The Inside Agenda Blog

Violence in Video Games: Recreation Time With An M16 Sniper Rifle

by Navin Vaswani Thursday November 10, 2011

My weapon of choice is an M16 rifle with a red dot sight extension. It's the most lethal and most accurate gun to choose from, and my personal favourite. It’s perfect for hanging out on the second story of an abandoned house, at a window I've blown the glass out of, waiting for my enemies to appear. When they round an abandoned school bus, approaching the house, unable to see me, unaware of what's about to come their way, I let loose: I pull the trigger, sending off multiple rounds. Ideally, my shots hit their head; I get extra points for an execution-style kill.

I'm playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, of course, one of the more popular in a line of combat video games made by Activision, released to much fan-fare, as well as much criticism.

I didn't grow up playing violent video games. And, for the record, I'd definitely call Call of Duty: Black Ops an ultra-violent video game. I grew up on sports games; EA Sports' NHL series, to be precise. I take almost a sick pride in telling you that, since the early 90s through to this very September, I've bought every single EA NHL release, 1993 through 2012. The violence I was exposed to in video games growing up was the same violence I was exposed to on Saturday nights watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC: body-checking, and fights on skates.

Things have changed, though, since I was a boy. For the first time, last year, I picked up the latest release of Call of Duty. I'd heard so much about it, especially its online game play features, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And, believe me, there was a lot of fuss. The night Call of Duty: Black Ops was released, exactly one year ago, there was a lineup outside Best Buy, up in Markham, at least 200 people deep. At midnight. It was ridiculous. (For the record: I wasn't in line to buy the game. I'm not that hardcore. I was at the gym, and saw the line-up as I was leaving. It was amazing.)

Two weeks after Black Ops' release, I bought it. I became, for the first time, an American sniper, during the Cold War. I shot at fellow game-players who were "logged-on," like me, and playing a "Team Deathmatch," online, with strangers. Our job was to "kill" those strangers that weren't on our "team." It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I was startled -- as in, I literally jumped -- when, while sniper-rifling my opponents from the window of the two-story digital home I mentioned above, I -- my character in the game -- was riddled with bullets from behind, and declared "dead," killed by an enemy I didn't see creep up on me, who presumably was tired of my sniping ways. (The game is so sophisticated that I can equip my character with a camera that I can place behind where I'm set up as a sniper, so that I can see, on a little screen to my right, those who are sneaking up on me. Trust me: no detail is spared in these games.)

There was a satisfaction in sniping -- killing -- an opponent who was trying to gun down a teammate of mine, who wasn't able to see me from my vantage point in the window of that abandoned house, as I shot him or her from behind. It was all about solidarity. Above all else, I wanted to be the last one standing; I wanted to be the player with the most "kills." It was battle, albeit digital, after all. 

Another feature of online game play: Kill eight enemies in a row without being killed yourself, and you get to operate a machine gun from a Huey chopper. It's, um, a great way to rack up "kills." 

I found out much later than many other gamers, but those violent video games you hear about, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, are truly violent. Anyone who tells you they aren't is lying. Much more violent than, say, GoldenEye, back in the days of Nintendo 64, which I played regularly when I was in high school.

When I think about video games, especially sport-centric video games, like the NHL series or the Madden or FIFA series, I think: those aren't so bad. Nothing better than taking out some aggression, when not at the gym, using Dion Phaneuf in NHL 12, and lining up some poor sap, preferably an Ottawa Senator, at the Toronto blue line with a vicious, but clean, body check. But when it comes to straight-forward, no-bones-about-it, shoot-'em-up violence, as portrayed in the Call of Duty video games, well, I think I'd rather the young person playing the game go to the gym, and take out his aggression using old-fashioned dumbbells. 

I don't have kids. I don't know what, or how hard, putting limitations on them is like. But after hearing what Bruce Bartholow has to say on the subject, that violent video games do increase aggression, and having finally gotten in on some Call of Duty action, I'd think twice before letting my youngster pick up that digital M16 sniper rifle.

Image credit: Activision Publishing Inc.