Jenkins: Violence, Video Games & Ethical Choices

This post continues the discussion of Henry Jenkins book "Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers"

Jenkins makes another good point in the same chapter on gaming that is often overlooked. It is the discussion of the meaning and impact of violence in video games when he refers to the meaning that many players take away from violent shooters:

“There are really two games taking place simultaneously – one the explicit conflict and combat on the screen, the other, the implicit cooperation and comradeship between the players.” (p.114)
While non-gamers may only see the violence on the screen, the players are not focused on it. They are focused on the strategy and the teamwork required to be successful. It is not a disregard for the rules and norms of society that is learned, but the rules of success and strategy of the game.

“Games do represent powerful tools for learning – if we understand learning in a more active, meaning-driven sense. The problem comes when we make too easy an assumption about what is being learned just by looking at the surface features of the games” (p215).

Jenkins rightfully contends that some opponents of violent games spend their time combating the surface violence of a game, when a more meaningful dialogue and education could had by discussing what the games have to say about violence (what are the costs or consequences to violent actions?). The Rockstar game “Bully” is a perfect example of this judgmental attitude. The game has results and consequences for violent action. Jenkin’s describes games as an “ethical testing ground” where a variety of moral and ethical character decisions could to tried and reflected upon. For all the negative press that Rockstar’s GTA and Bully games have received, the games to force a player to make moral and ethical choice and then react and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Rather than rallying against games like these, we as educators should be engaging them and the students that play them. Use the game experience as a gateway to a larger discussion about the role of violence in society and our lives and the consequences to choosing violence as an option.

This coming fall semester, I want to explore this idea of games being a moral playground with professors in the sociology department. Video games create a learning environment where the player can experiment with social situations like violence and see and reflect upon the results of violence and how the player fits that into their own ethical and moral decision making process.

Photos from the PS2 game "BULLY" from &


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