Thursday, December 8, 2011

Geneva and the Nature of Virtual Reality

The International Committee of the Red Cross is investigating video games. Specifically, they are concerned that gamers are violating humanitarian law by . . . gasp . . . playing war games wherein they might commit war crimes. Doesn't this organization have more important things to do?

There is no solid evidence which points to violence in video games making people more violent. Or, more accurately, there is just as much evidence supporting such play as a positive influence as there is evidence to support the opposite. And these guys want to talk about what they should do about it.

Here's an idea: Think of video games as fiction. They are not real. Real people do not suffer inside of a game. They are bits of code and imagination, not people. I can summon a demon and let it loose to kill a whole room full of people in one of my video games. I can't do that in real life, and even if I could, I would have to have a real good reason for doing so. Even then, I'd probably look for another way to handle it first. How can you apply humanitarian law to fictional people? How does that even make sense?

Can we argue, honestly, that these fictional acts have a negative impact on the real people playing the game? I don't think we can. Some people will be affected, but I suspect that most will not. Some people will act in reprehensible ways, and they will enjoy it. But I believe those people, if not for the game, would have found other ways to achieve those feelings, and maybe something bad would have happened in the real world. If that is true, then what's wrong with letting the evil bastards of the world work out their problems on virtual people?

We can point to a violent person, and we can say they played video games, and we can say they would not have done what they did if not for the game. I don't believe that, be we can say it. But, if we can say that, then why not point to the 600 million gamers who don't commit real war crimes after playing the same game, and then say, "They would have killed a lot of real people if it weren't for that game!"?

*This opinion was inspired by Claire Connelly's article, which can probably be found here.

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