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GAMES CENSORSHIP COLLECTION

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Computer Games - Interactive Movies - Players - Stakeholders
Local Censorship - Overseas Censorship - Developer Responses - Accusations

Computer games have been accused of encouraging real world violence and degrading women through violent and/or sexual content.  Are these accusations accurate?

These are pervasive accusations scattered throughout the relevant resources.  Such accusations deserve to be taken seriously as they are major impediments to the widespread acceptance of computer games among all sections of Australian society.  This Web page does not take a stand either way, but simply presents some relevant facts and possible arguments both for and against each accusation for the consideration of policy makers.


ViolenceDegradation of women
 

- Violence

With the exception of Strip Poker, every one of the 13 computer games reviewed as relevant resources for this Web site contains at least a small amount of violence.  Accusations of dangerous levels of violence within computer games are most common within Government, newspaper, journal, and unpublished resources.
 

Arguments that SUPPORT the continued existence of these types of games include:
* The violence in computer games is not real.  In other words, if you cause your character to commit an act of violence in a computer game, you cannot be prosecuted for that act in a court of law in the real world.  Conversely, if your character has violence inflicted upon him or her, the perpetrator cannot be brought to justice in the real world.  See Murphy, 2000.
* Art reflects life.  Violence is present in real life.  Computer games, as legitimate artistic expressions, are fully entitled to contain depictions of violence.  See Russo and Toyama, 2001 and Hyper, 2000.
* None of the 13 games (including Strip Poker) has ever been recommended for play by children (i.e. under 13 year olds) by any Australian, UK, or USA censorship authority.  Those specifically recommended for adults only by one or more of these authorities are: Harvester, Phantasmagoria, Phantasmagoria 2, Point of View, Strip Poker, Tender Loving Care, and Voyeur.  Just as some movies are only meant for adults or older teenagers, so too are some computer games.
* Harvester treads numerous "grey areas" in justifications for the infliction of violence, for example that much of the violence is directed against people who only have existence within a computer generated virtual reality world.  In other worlds, it closely explores the issue of the context in which the violent acts are committed.
* Indeed, violence often has a context and than thus be considered justifiable in many instances such as in self-defence (e.g. Phantasmagoria and Point of View), or in the defence of others (e.g. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Night Trap).
* Many contain optional internal censorship features for the benefit of younger players and squeamish adults.
* Many academic studies have shown that players of violent computer games do not become more aggressive in real life.  See also Durkin (1995), Durkin (1999), Hayes (2001), and Pottinger (1999).
 

Arguments that REJECT the continued existence of these types of games include: 
* Art need not reflect real life.  Real life is often too grim and distressing for many people, especially innocent and impressionable children.  Such people need brighter and gentler themes in their entertainment.  This  argument is particularly favoured by Young Media Australia.  But see also Heins, 2001.
* The interactive nature of computer games considerably blurs the line that separates fantasy from reality.  As a result, game players are likely to become psychologically disturbed by the violence contained within these products.  Senate Committee publications are particularly prominent in promoting this view.
* One game, Custer's Revenge, presents violence entirely in a way that cannot be even remotely justified by any civilised line of thought.
* Three games - Custer's Revenge, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D have the infliction of violence as their dominant aim and primary activity expected of the player's character. 
* As the extensive discussion below attests, many computer games contain violence against women.
* Optional internal censorship features are insufficient for effective child supervision.  Furthermore, most adults do not possess the technical competency to adequately regulate their children's access to violent computer games.  This argument is another particularly favoured by Young Media Australia.
* Some academic studies have shown that players of violent computer games become more aggressive in real life.  See also Chapman, 2000 and Turner, 1993.


ViolenceDegradation of women
 

- Degradation of women

While the accusations raised in this category are pervasive throughout the relevant resources (e.g. all instances of Senate Committee and Hansard literature), it is very difficult to discover the exact reasons behind such beliefs.  It is unfailingly assumed that the reader fully understands and sympathises with what is meant by vague phrases such as Chapman (2000) or Dietz's (1998) "violence against women".  Furthermore, such accusations are allowed to pass unchallenged by all other authors. 

