Just How Violent Is Pacman, Anyway?

from the yikes dept

A couple months ago, we wrote about a bunch of politicians grandstanding against video games, an event that was later mocked successfully by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. It appears that the hearing is still getting plenty of attention. Slashdot is pointing to an ongoing debate over some of the research that was presented at the hearing. Aaron Stanton, at About.com, took issue with a Harvard researcher who testified about how the ESRB (the organization in charge of rating video games) did not accurately rate the games. Stanton notes that in the report, Dr. Kimberly Thompson, also put in some stats about classic video games, noting that Pacman was considered 62% violent. Yes, the game where you run around a maze chomping dots. Apparently, having the ghosts chase you is considered “violent.” The blog Joystiq decided to ask Dr. Thompson to respond, which she did in great detail, pointing out that the Pacman issue was only a tiny part of the overall work and was more for comparative purposes. She also notes that games like Pacman may be played by children who are only 2 or 3 years old and cannot yet distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy. Stanton, however, responds to Thompson’s response and makes some important points.

While Thompson says people are only focusing in on this one element, Stanton is absolutely right that the fact that her methodology recognizes Pacman as such a violent game should raise an awful lot of questions about the overall methodology (and that doesn’t even get into the game Centipede, which is judged as 92.6% violent). While Thompson isn’t trying to make public policy positions based on the research, the politicians she presented to will be making public policy decisions on it. And, given the way most politicians act, you can bet that they’ll be using only the elements of the research that support their position while conveniently ignoring the points that don’t. What the 62% Pacman number shows is that the scale and system that Thompson is using probably is quite different than what most people consider “violence” to be. However, when that same scale is used for the sake of public policy making, no one will note that the scale is not calibrated with our common sense views of violence, and that’s a problem.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Just How Violent Is Pacman, Anyway?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Kiah says:

Pacman is violent?!

OH GOD! What have I done?! All those innocent ghosts, murdered by the savageness of my pacman. Oh the horror!

Yeah… I think they might be exagerating a bit… I mean, statistics can prove anything.

Just out of curiousity… If pacman is 62% violent, how violent is Grand theft auto?

Or even manhunt?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Originally posted by Starky

“The ESRB should play the games when assigning a rating.”

Aside from how idiotic it is to expect them to play every game to rate it (what if they aren’t good enough to get past some parts or find secret content), this kind of suggestion ignores the fact that the industry is self-regulated. They don’t even have to rate games, they do it as a service to consumers. Next thing you know you will be demanding that all books are rated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A movie is, at most, 2 hours long.

A video game is typically somewhere around 40.

That’s why it’s absurd. Working 8 hours a day, a reviewer can finish a short game in one week.

Then they have to go back through and search for easter eggs that may or may not exist. So it has to be a thorough playing.

Let’s say 70 to 80 hours then, going through different combinations. 2 weeks.

That’s the speed that we play games when we aren’t looking for things that COULD be sexual. There’s time to stop and write these things down, note, debate, look up references, etc.

We’re looking at a month a game.

One whole month to be reviewed for one game.

There are 8 systems pumping out games daily; not to mention a backlog of recent “playable” games that would be catalogued between the XBox, PS2, and Gamecube.

It’s. Not. Possible.

Tom says:


Video games dont make people violent. I played a lot of pacman. And all I want is to simply pound a shiv into the chests of the stupid @)(#$@)(#$* organisms that call themselves politicians.

Erm, wait a second. Maybe games have made me violent.

In which case—better not let politics me mad.

Sure hope politicians don’t start blaming video games rather than the fact they are raping society with politics.

Screw video games, back to thumb-wars for me.


Outsider looking in says:

Politicians want kids to do something else....

It seems that both politicians and professors want to get kids away from the video games and back out into the world. With all the obesity, depression and ADHD that kids suffer from today it probably wouldn’t hurt to get the kids away from the games for a while and see what happens. Underpinning all of this potential legislature is a belief that video games are not beneficial (beyond eye-hand coordination), and this may or may not be the case. Perhaps video games do help kids who might otherwise be lonely or bored. The games certainly entertain, but it is hard to see how they teach children to do tangible work. Many of us probably know middle age men who will go out and fix the car or do house repairs. My twenty something friends often do not know how to do these things, and I am left wondering if they had something better to do in their childhood (and now) rather than going out and learning about the world. Of course, my good friend loves video games and can fix anything you throw at him, so this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does seem to be an emerging trend. This problem is multifactorial and all roads do not lead to video games, but isn’t it possible that they are contributing?

Grey Williams (user link) says:

It gets worse

I wrote about it a few days ago on my LJ. It actually gets worse. This basically the same article but seems to contain a lot more info.

For instance, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion scored only 5% violent using the same methodology. At the other end of the scale, Galaga and Galaxian both scored 100% violent. Heck, even Kirby64 scored 71.7% violent. KIRBY!

