May 3, 2007

It's Time Video Games Stop Glorifying Murder and Mayhem

Video game violence has become an important and much-debated topic in recent years due to devastating occurrences of school shootings, most-recently at Virginia Tech, and other aggressive behavior generally seen in minors. The objectives of many of these overly-aggressive games are to kill, steal, and participate in illegal and dangerous activities. Indeed, there is widely-accepted research indicating that such entertainment may inspire violent behavior. Unfortunately, the market in extremely violent video games has gotten disturbingly large. More.

Rockstar Games is one of the most popular and controversial game producers in this category. The company is famous for the Grand Theft Auto series, a third-person action game which puts the player in control of a thug looking to move up in the criminal ranks by completing a plethora of illegal tasks. Grand Theft Auto has consistently received a great deal of criticism from minorities, religious factions, women’s groups, and the mass media. To determine the ethicality of Grand Theft Auto, and possibly create the strongest argument against Rockstar Games, it is necessary to approach the topic from a philosophical standpoint.

Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism which claims that one can ascertain the moral worth of an action by determining consequences of that act. It is generally concerned with producing “the greatest good for the greatest number” or maximizing overall utility. It has either been directly stated or soundly implied through research that the game leads to increased violence, diminished respect for women and minorities, and increased tendency to partake in crimes and fraternize with prostitutes. None of these actions can be seen as maximizing overall utility.

Unlike utilitarianism, deontology requires that one determine the appropriateness of an act by following a rule, not by identifying and weighing the consequences of a particular action. In general, the rule or duty that should be followed is the one than can be universalized without treating persons merely as a means by exploitation or abuse. Considering Grand Theft Auto from a duties and rights perspective, there are certain rights that suggest that the production, sale, and use of the game is unethical and should be restricted. The game promotes activities such as killing a prostitute after having sex with her, attacking a cop to avoid detainment, and killing anyone who stands in the way of gaining points in the game. Although many if not most adults might not reproduce actions learned from video games, some--especially teens--may and may already have.

The last ethical theory that will be summoned to defend the position that Rockstar Games is acting unethically by distributing an immoral game is virtue ethics. Virtue ethics acknowledges that human beings act according to their character. Therefore, to develop a good and full human life, according to the classical ideal of virtue ethics, young persons should involve themselves with activities that promote a healthy and prosperous existence. They would exclude sitting stationary for long periods of time while playing or creating a game that encourages the player to sleep with prostitutes out of wedlock, steal, assault women, and commit murder. Furthermore, any activity that contains the possibility to influence a person (and especially a developing young person) to cause unnecessary physical or mental harm to another human is in no way of virtuous interest.

Fortunately, there are several steps that Rockstar Games can take to turn Grand Theft Auto into a positive product. First, reducing the extreme violence the game produces would begin to make Grand Theft Auto more morally appropriate for people of all ages. Perhaps characters could gain more points from becoming undercover police agents and avoiding gratuitous violence.

Another recommendation for Rockstar to consider is to become a moral leader in the industry. The company can accomplish this by pushing retailers to require that customers show proper age identification when purchasing games that have mature ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). If Rockstar Games desires to become a socially responsible and ethical company, these changes must be made immediately. Ultimately, the company has a moral duty to not profit from encouraging violent behavior in kids' developing minds.