To break this unwarranted silence, this section examines both sides of the argument as perceptively as possible.  Many of the arguments that these games do in fact degrade women are derived from this Web site author's careful "reading between the lines" of the relevant literature and his observations on Western culture.  Opposing arguments are largely derived from the Web site author's personal game playing experiences .  In the absence of other evidence and genuine debate on these issues, such extreme and perhaps provocative measures were necessary in order for the readers of this page to fully understand this vital, but often neglected area of opposition to computer games.

Out of the 13 games reviewed as relevant resources for this Web site, 12 depict women in some way (all except Doom). 
 

a) Through violence:
* Out of those 12 games, 11 depict violence of any type to female characters (all apart from Strip Poker). 
* In games where violence against female characters is shown, 6 titles either depict, refer to, or strongly suggest sexual or attempted sexual violence ( The 11th Hour, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Phantasmagoria, Point of View, and Voyeur ) ... or 7 if one counts the alleged sexualised violence in Dream Web.
 

Arguments that such depictions DO NOT degrade women include:
* The violence in computer games is not real.  In other words, if you cause your character to commit an act of violence in a computer game, you cannot be prosecuted for that act in a court of law in the real world.  Conversely, if your character has violence inflicted upon him or her, the perpetrator cannot be brought to justice in the real world.  See Murphy, 2000.
* Every game that depicts violence against women also depicts violence against men.  The violence against men is often significantly more severe and/or frequent than the violence against women (especially in The 11th Hour, Dream Web, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, and Point of View).  The one game on the computer games resources page that does not depict women in any way, Doom, depicts frequent gory violence against men.
* Female characters, including those at least partly under the control of the player, can also inflict violence.  In other words, many of these women are strong, capable, and far from helpless.  Prominent examples may be seen in The 11th Hour, Harvester, Phantasmagoria, Phantasmagoria 2, Point of View, and Tender Loving Care.  In all these cases, women attack (and often kill) men for either good (e.g. defence of self or others) or evil (e.g. out of selfishness or maliciousness) reasons.
* The games that depict or suggest sexual violence in any way are merely reflecting real life where such actions do occur.  With the exception of the highly unpopular, obscure, and never imitated Custer's Revenge video game, sexual violence is unfailingly presented in a highly negative way - as something to be strongly opposed.  Voyeur, and, in particular, Point of View, engage in valuable social commentary in regard to the causes and consequences of such violence.  It is far better to confront this serious problem in society than to ignore it.
* A large percentage of women in these controversial computer games have strong and complex personalities, often driving the storylines through their own actions.  Often, they are the most important characters in a particular game.  As such, they must be subject to a similar risk of danger/violence compared to male characters in similar central roles.  Some major examples include The 11th Hour, both Phantasmagoria games, Point of View, and Tender Loving Care.
* Women both design and play controversial computer games (e.g. the Phantasmagoria games).  As such, it is unlikely that too much, if any, female degradation will be depicted.
* Some women in most Western countries are employed by the armed or police forces where gun usage is often expected as is occasional physical combat.  Thus, women can capably inflict violence in the real world.  It is only reasonable to expect that computer games reflect this fact.
* Some women (and men) in real life do become genuine victims of violence in situations where they find themselves physically and/or emotionally unable to cope in some way.  This is an unfortunate and regrettable part of life, but, as art reflects life, it is only natural that some computer games characters will be depicted in this way (e.g. Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap).
 

Arguments that such depictions DO degrade women include:
* Women should retain their traditional feminine mystique.  An important component of this requirement is that they act in a significantly different manner to that expected of men.  In particular, they should refrain from all acts of violence and expect men to come to their aid if violence is being inflicted upon them.  These rules apply as much to the fictional world of computer games as they do to real life.  A woman inflicting violence in any way for any reason degrades herself from her refined feminine state. 
* A woman who has sexual violence inflicted upon her is degraded because she must somehow have carelessly brought such misfortune upon herself by "asking for it", or because she did not arrange for a friendly man to come to her aid to stop such violence.
* All real-world and fictional women, without exception, are physically and emotionally the inferiors of men.  They are always gentle, kind, and considerate to all people.  Under no circumstances do women ever inflict violence upon others or seriously provoke others to inflict violence upon them.  Thus, to inflict violence upon these extremely fragile creatures is an evil and despicable act in every case.  Women must therefore be vigorously protected from all sorts of harm.  They cannot be expected to be strong, confident, capable, resilient, or self-reliant.  In fact, it is usually best they participate in the world as little as possible and remain sheltered at home raising children, cooking, cleaning, and pleasing the men in their lives.
* All women can never recover from any type of violence and remain weak, cowering victims for the rest of their lives if they receive violence.  For computer games not to reflect this fact is to deny reality and make violence against women acceptable through not showing this inevitable lasting impact.
 

