It is no secret that the Bush Administration has carefully aligned itself to the promotion of so-called “family values.” In defending a strong conservative agenda on an array of causes aimed at protecting what it believes to be “traditional” values, the White House has been undeniably vocal.
For many years violent graphic visual media has been at the center of the “family values” war against mass media. Family Values promoters blame video games, movies and music for everything from school shootings to disobedience at home.
In fact, at the start of his first presidential campaign in 2000, Bush pledged to “empower parents to protect their children….from harmful material on the Internet.”
Ironically, two years after Bush came into power, the Pentagon released its brand new weapon in the war to recruit young people into the military called “America’s Army” an online first-person-shooter computer game, that contains – surprise, surprise – violent graphic content.
A screen shot from the game America's Army.
America’s Army, with more than 5.5 million registered users, boasts that players have logged on as many as 94 million hours of online play. Today, the game remains one of the top five online action games in the country.
America’s Army is a FPS or first-person-shooter game. FPS games, like Doom and Quake have been around since the early 1990s. Since then, the games have become the subject of frequent controversy over graphic violence. According to Wikipedia, a “first-person shooter (FPS) is a combat computer or video game, which is characterized by the player’s on-screen view of the game simulating that of the character or First Person view."
In this fantasy world, according to America’s Army propaganda, “We have virtually taken our players through boot camp, through Ranger and Airborne training, and even introduced them to the Army's Quiet Professionals, the elite Special Forces.” Translation: playing at soldiering can be fun – you too can serve, protect, and kill, kill, kill in this virtual universe.
The Pentagon’s strategy to place “Soldiering” at the forefront of popular culture has been a terrific success. Young people are being exposed, at the taxpayers’ expense, to what the Army does – root out evil and destroy it…click…kill…click…kill…click…kill.
Using popular culture as a recruitment tool also puts the Pentagon in the entertainment business and at odds with the “Family Values” concerns expressed by the Bush administration. In short, America’s Army glorifies killing in an effort to attract recruits. With millions of young people playing the FPS game, I guess we can conclude that our current administration’s promise to “protect our children” from the so-called harms of the Internet is nothing short of shallow campaign rhetoric.
At the heart of this issue is whether you believe what the research is saying. Every day, I walk into classrooms full of young people who have played FPS games for years. Should I live my life in fear that exposure to such games as America’s Army or Grand Theft Auto III will turn my students into rabid killers?
There are many studies exploring the affects of violent graphic visual media on teenagers. Most of the studies, not surprisingly, conclude that exposure to such images make boys more aggressive and less academically inclined.
An empirical review of the last 20 years of research on violence and visual media by researchers Jessica Nicoll, B.A., and Kevin M. Kieffer, Ph.D., of Saint Leo University showed that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior in children and adolescents, both in the short- and long-term. According to the report:
“One study showed participants who played a violent game for less than 10 minutes rate themselves with aggressive traits and aggressive actions shortly after playing. In another study of over 600 8th and 9th graders, the children who spent more time playing violent video games were rated by their teachers as more hostile than other children in the study. The children who played more violent video games had more arguments with authority figures and were more likely to be involved in physical altercations with other students. They also performed more poorly on academic tasks.”
However, in his testimony before Congress following the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, suggested that tracing explicit acts of violence to the visual media people consume can be problematic.
“The tangled relationship between these various forms of popular culture makes it impossible for us to determine a single cause for their actions. Culture doesn't work that way.”
“Cultural artifacts are not simple chemical agents like carcinogens that produce predictable results upon those who consume them. They are complex bundles of often contradictory meanings that can yield an enormous range of different responses from the people who consume them.”
What are the cultural implications signified by the symbolic depictions of violence in first-person-shooter games?
It is interesting to note that journalists have not yet made the connection between the government's development of a violent computer game aimed at young people and Bush’s family values agenda.
I have mixed feelings about FPS games but have been on alert as new studies come out.
As a parent of two small children, I do believe that using taxdollars to fund and promote a product that could have negative consequences on society is irresponsible and problematic for a society which prides itself on human rights. At this point, I am afraid to learn how much money has been spent on this so-called “murder simulator” game, but I can imagine that its development and maintenance costs us a pretty penny, financially, psychologically and sociologically.