20 years ago there was widespread concern about the impact of video game violence. "Mortal Kombat" created a gore filter so parents could turn that off, "Postal" had, unsurprisingly, someone committing mass killings emulating the rash of government union workers shooting people, which gave birth to the 'going postal' idiom. "Night Trap" was banned due to its use of full-motion video related to the murders.

Today, it is common for video games to be discussed if a mass shooting occurs. Though mass killing instances have not changed in 40 years, gun ownership is way up, and the other thing more common is violent video games. Yet far fewer people are convinced games have anything to do with homicidal rages, at least compared to the worry about psychiatric drugs in shooters.

Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, examined the coverage of violent video games throughout the 1990s by GamePro Magazine, the most popular video game news magazine during that time period. Perreault found that journalists from GamePro expressed a considerable amount of concern about the level of violence in the game software companies were creating in the early 1990s, when video game design was limited by technology.


"Night Trap" with Dana Plato. Banned at the time, today it would only be played ironically by young video gamers.

Yet today, there is far less worry. Are we jaded and anesthetized to violence? No, people still feel empathy when shootings happen. Instead, gamers then are company leaders or journalists now. They see that mass shootings have not changed and that individual homicides have plummeted even as video game violence is more common than 20 years ago and the graphics and game play are far more realistic.

"As technology improved and the animations became more and more life-like, game creators had increased capability to design more graphic violence, including blood and gore," Perreault said. "Despite this increasing amount of violence, journalists seemed to be less and less bothered by the blood and guts. This is important to note because journalism often mirrors the culture of the audience it serves. As technology improved, the entire gaming community became more and more comfortable with the levels of violence that were simultaneously increasing in video games. In a sense, the gaming community grew up. They aged from children using video games as toys to adolescents and adults using them as recreational devices. It appears that journalists reflected this trend in their writing."

Perreault says the video game rating system is another example of this trend. He says when the rating system first was created, gaming journalists opposed it; however, as games become more and more violent, the rating system is used continually as a defense against outside criticism.

"As more and more parents and outside sources criticize violent games, gamers and gaming journalists point to the rating system and say that parents should not allow their kids to play violent games with explicit ratings," Perreault said. "Ultimately, the trend in violent games is a reflection of what interests our society. Similar trends can be found in the increased number of 'R' rated movies as well as the popularity of gangster rap and other violent music. Video games are just another way our culture is expressing itself."


To be presented at the International Communication Association conference in Seattle next month. Source: University of Missouri-Columbia