Video Games and Violence, Part 2: Follow the Money
Why do violent action titles seem to dominate today's gaming landscape so heavily? Many reasons are possible, but the profit motive is a big one. "The strategy and problem-solving games can be very exciting," said parenting researcher David Walsh. "However, those games take a lot more investment and a lot more time to develop, and as in many industries, the recipe is minimal investment with maximum return."
Jul 23, 2013 5:00 AM PT
At the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show, there was a common theme to be observed in the demonstrations held by both Microsoft and Sony of their Xbox One and PlayStation 4 technologies, respectively.
Though longtime rivals and different in many ways, the two competitors both relied upon a similar approach in demonstrating the capabilities of their latest wares, in other words. That approach, in a nutshell? Action.
Both companies used an overload of action games to show off the system potential of their respective consoles. At least one reason, of course, is that such games do a very good job of presenting the system's capabilities.
Part One of this two-part series discussed the potential real-world impact of today's video games. Now, in this one, we look at the other reasons behind what some view as an industry of violence.
'Way Too Much Violence'
"The action games show off the systems quite well," Susan Schreiner, consumer electronics analyst for C4 Trends, told TechNewsWorld. "You see the texture and also the types of motion and speeds. On the one hand you have to admire the artistry of it, and the rendering of it; but on the other hand it actually is -- to me, anyway -- way too much violence."
There are two parts to that picture, Schreiner added.
"One part is that it has to do with titles from the big studios," she explained. "They really wanted to make a point here and show the capabilities of the new consoles. That is number one."
The second part, however, is that "the publishers can project how many titles they can sell their core audience," Schreiner said. "By appealing to that core audience they can determine approximate revenue."
Perhaps that's why rival Nintendo opted to go in another direction.
"What Nintendo is trying to show is the Wii U," Schreiner added. "One generation really loved those games, and they're betting that the children and grandchildren will have a fondness."
More of the Same
While the action games certainly show off the capabilities of the systems, their prevalence could also be a signal that the industry is simply out of ideas.
"The famous American writer E.B. White saw a prototype of television at the Chicago World's Fair right before the great stock market crash and he said he saw the potential it had," parenting researcher David Walsh, who specializes in the impact of media on children and teens, told TechNewsWorld."It was only 30 years later that TV was called the great wasteland. The potential was lost, and sadly that has proven true with video games."
Indeed, "as a parent, a gamer and a citizen, I'm more concerned that there is a relative lack of strategy and other types of thought-provoking games," said Craig Anderson of the department of psychology at Iowa State University and director of the Center for the Study of Violence. "Based on psychological theory, I suspect strategy-type games -- even violent ones -- could help teach players the importance of thinking through problems and planning ahead.
"Of course, there currently is no good scientific evidence for this speculation," Anderson told TechNewsWorld.
'Where the Money Is'
There is a "cookie cutter element to it, but this industry is built on sequels and prequels," noted Schreiner. "Action games are where the money is. It is very much 'follow the money.'"
Looking ahead, one result could be that the industry moves from being about hard-core games and casual games to being one of action games and casual games, with little else.
"That very well could be," Schreiner agreed. "We're in this transition time, and we have to watch to see what sort of games will get adapted to a tablet. That is going to be very interesting to watch going forward."
History of Violence
Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that anything will occur legally regarding violent video games. After all, the industry is ready for a fight and certainly doesn't appear to be anywhere near backing down.
"The fact is that the Supreme Court has reviewed the case law, the technology and the worst video games and found that video games are protected under the First Amendment just like music and films," Jennifer Mercurio, vice president and general counsel for the Entertainment Consumers Association, told TechNewsWorld. "The FTC has found that the ESRB is the best artistic industry rating system, and the best utilized by merchants.
"If you're asking whether all games are appropriate for all ages, I'd defer to America's parents," Mercurio added. "It's up to the adults in a household to determine which games should enter and be played in that household, and by whom."
More than Action
The final piece in all this may be whether it is just that the more action-packed games are the ones that get attention. In fact, while action games may tend to dominate the headlines, there is still much more out there.
"It may feel like there are a lot more violent games out there," Mercurio said. Yet "that's simply not the case when one looks at the market holistically."
In fact, "91 percent of games rated by the ESRB in 2012 were E, E10+ or Teen," she said, citing NPD research. "Hopefully the industry will better highlight the different types of games, which appeal to millions of consumers."
'Minimal Investment with Maximum Return'
Still, as in so many other aspects of life, the fact remains that money is generally what makes the world go round.
"Video game technology has tremendous potential," said Walsh. "The strategy and problem-solving games can be very exciting. However, those games take a lot more investment and a lot more time to develop, and as in many industries, the recipe is minimal investment with maximum return."
If a game has "blood and gore and is a big seller, than why develop an elaborate strategy game?" Walsh added. "It is disappointing because the video game makers offer a great potential for infotainment where it can be entertaining while being inspiring, but the profit motive drives it in another direction."