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Friday, July 28, 2006

Pac-Man found to be 64% Violent

During recent hoopla over video game ratings and regulation in the U.S. Senate and House, Dr. Kimberly Thompson of Harvard University came to the conclusion that Pac-Man is 64% violent (testimony here). Further numbers can be found at Harvard's KidsRisk research, who are attempting to deconstruct not only violence but other tricky things like sexual content in media.

Not only does this allow me to make the awesomest pie chart ever as you see above, but it makes you wonder how can you put a mathematical quantity on something as ambiguous as violence.

We defined violence as acts in which the aggressor causes or attempts to cause physical injury or death to another character. We did not include damage to objects, accidental actions that unintentionally harmed another character, the effects of natural disasters, or the presence of dangerous obstacles that could not be attributed to the actions of a particular character.

More fun with numbers can be found in their report on "Teen" rated video games:

All 36 games rewarded or required the player to injure characters (100%), while 33 games (92%) rewarded or required the player to kill. We observed 6,011 character deaths from violence in approximately 42 hours of game play, occurring at an average rate of 145 character deaths per hour. This included 4,268 human deaths, occurring at an average rate of 104 human deaths per hour. Overall, we identified 24 games (67%) that depicted deaths from violence of nonhuman characters, including the player, and 33 games (92%) that depicted deaths from violence of human characters, including the player.

Obviously, precisely measuring the slippery slope of moral content has been going on forever. Case in point: obscenity and indecency battles like the Supreme Court's "Miller Test" and the multiple cases with Larry Flynt. If history tells us anything, attempting to legislate content is usually a failure. However, the issue at hand isn't outright rejection of ratings, gamers are just pissed at the legislation of content. Video gamer icons Gabe and Tycho from Penny-Arcade recently released a new ad campaign for the ESRB: "Regardless of what they think about the ESRB I've never met anyone who doesn't agree that a rating system is important. No one wants little kids playing games designed for adults. The ESRB isn't perfect but it's all we've got and we as gamers can either bitch about it or try and help."

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