b) Through non-violent sexual situations (including nudity):
* Out of those 12 games, 10 depict non-violent sexual situations involving women (all except Custer's Revenge and Duke Nukem 3D)...or 9 if one counts the depiction that banned Dream Web to be sexualised violence. 
* Within these 12 games, 6 depict female breast nudity, whether of actual women or computer generated women (namely Custer's Revenge, Dream Web, Phantasmagoria, Phantasmagoria 2, Strip Poker, and Tender Loving Care).  There are no instances of full frontal nudity apart from Strip Poker.
* All of the 12 games apart from Custer's Revenge depict women wearing either lingerie or sleepwear at least once.
 

Arguments that such depictions DO NOT degrade women include:
* Art reflects all aspects and instances of real life.  In the real world, very few, if any, women remain fully clothed in modest day wear all day and all night, regardless of what they are doing.  At some stage, yes, they will only be wearing lingerie or sleepwear (of varying degrees of modesty), or they may be naked.  In fact, they may even be engaged in some form of sexual activity (see Hamrick, 1998).
* Many men are also depicted in a sexual way.  While these occasions almost always do not involve genital nudity (as in Custer's Revenge), they cannot be described as modest either.  Classic examples include Phantasmagoria 2, Point of View, Tender Loving Care, and Voyeur.
* Many women in computer games have significant control over their occasions and means of sexual gratification to the extent that they dictate all or most of the terms for sex rather than their male partners.  Some important examples include Phantasmagoria 2, Point of ViewTender Loving Care, and Voyeur.
* A large percentage of women in these controversial computer games have strong and complex personalities, often driving the storylines through their own actions.  Thus, it is very hard to see them as sex objects.  Some major examples include The 11th Hour, both Phantasmagoria games, Point of View, and Tender Loving Care.
* Women both design and play controversial computer games (e.g. the Phantasmagoria games).  As such, it is unlikely that too much, if any, female degradation will be depicted.
* These games are not pornography.  Most discussions of female degradation relate to pornography and their arguments cannot be reasonably transferred over to computer games.
 

Arguments that such depictions DO degrade women include:
* All men and teenaged boys are heavily driven by lustful desires and see women as merely sex objects existing for the sole reason of male sexual gratification.  Sexual depictions of women in computer games adds considerably to this pervasive view and increases the risk to females of unwanted, even violent, sexual advances.
* Women can only succeed in their aims if they give in to male sexual desires.  This fact is particularly distressing to most women as they have little or no sex drives of their own and would prefer to avoid sex altogether.
* Female nudity, or at least scanty clothing, encourages male players to see women as vulnerable, weak, and inferior to men.
 

Accusations that computer games degrade women provide the best example of the role of moral crisis and moral panic (see also Lumby, 1997) in censorship.  Here we can see a clash of two value systems: one very modern, progressive, pro-individual freedom, and even revolutionary; and the other cautious, conservative, protectionist, and very traditional.  Many people actually hold a combination of both views and therein lies the root of the conflict.  In an age of rapid social and economic change and growing uncertainty, individuals often tend to simultaneously both embrace and reject progress.  Fear and distrust of the future can readily lead to the censorship of entertainment products.  Whether or not such censorship is truly necessary is a matter for policy makers to decide.
 

Please see the Stakeholders page for further information on the groups that hold these views.


ViolenceDegradation of women
 

© Anthony Larme 2002
larme@hotmail.com
Comments and questions are most welcome