"Coming Up Next: Ambushed on 'Donahue'!"

By Henry Jenkins

Published August 23, 2002 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

I am a reasonably progressive white male in my 40s, have a master's degree, do not own a gun, do not vote Republican, and to the best of my knowledge, am not a sociopath. I also own Grand Theft Auto 3. There, I said it. And while it is indeed tasteless and violent, one may say the same thing about Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," where, in the town of Rock Ridge, old ladies are beaten up, men are dragged through the streets, horses are hanged, and henchmen are literally dynamited into the sky. But it's difficult to take any of that seriously while you're laughing with tears in your eyes, and I submit the same holds true for Grand Theft Auto 3.

Yes, you can drive on a sidewalk and mow down pedestrians. Yes, you can carjack and throw Molotov cocktails. The difference is, the graphics in this game are intentionally cartoonish. No reasonable person would connect the comic book mayhem of Liberty City (GTA 3's setting) with reality any more than they would connect the mayhem of Rock Ridge with reality. Just listen to any of the several radio stations you can tune to while playing the game and you'll instantly discern that this is very funny satire and self-deprecating humor.

Phil Donahue's cheap usage of teenage killings demonstrates only that there are children with severe mental and emotional problems who commit tragic acts of violence by pulling triggers or using knives, not by pushing buttons on a keypad. What next, Phil? "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" made me stake my classmates? Now, can someone please tell me where I can find those "power-up" hookers?

-- Lawrence Tonsick

I am saddened by Henry's experience on the "Donahue" show. It seems that just as there is a widening divide between the rich and poor, the old and young, so is there a huge gap between the gaming generation and the scared generation of soccer moms who don't like the idea that they and their former free-thinking peers failed to make the world all heterosexual rainbows and sugar-free candy.

These people -- who don't understand computers as a tool but rather as an expanded TV that lets them shop, charging even more to the debt their kids will inevitably inherit -- are the same people who don't read anymore and buy whatever their kids ask them for. I'm tired of moral legislation. Take responsibility for your own poor parenting! Stop picking on people who are actually causing progress, and work on progressing your own minds. Thank you Salon.com, for giving thinking people a voice!

-- Nathan Isenhardt

This article strengthens the viewpoint that the current state of the medium of television makes it nearly impossible to have intelligent discourse about politics, religion, etc. The written word along with public speaking (non-televised!) are the mediums in which debate should occur -- for our own sakes.

I am torn down the middle on the issues of video-game violence. I'm 30, an avid gaming fan, and a father of two. I've been addicted to video gaming basically since I was 9 years old; now I need to quit and I can't.

I was mature enough (or the games when I was a child not realistic enough) to know the difference between fantasy and reality; there has been no violent behavioral effect on my life as far as I can tell. I can tell you that I would be very concerned if I found my children (especially if they were in early adolescence) playing graphically violent video games. I have no excuse for the double standard, but it's how I feel as a parent. Maybe we all just want our kids to be better than we were. I sure don't let my kids see me play -- that alone is troubling.

One thing has changed since I was playing as a kid: The level of realism is, obviously, several orders of magnitude higher. That has been the defining difference in my adult vs. kid gaming; I want the first-person shooters!

They're a complete waste of time, but I find I can't pull away from the spectacle and fantasy world without great effort. I'm feel hesitant to even examine deeply, as the author does, the reasons for my fascination.

Keep it up, Salon: great reporting as always!

-- A. White

I applaud Henry Jenkins and the work that he has done to research violence in media and the effect that it has on children. His experience on Donahue's show only further assures my opinion that people are catering to a "mass stereotype" that parents have of the game industry.

When are parents going to stop allowing their children to be babysat by the Internet, TV, and video games? When are parents going to stop giving their children money for whatever game they wish or buying material most certainly not suitable for them? But parents don't want to be the ones to blame. In fact, no one wants to be the one to blame, so everyone is looking for a scapegoat.

I happen to like games -- not necessarily violent ones -- but I marvel at the technology behind them, the artwork that goes into them, and the story that makes them great. I also happen to be a 21-year-old female who can most certainly make decisions for myself -- I am an adult and while my mother may not agree with the things I like, she can no longer steer me clear of the things she may not want me to see/experience. My mother did all that steering when I was a child and in her care. The way she raised me, showing me right from wrong, good from bad, and fact from fiction, helped make me what I am today -- and I can only urge that other parents do the same thing.

Don't look for a scapegoat. Parent your children better through being there for them, getting actively involved in their lives, and being selective about what you want them to experience.

