The more violence and other adult themes in video games are scientifically studied and discussed in the media, the more apparent it becomes that these elements have the potential to “numb” game players to the often bleak realities contained within our world. Usually, articles on the topic of violence in video games tend to go one of two ways: The first is the rebuttal that violence in video games does not cause real world violence. The second is more frequently heard especially from the media, that violence in video games is directly related to violence in the real world.
It is my goal to avoid this dichotomous way of thinking, and propose an alternative. Violence (and other adult themes such as sex and drugs) has a tendency to impact people, but not necessarily in negative ways. In fact, perhaps video game violence has positive outcomes. Playing games with realistic gore and violence, like the recently released zombie RPG Dead Island, may have the capacity to scare people. Fear can be a very beneficial tool to not only subvert negative actions, but perhaps can be a great motivator that drives people to perform good actions.
For example, more than enough individuals have sought out serving in the military as a direct result of playing war related video games like the Call of Duty and the Battlefield series. In a more bizarre twist regarding how video games (and other forms of entertainment for that matter) influence our active choices, consider people who play train simulator games. This is not traditionally a job that most people have the opportunity to experience, and even though a video game only allows you to vicariously experience what it would be to work in this given profession; it is certainly better than simply reading about it online.
These are primarily neutral professions, both maintaining some good and bad elements. The military is often viewed as a patriotic and freedom-serving profession, but in reality it still provides opportunities to go to war, to kill people, and to experience an array of negative emotions that can lead to further violence mutually exclusive of video games. And as great as working as a train conductor or a street cleaner is for society, these jobs are not particularly glamorous; nor are they directly related to the active well-being of others.
Medical professions, such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and similar jobs are much more pro-actively involved with the lives of others. The goal of these jobs is directed towards benefiting humanity in an substantial and positive way. But, the major question I ask is this: how is anyone able to prepare for the tasks to be placed on their shoulders that can only be witnessed in an ER room or a criminal psychiatric evaluation?
Video games, and especially violent and adult ones, have the capacity to numb our minds to issues like blood, gore, profanity, sex, drug and alcohol abuse, among many other things. While a separate discussion could be held with regards to whether or not we should allow our minds to become “numb” to anything, for the sake of this discussion it is vital to the nature of these jobs, which are typically perceived as good and beneficial to society. The importance of this sensation is one that allows people in these professions to continue on with their own lives. Consider psychologists who have one of the highest professional suicide rates in the United States. The things they hear about in counseling sessions are often unreal. The criminals, addicts, and suicidal individuals they work with are often wholly ignored by society on a larger scale. But again I ask: what prepares people for these professions?
While I do not think video games are the “end-all” for training and learning about professional interests, I do feel that there is reason to believe that the generalized good nature of human beings is directed towards choosing good and well-intended professions resulting from the continuum of experiences in video games. Important to this is often a video game world that is compelling and comparable to the human world we all inhabit. A simple minded fighting game like Soul Caliber or Tekken will not likely lead to overwhelming feelings of compassion for others, but those games that have involved stories and incorporate adult elements, like Heavy Rain, LA Noire, Grand Theft Auto, and the aforementioned Dead Island; have the capacity to influence our cognitive processes in significant, albeit not immediately noticeable, ways.
The bottom line here is this: instead of just perceiving violence and other adult themes in video games as strictly negative, it is important to consider the positive outcomes that may result from these things. There are very few individuals with sound minds who would accept murdering someone, raping someone, or condoning abusive drug and alcohol usage as acceptable behavior.
But, video games often examine this reality of life, that there is violence, that there are drugs, sex crimes, and discrimination, in ways that most other artistic mediums tend to ignore, or at least are unable to examine in an immersive, hands-on sort of way. Being able to go hands-on as a person who is made to kill other people, deal drugs, and commit other heinous acts; or simply witness horrible crimes or the aftermath of these crimes like rape (as in Heavy Rain) is vital for building up the mental characteristics that are necessary within any medical profession.