A comic repeat with video games and violence

An article in the Guardian Headquarters blog discusses the not very clear evidence for the link between computer games and violence and makes a comparison to the panic over ‘horror comics’ in the 1950s.

The Fifties campaign against comics was driven by a psychiatrist called Fredric Wertham and his book The Seduction of the Innocent.

We’ve discussed before on Mind Hacks how Wertham has been misunderstood. He wasn’t out to ban comics, just keep adult themes out of kids magazines.

However, his idea of what ‘adult themes’ might be were certainly pretty odd. This is Wertham’s testimony to a hearing in the US Senate.

I would like to point out to you one other crime comic book which we have found to be particularly injurious to the ethical development of children and those are the Superman comic books. They arose in children’s fantasies of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again, while you yourself remain immune. We have called it the “Superman complex.” In these comic books, the crime is always real and Superman’s triumph over [evil] is unreal. Moreover, these books like any other, teach complete contempt of the police…

I may say here on this subject there is practically no controversy… as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present form, there are no secure homes. …crime comic books, as I define them, are the overwhelming majority of all comic books… There is an endless stream of brutality… I can only say that, in my opinion, this is a public-health problem.

The ‘Superman causes sadism’ part aside, this is a remarkably similar argument to the one used about violent video games. It’s not a matter of taste or decency, it’s a public health problem.

In fact, an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings had a neat comparison between arguments about 1950s comic books and modern day video games which turn out to be very similar.

Moral of the story: wait for sixty years when the debate about violent holograms kicks off and they’ll leave you to play your video games in peace.

Link to ‘What is the link between violent video games and aggression?’
Link to article on video games and comic panics in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

7 thoughts on “A comic repeat with video games and violence”

  1. In my (uneducated, uninformed) opinion, video games seem fairly harmless. Boys and maybe girls have always played shoot em up games with toy guns. But am I the only one who finds Grand Theft Auto really distasteful? Boys are playing a video game where they are shooting hookers . Not harmful to boys, but the symptom of a mindless parent.

  2. Human brain is unable to diffrentiate between reality and imagination. It doesn’t mean we cannot tell what is real and what is fantasy – it just happens on different level of counciousness.

    Because of that fact videogames as well as books and movies serve a purpose not many people seem to understand.

    Thos ‘Imagination stimulants’ as I like to call tchem, allow us to experience things we wouldn’t normally do for many reasons (safety, ethical, financial – You name it. Going deep within our imagination we can experience how it feels to do cerain things that normally would be out of our reach and what’s even more important it allows us to learn what are the consequences of such actions and HOW WE FEEL AFTER ACTING IN A CERTAIN MANNER.

    I usually like to go to extremes stating things, so I will refer to above example from Amelie: For normal mentally healthy and socially aligned person ‘shooting hookers’ in a computer game would/should result in individual experience that will prevent this happening in reality. (as in ‘I already done that, I know how it feels, no need to further ponder on it, moving on to something else). We create a direct link between activity and our inner feelings.

    Of course there might be individual cases where such interest would grow and attempts will be made to ‘further investigate’ it in reality for enhanced experience… those sociopath cases appear anyway on daily basis and are unfortunate part of our reality. From time to time we hear about murders, killing sprees and other violent acts – they are not directly lnked to any form of imagination stimulants (books, movies, games) and come from individual predisposition/conditioning.

    Also it’s worth to mention that better book / game / movie is, more in depth experience and more we learn about ourselves in the process.

    Bottom line is – we shouldn’t allow censoring materials or letting others decide what is good for us and how are we shaped. Instead trust Your own judgement and allow Yourself to learn more about Your true self by experiencing as much as possible not harming others in the process.

    1. This is an interesting idea but I think the evidence suggests that even young children are aware that imagined scenarios are not real and follow special rules that don’t coincide with how things work in reality. The enjoyment of those games presupposes that violence is different not only in consequence but also in its character. So while it resembles a thing which we think is bad it’s been drained of much of what is bad about violence in the same way that rough housing can resemble fighting (humans are far from unique in forms of physical play including play fighting that rarely escalate into real conflict). Learning from play can be important to development but it’s not a mirror of what it resembles.

      Shooting random virtual people is fun because there is no harm not only because it’s not real but because the ai act as if they are part of a game. Few people would enjoy running pedestrians over or going on a shooting rampage in Grand Theft Auto if those hundreds of millions of dollars they spent on development was used to make suffering appear real. Being transgressive and anti social can be fun but there are obvious constraints.

  3. The argument that always baffles me the most is when people say “that person was violent and they liked violent video games, so violent video games clearly make people violent”. Surely it’s fantastically obvious that the person liked violent video games because they themselves were already violent, rather than the logic-reversal usually given in the media?

  4. I just received an e-mail from Edison board of Education (in New Jersey) regarding violent media:

    Good Evening:

    Attached is a required notice for all parents.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that by the age of 18, the average American child will have viewed 200,000 acts of violence on television. Some studies suggest that exposure to violence in the media increases the chances that children will behave more aggressively, experience more anger and hostility, think more about aggression and violence, and become “numb” to images of violence.

    In response to this concern and in an effort to increase awareness, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed P.L.2013, c.146, which requires the New Jersey Department of Education to prepare and make available on the department’s website information on how a parent can limit a child’s exposure to violence on television, cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices.

    In accordance with the law (N.J.S.A. 18A:40-44(c)), school districts are required to distribute the pamphlet to the parents or guardians of students attending the schools of the district. A copy of the pamphlet is attached.

    Thank you for your efforts to support positive student development. Should you have questions on these requirements, please contact the NJDOE Office of Student Support Services at (609) 292-5935.

    Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.

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