-- Christine Schlotter

For as long as I can remember (I am only 22), violence has been all over the news, in video games, on television, everywhere. Violence has been with humanity since the beginnings of recorded history. Why is violence in video games such a problem now? Like Jenkins said, banning violence in video games is not going to stop the kids from experiencing it through domestic abuse, the news, or even fights between other kids. Violence is part of human nature; it's why we are still around today. You can't get rid of it by forbidding the production of violent video games. I, for one, would just flock to those banned games just because they were banned. Curiosity will always win.

-- Mark Ordonez

I truly feel for Henry Jenkins. I equate people who trumpet a single video game as a cross section of the entire industry to those who assume that every piece of rap music ever written is about nothing more than drug dealing and other illegal activities. Of course, in this day and age, it's far more popular (and easy) to simply go with the flow and be outraged over whatever everyone else is outraged over. Actually learning about issues takes time and effort -- who the hell wants to deal with that!? "If it can't be separated into a black-and-white distinction in 10 seconds, I have no use for it." I've had similar "debates" before, and they are simply maddening beyond belief.

That being said, I would take some issue with Mr. Jenkins' reference to Microsoft. Although Microsoft does own a share of MSNBC (or is it the other way around?), I would argue that they would have little or no control over editorial content. Let us not forget that Microsoft has published "Mature" video games such as Dungeon Siege and Halo. I don't think there would be much motive for them to influence "Donahue" in a nature destructive to Mr. Jenkins' point of view.

In the end, we must remember one very important thing -- "Donahue," like so many other popular American television and radio talk shows, lives and breathes on one simple concept-- sensationalism. Let's face the facts -- if there isn't some kind of battle or "action" per se, the target audience for this type of program will simply flip the channel to something more enlightening, be it a daytime soap or infomercial. Losing an argument on "Donahue" could be equated to losing a card game to a prolific cheater. It's discouraging and frustrating, no doubt. However, it really isn't anything one should be ashamed about.

-- Rob Fox

The question of separating reality from fiction would probably be better directed to religions. Columbine, Waco, Jim Jones' Jonestown, and clinic bombings to name a recent few, have established that religion has more difficulty separating fact from fiction.

-- William Morris

Why did you not get up from your chair and simply walk off once you realized you were lied to? You have every right to walk off stage. Donahue? A serious talk-show host? Please. He's a blight to real journalism.

-- Matthew Arntzen

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Jenkins on his thoughts (or should it be thinks?) with regard to the media in general and computer games specifically. I am 27 years old, and yes, I play computer games. I've been playing computer games most of my life, and as of yet I have to commit a crime, slaughter innocent people, blow up a building or steal a car. Maybe I'm not playing the right games. Video games are a lot more graphically superior today to what they were when I was younger ("graphically superior" referring to the quality, not the content, of computer graphics), but this does not explain why people assume that just because kids play video games, any tendency they show toward violence comes from computer games. Or is it TV? Weren't we blaming violence in children on TV quite recently? What's it going to be next? Reading books causes violence?

Yes, I will agree that the media today has a desensitizing effect. Media, not just computer games. The nightly news often has more violence than any computer game could ever hope to jam in. And the news shows have a nice little habit of playing something shocking over and over again... drilling it into the heads of parents and children alike. The problem is, parents don't always sit down with their children afterward and talk to them about what they've seen. Some do, and I applaud those individuals, but on the whole more parents need to sit down and talk to their children, explain to them what they're seeing, even if it's hard to do. Then maybe the 8-year-olds will have a little more success separating fact from fiction. We need to take time away from our jobs, from ourselves, and spend it with our children.

It is easy to place the blame on something like TV or computer games when looking for an answer to violence among children. But easy isn't always right. That's something my parents told me when I was a child ... and it's something that's stuck with me, even though they didn't think I was listening. We are turning into an instant society. When everything is at our fingertips, from instant coffee to instant-win scratch tickets, we want everything to be there ... including the answers to hard questions. That just isn't going to happen, not now, and I'm quite sure not ever. But the road to bringing those questions closer, as Mr. Jenkins said, is "education, not regulation."

-- Robert Whitney

I personally don't like my children being exposed to violent video games, so I have a simple solution: I don't buy them. I appreciate Mr. Jenkins' thoughtful approach to the issue and I find his treatment on the "Donahue" show reprehensible though not unexpected. If a game that glorifies violence is popular in a society, it says more about the society than the industry that produces the game. Ms. White should be more concerned with changing people's hearts rather that our nation's laws. It appears she may want to start at home.

