Sean Connery once said that “there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in a man.” Of course this is just as true for women as it is for men, but the statement contains a certain subtext about masculinity. Failure to thrive under pressure is the trait of a boy, not a man. There are these calls to action that are supposed to define us as men. Defeating a challenge is one; capability for violence is another. Men are generally well aware of the cultural pressures on us to be violent. Even though most of us are not violent people, we still sometimes feel the need to respond to the pressure by asserting that we would be very dangerous if we wanted to. The two ideas are at odds: societal norms that say men are violent while violence actually has nothing to do with masculinity. It can certainly be argued that a male’s inclination toward violence coupled with the ability to back it up has served both males and the human species as a whole quite well in the past. However, what was a virtue in the past is not necessarily a virtue today. And even if violence were hardwired into men, we’re still much more than just blood-thirsty beasts. And the reason we play violent games is more than our own bloodlust. So why, then, do so many games portray violence and masculinity as being so closely intertwined? Let’s take a look at some of these games. In particular, we’ll look at: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; and a lot of God of War. Just a warning, this whole article is going to be chock-full of spoilers, so read cautiously. What these games all have in common is that they make a statement about the connection between masculinity and violence. They deal with issues like “is violence rewarding,” “can violence defeat evil,” and “is violence just how men deal with their emotions?” What lies beneath all of those statements are these facts: men are not very free from cultural norms, men are not empowered or nurtured properly as men, and society seems to have no idea of what masculinity is at all.
Yesterday, the White House unveiled “Now is the Time: The President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence.” Super good! I don’t intend to attack the the President, his plan, or even the fact that he calls for more research into any possible relationships between video games and violence. With the trauma of gun violence being so severe in American culture, encouraging research into what many citizens believe to have a causative relationship with violence, i.e. that violent video games lead to violent crime, is the right call. While it is politically unfortunate that the President seemed unable to find a place for video games in his plan than under the section to “End the Freeze on Gun Violence Research,” (page 8), I don’t think that we have much to worry about regarding any lasting effects on public opinion. We know that all good research into the topic, assuming fair distribution and reporting of research results and data, is going to show that video games and their place in society are nothing to be afraid of.
Here is my point; how do we already know that we have nothing to fear? Hasn’t research already shown that violence in video games has a lasting effect on gamers, causing them to be desensitized to violence and therefore less likely to check impulses toward violent behavior? Since video games are more immersive than other forms of media, doesn’t it stand to reason that they affect a greater ability to impact and change the human psyche? Let’s look into why not. Continue reading