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Brutal thrill-kill slaughter fests : video games and moral panic from 1992 to 2009

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:58 authored by Tischler, JA
Studies of moral panics in Australia range from drug panics in the suburbs of Melbourne (Rowe 2007) to Vietnamese-Australians contesting their portrayal in the media as perpetrators of crime (Dreher 2007). However, Outrageous! (2007) the book that houses these studies along with fifteen others, and claims to be the first book of Australian moral panics (Poynting and Morgan 2007: 1 ), is curiously short on studies of moral panics relating to violent media concerns. Not one of the seventeen studies looks at a violent media connected moral panic. Australia has never been short of violent media-related moral panics, especially since the 1980s began. There are studies for most of those moral panic episodes: video nasties, metal music and devil worshiping Dungeons and Dragons players. Each of these enjoys a wide range of research, including from the Australian perspective. However, one media moral panic that is underrepresented in moral panic studies is that of violent video games. Despite a vigorous episode in the 1990s and resurgences of concern in the 21st century, not much attention has been payed to these episodes of anxieties over the violence in games. Researches in regards to this issue are mostly psychological or sociological studies attempting to prove or disprove the link between violence in games and violent behaviour ( e.g. Griffiths 1999, Dill and Dill 1998, Anderson 2004 and Anderson and Bushman 2001). There are only a couple of existing studies of moral panics surrounding video game violence. Ferguson (2008) and Sternheimer (2007) have both looked at how a moral panic over the connection of video games to school shootings has been constructed, and Dwyer and Stockbridge (1999) have approached it in relation to Australia's new media policy decisions. However most studies tend to assume a moral panic happened - even Dwyer and Stockbridge are somewhat guilty of this, along with Lum by (1997) among others. So this study aims to place itself in the gap that has arisen in the studies of violent media related moral panics, by focusing on these episodes of moral panic in Australia over violence in computer games. Focussing on news coverage in the Herald Sun newspaper, one episode is during the era between 1992 and 1996 during which the classification of games began. 1997 misses out by virtue of having no articles about the evils of computer game violence, so only serves to illustrate the abrupt ending of the brief resurgence in moral panic in 1996. The next period that is considered is that of the first decade of the 21 st century, running from 2001 to 2009 when video games were again the subject of concern. This study looks at news coverage only, avoiding letters to the editor and reviews, on the issue of video games and violence and the connection with violent behaviour. These articles were retrieved from online databases. This means that the study gets to concentrate on the text. This study makes a number of key arguments. Beginning with the period that runs from 1992 to 1996, this thesis argues that during this period, concern was heightened and resulted in a moral panic on the issue of violence in video games and its potential effect on children. This moral panic, it is argued, follows the moral of Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2002). The criteria that Goode and Ben-Y ehuda point out as being necessary to indicate that there is a moral panic are all met. There is heightened concern, a consensus on the legitimacy of that concern, there is hostility towards violent video games, the response is seen to be disproportionate and the moral panics over games and_ violence in this period exhibit volatility. It is also argued that this period of moral panics is also marked by games, gamers and game violence being constructed in a certain way. Games are constructed as youthful toys, garners are perceived as children and teenagers and violent games are seen a dreadful corrupters of the young. Finally for this period it is argued that the model of the 'wheel' of moral panic that Ferguson (2008) shares can be useful in studying other similar moral panics as is demonstrated by its use here, which shows it works just fine as a conceptual aid. For the later period between 2001 and 2009, it is argued that in contrast to earlier periods no moral panic occurred. Even though there is concern over violence in video games, similar to that of the 1990s, and that the concerns are certainly raised in a volatile manner, the events fail to satisfy all of Goode and Ben-Yehuda's (2002) criteria. The criteria of consensus, disproportionality and hostility have not been satisfied. In answer to this it is then argued that even though there is some hint of a McRobbie and Thornton (1995) moral panic, due to the active contestation of attacks on violent video games by pro game lobbying groups such as entertainment software advocates and the publishers and producers of games themselves. However they may be seen as a bit too efficient in that none of the events that appear as a beginning to a moral panic ever seem to get off the ground. Although this can be attributed in some part to the effects of lobby groups, it is also argued that there has been a significant change in the discourses surrounding games, garners and games violence between the 1990s and the 2000s. This shift in the discourse, it is argued, has constructed games as an adult entertainment product, gamers as adult consumers and violence in games as a legitimate consumer choice for adults. This, it is argued, has also had an impact on the effectiveness of attacks on violent video games, since it is hard to get a panic off the ground when you target the entertainment habits of adults, as long as that they are not blatantly perverted. So they are the key arguments that I have made in this project.


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