For college students like LSA junior Chris Johns, video games have never before been such a realistic method for escaping reality.
Johns – who said he was first introduced to video games at the age of five – can still spend hours in front of his TV set, playing everything from games like Final Fantasy to the James Bond version of hide-and-shoot, Goldeneye.
“I like the concentration involved in role-playing games, and the new systems allow you to get really sucked in to what is going on,” he said. “And killing off all my friends – but not really – is a great way to relax at the end of the day.”
Gaming technologies and graphics have become more realistic in the last few years, making video games continually appealing to the youth that grew up on Atari and Nintendo. As a result, game designers and corporations are redirecting their marketing strategy toward an older and mature audience.
The same children who spent their allowances on Pong and Mario are now spending their paychecks on games made specifically for adults, said Rackham student Dmitri Williams, who teaches a class on video games at the University.
“Their taste for playing never went away,” Williams said, adding that the stereotype that games are for kids is slowly disappearing.
“In any creative industry, people tend to make products that they themselves enjoy. You now have people in their thirties and forties making games, and their first impulse is not to make games for teenagers, but for people in their thirties and forties,” he said. “But the public image of who plays games is changing very sluggishly.”
That impulse has driven many video game makers to design more graphically stimulating video games, including the popular mobster-life, car cruising – and stealing – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for PlayStation 2 and GameCube’s BMX XXX, an extreme sports game featuring full-frontal nudity.
While most college students aren’t complaining, the trend toward more graphically violent and sexual games is worrying businesses, parents and lawmakers who fear that children are playing games not suitable for their ages.
Although the question of whether there is a link between video game violence and aggression remains unresolved, the Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a bill making it a misdemeanor to sell or rent “Mature”-rated video games to those under 17 years old.
If the bill passes the state Senate, any retailer caught selling those video games to minors could be punished with up to a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail.
Some researchers welcome the potential law, saying that as games become more realistic, parental censorship of what games their children play should become more stringent and educated.
Paul Boxer, a faculty member of the University’s Institute for Social Research, said recent studies have shown that while video games are not the only link to aggression, the realistic images present in newer games are more likely to lead to hostile behavior.
“There have been experimental studies done on people of all ages, and there is a short-term effect of violent video game playing on behavior,” Boxer said. “After being exposed to video game violence, people tend to behave more aggressively and have more aggressive fantasies … about what they might do if they are provoked. They feel hostile.”
“Anything that is going to encourage parents to take a closer look at what their kids are playing is certainly going to be a very useful thing,” he added.
But students and other adults who have been playing video games since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog said they believe video games are anything but dangerous.
“They are stress relievers,” Johns said. “They give you something social to do during the week.”
Though just how dangerous video games are to students and youth is a relatively new topic, violence in the games is as old as the product itself, Williams said, adding the majority of video games are not violent.
“The number one selling PC game of all time is The Sims, which is played by people of all ages and cannot be construed by anyone as violent,” he said. “You can find just as violent and even more socially offensive titles in past games.”
For instance, he added, Atari’s Custer’s Revenge featured a U.S. soldier trying to get past a field of arrows. The final goal was to rape a Native American woman tied to a post.
“I don’t know of anything out on the market today that is as offensive as that,” Williams said. “People have always been blowing things up in video games, it’s just that now, you can see the shrapnel blowing apart in high-quality detail.”