Unfortunately they didn’t give the violence rating that GTA got but according to the article, GTA3 scored as less violent than games like Space Invaders. So I guess my 10 year old son would be better off playing GTA then huh?

rijit (profile) says:

Ignorance is Bliss...

Stupid. The rating system works just fine. In fact it is harder on content then Hollywood’s rating system. An R rated movie would get an AO (Adults Only 18+) rating on everything except violence, which would get a MA(Mature Audience 17+) rating. Most PG(13+) movie ratings would get a Teen rating on games, meaning 14+ to play it. So the government thinks the rating system doesn’t work, go figure.

The only reason the politicians even bother with it is because it is a newer medium that is interactive. The movie industry had these kind of growing pains, as did the music industry, after all Rock n Roll was branded devil music when it started to grow. So video games are just the latest platform for politicians to latch on to and protect the children. After all that has come before, risky movies and rock n roll are mainstream, video games will eventually make it there as well.

wist says:

i simply cannot wait for this generation of ignorant, incompetent politicians to die. they are so out of sync with today’s culture its unbelievable. its comparable to the people of generations before us who thought elvis’ dancing was inappropriate. its only a matter of time before they die or replaced with younger, more up to date incompetent politicians.

Sal says:

sure are evil

I’m a teenager so I guess i’ll put in my 2 cents. I have played GTA, Hitman, Spliter Cell, Pacman, and Galaga (100% violent???). I don’t have ADD (it’s just a controll issue, not a disease). I exercise just as much as I play video games and am a geek. My friends and I don’t have any problems with violence as we know the diference between video games and reality. Video games don’t create the problems. They are just a fun and sometimes addictive outlet. Would you rather me play GTA and kill some hookers or bring a gun to school? And to all the politians, harsh rules won’t solve the problem. Hell TV has more sex and violence and is more of a waste. Why not start raising your kids a healthy way? A right wing, republican, Christian perspective works, you should try it.

MrPaladin says:

I always thought Mario...

Whenever violence in Vid games comes up I’ve always pointed at Pacman and Mario for some of the worst offences… lets take a quick look at them…


See’s Ghosts…

Has food cravings…

Takes Drugs known as ‘power pellets’ that then allows him to consume said ghosts!!!…


Finds hidden ‘stashes’ of cash…

Proformance enhansing drugs in the form of Mushrooms, and Wild flowers and other such things…

Hidden ‘vines’ (drug reference) that take him to ‘warp pipes’…

Lets face it people, Mario and pacman are a major reason alot of people smoked pot and did other Rec. drugs!!!

(PS dont get me started on sonic…)

RoyalPeasantry says:

She also notes that games like Pacman may be played by children who are only 2 or 3 years old and cannot yet distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy.

You know, for some odd reason I really DOUBT they connect themselves with the yellow circle thing enough to actually think, HOLY #$%^!!! I just DIED!!! or YES!!! I absolutly slaughtered that ghost!!! It died a horrible and painfull death!!!

Which is basically what she was saying in her response as far as I could tell.

Xanthir (profile) says:

The Study Methodology

Basically, the % violence was based on what percent of the time violent activities were going on. That’s why a game like Galage was 100% violent – you’re shooting things the entire time!

On the other hand, a game like Hitman which is mostly sneaking with a tiny bit of violence at the end would rate extremely low on her scale.

So, just on this little glimpse into the study, you see that it is so flawed as to be completely useless.

There’s also the matter of what exactly she defines ‘violence’ as…

Newob says:

How violent is my fist?

What shit. Video games are make-believe. How violent is make-believe? Which is more violent, a real murder or a make-believe murder?

These people keep saying that kids can’t tell between fantasy and reality. But they are assigning violence percentages to make-believe fantasy worlds, as if they were the real thing. So, who doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality? Alarmists and politicians, naturally. Kids seem to have a pretty good grasp on reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

> A video game is typically somewhere around 40. That’s why it’s absurd.

A video game is typically 40 hours of redundant play after 5 mintues of uniqueness. If you such a dumb fcuk that you have to complete the entire game before you can tell how violent it is, then you should not be allowed to reproduce.

Quite frankly rating a game R would problably increase it’s sales since any kid would rather play a R-rated game than a PG-rated one, but the point is that the consumers (parents and kids) should have the information to make knowledgable choices. What’s so wrong with that.

Anonymous Coward says:

also, the orginal point was that although you don’t have to play the entire game to rate it, you do actually have to play the game. The fact that they haven’t played the game before rating it is why PacMan is being rated violent.

Let’s do the math. Let’s say a person plays a game for a mere 8 hours (one work day) before rating it. That means it’s only one-person day to rate a game. If 50 new games come out each month, which is WAY MORE than reality, then it only takes 50 person-days per month to rate all the games. That’s 50/20 or 2.5 person-days per work day.

So a company with only 3 employees would be sufficent to rate all games. Oh, that’s so fcuking hard.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...