Game over: The battle over violent video games.

You might remember, if you’re somewhat close to my age, the dawn of video games. Early games were not beautiful. In fact, they were quite ugly!

[Death Race screenshot, from Wikipedia]

Death Race (1976) – Screen shot from Wikipedia

If you’re lucky, you might be able to guess what the graphics in that screen shot are supposed to represent. It might be surprising, but this almost indistinguishable pattern of lights was one of the first shots in a thirty year battle: the battle over violence in video games.

The screen shot is from the game Death Race. The object of the game was to run people down to score points. This didn’t go over too well with many folks, and led to quite a bit of outrage. The outrage, of course, made this otherwise unremarkable game famous.

Skirmishes over video game violence continued throughout the 1980s. Later, in 1992, Midway released Mortal Kombat, which was condemned in the Senate by none other than Senator Joe Lieberman (who seems to prefer violence directed at real people to on-screen violence). More recently, there’s been controversy over the Grand Theft Auto series of games.

After video game ratings became popular (after Mortal Kombat), it seemed that the outrage against violent games got its teeth pulled. So, even though some people still get upset over the latest violent (and mature-rated) game, nobody’s very serious about it.

If you don’t believe me, look at what’s happening with the most popular violent game currently available: Halo 3. Churches are using it to lure teenagers to church youth groups!

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

Even the churches are embracing violent games. The battle over violent games is over, and gamers won.

Postscript: I wonder how effective the Halo series can be as a recruiting tool for churches. The central idea of Halo is that the humans (who aren’t portrayed as religious) are attacked by the Covenant. The Covenant is a group of fanatical and dangerously deluded religious zealots. One of your objects as the player is to prevent these deluded religious fanatics from destroying all sentient life in the galaxy. It’s not a game that presents a favorable picture of believers.

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