasionally they do. We shout and laugh and have a great time. Yet, in the end, I talk to them and remind them that this is just a game, and we are not going to attempt any moves on each other.

Fortnite

Today, when I hear the topic of violence in video games, the game that I hear about most is Fortnite. What I’m hearing is that it is so violent, and parents do not want their kids playing it. I had not played it prior to working on this article, I’ve been playing it for a few days now. It is very addictive and there are so many things that you need do in order to be good at the game. My XBox was actually a Fortnite bundle, so I have some special in game loot. It has not helped me be a better player; although, my very first time out, I was the top survivor. I have no idea how that happened.

The object of Fortnite is to be the last person standing in a Battle Royale. Several weapons are strewn about the arena, and everyone is dropped in via a flying bus. To make the game move along, the area of play gets smaller and smaller due to storms. So, you drop in, gather some weapons, smash down structures in order to build other ones, and try to be the last person standing. While there is the sound of gunfire and you are shooting at other players, you don’t see even a hint of damage. So, it all seems quite campy and fun with characters emoting and doing dances in colorful costumes. Would I let my 7-year-old son play? No. Do I allow him to watch Fortnite videos online? No. Does he know all about Fortnite? Yes.

Fortnite Parenting

Fortnite is a phenomenon, and the game is spreading into everything. This Halloween, there were so many Fortnite costumes that you would have thought that you had been dropped into the neighborhood from a flying bus. Now, there are Fortnite toys and backpacks and T-shirts galore. It’s inescapable.

With the game being so mainstream with so much Fortnite merchandise geared toward kids and no blood during all the killing, why won’t I let my son play? I won’t let him play because seeing so much of this desensitizes a kid to violence. I unloaded an entire submachine gun into another player and they did not die. Not a fleck of simulated blood — nothing. A kid picks up the game and does the same thing and equates guns to toys. There is no real consequence in the game because you will re-spawn a few seconds later. There is no re-spawning in real life.

All that being said, there is a community aspect to Fortnite. You can play together on a team with your friends. Now there is a whole creative side to the game where you can build your own island and invite your friends to it to play. You don’t have to listen to everyone who is on their own microphones at home. You can choose who you will talk with while you play. Just remember  to tell kids that the game is the game, and real life is real life. They can play when they are old enough to truly know the difference.

Red Dead Redemption II

Unlike Fortnite, which kids can build up to, there are some games that I don’t particularly want my kids to play. The biggest game that people are talking about right now is Red Dead Redemption II. In this game, you play as Arthur, a bandit who is part of a crew of like-minded associates. The game can be quite brutal at times. There are so many ways in which you can die. There are also many ways in which you can kill others; you can practically kill everything. I’ve been watching a podcaster I know on Twitch play the game in stints ranging from an hour to several hours long. I watch because he is a funny guy, but the action is definitely M for Mature.

There are virtually no limits to what you can do in Red Dead Redemption II. Remember Duck Hunt? In RDR2, you can go and shoot ducks, but if you were shooting ducks and one of your compatriots laughed at you, then you could shoot them in the face and loot the corpse. You don’t even have to stop there because, if so inclined, you can shoot and skin his dog, too. That is just the tip of the iceberg of violence that can be done in this game.

What is the Answer?

So, what is the answer? When it comes to video games, what level of violence is acceptable, and what’s not? Always start by looking at the ratings of the games that your kids want. Then do some research of your own, and watch a few Twitch streams to see what is actually happening in the games. Is this something to which you want your kids exposed? Is the game something that you want them to play?

You are the parent. You decide what they get to play. Educate yourself about games and how to set parental controls on your kids’ devices. Play games with your kids and talk to them about it as you play.

(No virtual animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)

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