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Games for Change Shows Us the Beautiful Side of Video Games

Each week on Twitch and Alpha, hosts Erika Ishii and Trisha Hershberger talk video games with special industry guests, insightful coverage and a ton of audience interaction on our show Game Engine. Be sure to tune in every Tuesday starting at 4 PM PT to learn about what’s new and cool in the world of video games.

When I was growing up, two of my favorite video games were Ultima 7 and Diablo. Kind of opposite ends of the spectrum; one was a robust roleplaying game with deep lore and the other was touted as the most violent video game of its time (or at least that what my parents wanted me to believe). I don’t think my parents were scared for my well-being as much as their for their wallets (to this day, Blizzard gets a *lot* of my money), but violence in video games was as much a subject of debate back then as it is now.

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The controversy has been raging since 1976, with the fear that surged up over the arcade game Death Race. Based on the film Death Race 2000, the video game featured never-before-seen levels of violence (albeit in Atari-level graphics.  Would that the moral censors of the era got a look at modern games – their heads might explode and subsequently need to be censored). Fed by the media and politics of the era, a moral panic ensued, with calls for video game censorship and bans. The pressure to control video games has gone as far as involving the U.S. Supreme Court, which in the 2011 “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association” case, ruled that video games would be granted the full protections of free speech and stated that the regulation of violent game sales to minors is unconstitutional.

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This legal victory has not stopped video games from being continuously vilified by those who see them as nothing but senseless violence and had done so for decades.  In the mid-1990s, amid industry-wide concerns sparked by Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, the video game industry formed the ESRB to self-label content and age ratings for all mainstream video games (by the way, if any of you want to go ahead and watch some let’s play videos of Night Trap, you’re in for a laugh, but remember, there were *CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS* about it at the time).

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The moral panic over video game violence has had its flare-ups for decades, with passionate arguments on both sides; some fearing a connection between video game violence and real-life acts, while others pointing out that video games are no different than any other form of artistic expression and must be protected from censorship. Recently, the White House fed fuel to the fire with their smash cut “Violence in Video Games” on Youtube. The video samples some of the most gruesome scenes from a variety of popular video games and certainly makes for a troubling watch…especially if it’s your only perspective on what constitutes a ‘video game’.

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Games for Change, a non-profit organization of game creators and activists, sought to provide a different perspective on games and uploaded a reaction video called “#GameOn – 88 Seconds of Video Games”. This collection of scenes encompasses some of the most majestic, touching, and truly special moments in the diverse world of video games. Where “Violence in Video Games” focuses almost exclusively on first person shooters (FPS), “88 Seconds of Video Games” instead gives us a look at platformers, puzzlers, roleplaying games, action-adventure, a few less-bloody FPS, psychological journeys, tales of family and friends, and more. It lets us sit and stare for a moment at the graceful beauty of the worlds within these games.

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I’ve played a lot of the games featured in the video and, within moments of pushing play, I found myself getting choked up. They’ve got the scene of Max and Chloe, from Life is Strange, walking down the tracks together (I’ve got feels), Ellie, from Last of Us, petting a giraffe (awww),  even Naiee and Naia, from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, hugging (cue the waterworks). Now I’m practically bawling while watching Link (Legend of Zelda) ascending mountains and the sack-boy (Little Big Planet) running around joyously and all I can think is these are the moments that stay with me.

Personally, I can play an FPS for hours and not remember most of what happened as it all blurs together in a hail of bullets and taupe colored landscapes, but these other games often have moments which etch themselves upon my spirit with their lovingly-designed landscapes, deft story-telling, and characters who evoke true empathy. The games that Games for Change chose to feature are not just collections of kills mounted on our gamer-cred walls, but more like the bed-time stories of our generation.

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That said, this isn’t about vilifying violent FPS games in order to tout the value of these other titles.  The ever-growing diversity of theme that exists within video games is reflective of other modes of artistic expression and makes the case that, though violence might exist in our games, our games need not be defined by violence. I enjoy masterfully sniping a raging Deathclaw from a hundred yards as much as taking a leisurely walk across the fields of Hyrule, and it is important to have those options – neither is less valid an experience, nor more worthy of censorship.

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The White House’s video does indeed show one side of games and gamer culture, though it does so with the bombastic one-sidedness of an alarmist.  However, as with any living art form, there is depth, variety, and worth at work in video games – what experiences we seek as players are as varied as we are ourselves, and for every headshot highlight reel, there are displays of warmth, empathy, and genuine exploration of our own humanity.  And both have every right to exist.

I appreciated ’88 Seconds of Video Games’ for the memories it evoked and the perspective it provided, and if you are interested, you can learn more about Games for Change and their mission at Gamesforchange.org.

What are your favorite moments from video games, Which games have made you bawl like a baby? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check out Game Engine (on Twitch and Alpha Tuesdays at 4 PM Pacific) to learn more about the coolest things in the world of games with Erika and Trisha.

Hailing from New York, Jessica Fisher is a writer, artist, and all around geek. In addition to Geek & Sundry, she writes for Gameosity.com and produces the Gameosity Reviews Youtube Channel. Find her talking about all things geeky on Twitter as @miniktty.

Image Credits: Blizzard, Digital Pictures, Activision, E-Line Media, Dontnod Entertainment, Nintendo, Moon Studios, Campo Santo

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