My family and I spent the holiday weekend playing Apples to Apples, a board game in which players are holding a handful of descriptive cards to play against a word card held by a "judge". A basic strategy of the game is to "play to the judge". In other words, to lay a card that you think the judge will agree describes the word they hold.
On one of my turns at judge, I held the word "violent". The cards laid were hockey, the CIA, and video games. Obviously, someone wasn't playing to the judge. Nonetheless, an argument ensued in favor of the connection between video games and violence.
Since we had spent the afternoon checking traffic and causing spectacular damage in Burnout Revenge, I was hard-pressed to immediately list games that were not violent.
This brings me to the point. Obviously, it would be incorrect, or at least inaccurate, to state whole-heartedly that video games are not violent. One does not have to stretch in the least to list a host of games across several genres which could be considered violent.
Many games hold ESRB ratings that note the violence. Indeed, even the "E" Rating allows for mild violence. The problem is that we do have to stretch to list, and occasionally describe to others, games that are not violent.
The problem lies in the perception of games and the games industry as being violent and, possibly unnecessary. It's so much larger than a simple question of "Are video games violent?". Knee-jerk reactions against the industry for violence and for, basically, a lack of redeeming qualities, are rampant. But, while many articles have been written on the benefits of gaming, it still seems that we, as an industry, lack a return knee-jerk response.
Everyone knows that video games improve eye-hand coordination. Most people are aware that video games challenge the imagination. Less well-known are the benefits of gaming in staving off the symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia.
Some of the general public are completley unaware of the creative aspects of gaming such as level design in LittleBigPlanet, creature creation in Spore, and modding in games such as Neverwinter Nights and Unreal Tournament. Newer in the public eye are fan art and Machinima.
Games and gaming communities inspire learning. Teachers would be hard-pressed to find better methods to teach statistics, discovery, esoteric knowledge and resource management than the methods used in forums, walk-throughs and fan-driven wiki's. Co-op play and online play improve social skills.
Improvements in localization increase cultural awareness and accountability. Gamers must balance resources, think creatively, problem-solve, be persistent, learn patience, improve timing, focus, and make decisions. Often, they are required to play decisively and quickly at the same time.
We all know this. These are skills we bring into our every day world. We know there is more than one way to do things and because we already think creatively on a regular basis, solutions are often easier to see. We don't quit. We don't expect immediate gratification.
The point is not that video games are not violent. Some of them are. Some, not all. Placing all games under a stereotypical umbrella of being violent allows society as a whole to put blinders on regarding the positive aspects of gaming.
Because games are perceived as violent, we, as both players and developers, fail to improve public perception no matter how many articles we write on the benefits of gaming. We are the ambassadors of gaming. It is up to us, as a whole, to show the world a view beyond BFG's and glorious destruction.