by Jed Pressgrove
If you saw someone publicly denigrate a woman then turn around and kill a little boy, you’d be morally inconsistent to decry one sin but dismiss the other. This is the kind of moral inconsistency that many video game critics sell in self-congratulatory arguments against sexism in violent games. And they’ll keep doing it as long as people keep clapping their hands and throwing tomatoes.
The most popular excuse for this moral inconsistency is agenda-setting for the circle jerk: some critics seem to believe that we already take violence seriously enough in real life, which means that violence in games is not a moral concern. Showing fear of game censorship (and perhaps fear of the possibility that games can influence violent behavior), these critics will trip over each other to cite scientific evidence that games can’t influence murder. They then turn around and preach against sexism in games, claiming or suggesting that games can or will affect real-world views about sexism (often with no scientific article in sight). They do this because they know “sexism in games” articles stir up both the angry liberals and angry conservatives in the gaming community, which translates into page views and perhaps money. These critics also know that if they come out strong against violence, they wouldn’t have the liberals or the conservatives on their side, endangering their overall “credibility” (but more in a political sense, not a journalistic sense). In short, anti-sexism, pro-violence arguments give game critics enough friends to keep their credibility and enough enemies to get even more page views and comments.
But an honest moral and scientific critique of games takes courage, not a business plan. The question of whether games influence or reinforce bad behavior is a question that scientists are still trying to answer, but many critics don’t care. They’re willing to limit the concern to sexism, then treat the scientific question of causation/reinforcement as an emotional concern — as if science is the same thing as morality — so that the cheers and jeers of the audience will be even louder.
Social scientists, however, continue to examine violence and sexism in games, sometimes in the same study (for example, see An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Behavior in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior). While pure science doesn’t make moral evaluations, the holistic approach of scientists can serve as an inspiration to people who want to share moral arguments that make sense. Moral consistency either questions both violence and sexism in games or isn’t concerned about either subject. Moral consistency will still lead to a debate — should we care about objectionable content in games? — but at least the debate is a debate that isn’t based on narrow political terms.
Only suckers believe polarizing critics like Ben Kuchera and Kat Bailey are going to change people’s perceptions about gender. Their unscientific, morally inconsistent arguments typically reinforce existing beliefs; they do not tend to revolutionize the system. As long as liberals don’t care about violence and as long as conservatives can point this out, we will have no middle ground. What we will have is an unending argument that never advances — idiocy.