-- Brad Richardson

This is in response to Harry Jenkins' report on his appearance on the "Donahue" show. I am a teenager myself and am quite angered about what they said to him. How can these media idiots not realize what they are doing to themselves? It's stupid. They think playing some games ... seeing some blood, is going to make me want to go out and kill someone. I am an avid fan of GTA3, and plan to buy Vice City in October. Just because I have some fun messing around with a game like this, am I going to go psychotic and rampage around killing people? I think not. I have a high moral standard for myself and for others, too. Teenagers are not as stupid and blind as you think. I think, actually, sometimes playing a game somewhat like that, such as Red Faction for example, actually clears your mind and frees your anger more than fuels your aggression.

Violence is something we're going to see, no matter what, in many industries. It's not viewing the violence that's going to make teenagers want to kill. It's parents not doing their own job as parents and refusing to accept it. It's the parents' fault for buying things that they know their own children are not mature enough to handle. It's like a 10- year-old picking up a 200-pound barbell. You think he's gonna keep it up? No. He can't handle that pressure. Likewise, some teenagers can't handle mature-themed games, movies, or other media.

I just have to say, the points you cited here on the site are very true, and I, too, support originality in video games and always will. Violence is not in what you see. It's in what you do. If you aren't raised with enough moral standards to know not to kill ... then what will you end up doing? Most likely, killing.

Parents, stop putting the blame away from yourselves. Video games are not to blame. Creativity is not to blame. Your own negligence in raising your children: now that's what's to blame. I'm sorry, but if you don't care enough to know what they can and cannot handle, then you just don't care. And if you don't care about your own children, then you are the sick and twisted ones, not my fellow teenagers. Most of us are great people, if you'd give us a chance and perhaps open your heart and ears and listen to what we have to say. By the way, you media junkie idiots (you know exactly who you are): no, my mother didn't type this one up for me. These are the words of a 16-year-old. Raise your mind to my level, and to the level of these real adults, and you might just be able to understand ... someday, when you "grow up."

-- Russ Robinson

Does anyone even need to mention the supreme hypocrisy of purporting to show the corrupting effect of violence in the media on society, and yet tailoring the statement itself to be presented in the most confrontational manner possible? Pot, meet kettle. America is in love with confrontation and violence as effective tools for change. Our media only reflects this fact, as anything done for profit surely will reflect the values of those it is meant to be sold to.

I'm not sure where the push to change this sad state would come from, or if it's something a society can even change once past a certain point. I do feel certain, however, that the media's going to ultimately be following any trend, rather than setting it.

-- Bruce Cooner

By the author of this article's own admission, he knew this was an attack-type talk-show circus. Boo-hoo.

You jumped in with both feet and got your cojones handed to ya. Instead of writing to whine about how Donahue kicked your lily-white ass, why not steal a trick out of George W.'s election bag and act like you won until everyone believes you? Or better yet, be prepared for it next time and keep myself, and the rest of the gamers you represent, from looking like violence-hungry trogs. Your reaction to this experience scores a 7.5 out of a possible 10 on the moron-o-meter. Now dry your widdle eyes and go frag a few elderly citizens on GTA3. You'll feel much better.

-- Brian Thomas

Just finished reading your article on the visit to "Donahue" and wanted to send my support to the author.

Harry Jenkins, I feel your pain. It's hard to discuss "hot" topics when the agenda of the moderator is at cross-purposes to moderation.

While I agree wholeheartedly with your stance on video-game violence, I'm mostly writing to tell you not to beat yourself up about the show. You're an expert at what you do, and the "Donahue" producers are experts at what they do. You got suckered by the pros.

Such shows and "concerned citizens" pander to the morally indignant and fearfully ignorant. Such is the nature of the human condition. There is a reason people used to be killed for stating the truth (such as the roundness of the planet, or the sun's position in the solar system)

Besides, having something or someone to hate and blame (such as yourself and the evils you hawk to the youth of America) makes it a lot easier for people to live with their own impurities. And since that hate is sooo tasty, it only makes sense that shows such as "Donahue" would offer it as a afternoon snack. You won't get stellar ratings serving brussel sprouts when cake is at hand.

So don't feel bad. Welcome to the club of the Media Devoured.

Besides, you've undoubtedly done more good for sanity in the rest of your work than harm to it on "Donahue." Keep in mind, such shows preach only to their choir.

Keep up the fight. And play some GTA3. Wanton killing always makes me feel better.

-- Charles Firth

By Salon Staff

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