r e v O GBay Cmouertney Coffman
It was a melancholy morning on the Virginia Tech college campus as students, teachers, and families tried to make sense of a horrific tragedy. A twenty-three year old student, had just shot and killed thirty-two other students, and finally himself. Once the scene had settled, many cried, “Why?” Investigators would later find out that this man not only lived a life of almost complete solitude, but was an avid player of “Call of Duty,” a video game where you strategically shoot down virtual opponents. MAVAV (Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence) claim his actions originated from this murder simulator and are now advocating to end the creation of such games. When Hunter Coffman is asked if he agrees with the correlation, he glances at his selves of games and shakes his head no. One could easily argue he is biased; Hunter not only owns over seventy-five video games, but hopes to become a level designer, essentially spending hours with his eyes glued to a screen. “It’s simply a waste of time”, his father declares, “It’s making him lazy.”
It’s a common stereotype: the acne-ridden teenage guy who dispenses endless hours in pitchdark rooms shouting curse words at a faintly glowing screen. It’s also lacking in truth. Hunter doesn’t see video games as a medium of senseless violence, but instead as an art. “How would you define art?” I ask, curious how something like ‘Pacman’ could be in the same category as ‘the Mona Lisa’. “Well, it’s ever growing. A thousand years ago, it was just painting and such, but in the last few decades movies have been added on, and video games. Art is pretty much the expression of your mind. Game studios see these stories and characters they want to portray, like how a painter sees what he wants to portray.”
On a physical level, Hunter is a seemingly average teen. A lightly tanned fifteen year old with sandy blonde waves and a goofy smile, he hardly seems the type to enjoy performing a “headshot” on an unsuspecting opponent. While he does enjoy the occasional virtual killing spree, Hunter tends to play more story-based games, where you aren’t simply “shoot[ing] all these guys ‘cause you feel like it,” but instead for a usually heroic purpose. At the age of five he was gifted ‘Super Mario World 2,’ and poured hours into it along with his sister. A decade later he has gone from saving a kidnapped princess to shotgunning down hordes of zombies, and has learned plenty of morals along the way. When asked to give an example, Hunter passionately responds, “Don’t always trust what you’re told. The first third of a story was spent blindly trusting what some guy was telling you then finding out the person who is supposedly a terrorist against a nation was actually the ‘good guy’, and the one you’ve been trusting was evil.” In the last year Hunter has taken his enthusiasm for game playing and tried to begin a path towards contributing to the medium in a future career: level designing. Specifically, creating the in game worlds that players explo re through, and working out the details of lighting, object placement, and overall level layout. Just as a painter wants to create a tone that brings out their piece’s inner meaning, so too does a level designer want to create a mood that brings out certain emotions from the player. Hunter works on his environments at his home computer, with a statue of Batman looking over his every keystroke. He claims his favorite game posters, one including a grimacing hooded assassin and another with four gun-equipped citizens at a zombie-infested carnival entrance, surround him to serve as inspiration.
“ No matter what, you need hard work. . .” “It can be tough,” Hunter notes as he tours me through his jungle temple level, “The software to develop environments is pretty technical, and there is also coding and math that goes into placing everything. Something as simple as a small market place can take over five hours to make.” Video games aren’t the first new art medium to be accused of bestowing “bad” values. Silly as it may seem, comic books were claimed to be “hurting America’s Youth” in the early 1940’s. “The Family Circle”, a then current magazine, claimed it was unhealthy that comics portrayed fantasy violence and that as children read them, they mentally became the hero as he took down the villain. It was called the “Anti-Comic Book Movement”, and began with an article written by Sterling North who not only denounced the medium but claimed that parents were guilty of criminal activities if they allowed their children to read comics. This led to public bonfires where adults took their children’s books and threw them into the flames, even though not all comics featured aggressive plots. A similar situation has arisen with video games decades later. A study by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine supposedly shows that “brain scans of kids who played a violent video game showed an increase in emotional arousal - and a corresponding decrease of activity in brain areas involved with self-control, inhibition, and attention”. Once again, parents are being told to enter the equation, and laws have been passed restricting those under the age of eighteen from purchasing violent games. While Hunter agrees that young children shouldn’t being playing games like “Grand Theft Auto,” where the player’s main goal is to steal cars and evade the police, he believes it holds certain flaws. “Preschoolers and seventeen year olds are treated on the same level. It also tends to broadcast a negative light on the medium, and many people try to mend them into a form that isn’t an art and claim that their creation should be stopped”.
“. . . hours on hours just to create a single level map.”
VS Not all research is turning up negative either. David Ewoldsen, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, says, “Clearly research has established there are links between playing violent video games and aggression, but it’s an incomplete picture.” He and his team of researchers have found that when games are played with friends, even the violent ones, that cooperative tendencies were more likely, and often canceled out aggression. To truly test their theory, researchers brought together two rivalry colleges - Ohio State and University of Michigan. Not only were these opponents able to unite over the common ground of video games, but many acted like good friends, one noting that, “The cooperative play just wiped out any effect of who you were playing with . . . Their cooperation makes you even more willing to cooperate”. Hunter has grown up playing games with his older sister, and can also vouch for these results. “Video games were always a way for my sister and I to get over those little sibling fights,” he remarks, “. . . I wish more people could be a part of it. When I enter the industry, I really want to try to help create games where the story and gameplay shine over the violence and bring people together”. Although only a sophomore in high school, Hunter is already elated for the future. His eyes sparkle with excitement as he describes how he can’t wait to go to school for game design and further his skills. “No matter what, you need hard work. Hours on hours just to create a single level map . . . but it’s that final product that makes you do it over and over again”. Hunter acknowledges that having a strong education in math and science will only further his abilities, and has learned to balance his time creating and playing games as well as staying on top of school work.
“My last words are video games are an art. Many people will create games with meaningless violence and taint the mediums image, but that is true with any art form. Not every movie is golden, not every book is perfect, and not every person is going to go massacre others”.