Are Video Games Conservative?

By Hourigan, Ben | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Are Video Games Conservative?

Hourigan, Ben, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Through July and early August 2005, controversy has dominated the world of videogame journalism. In the United States, discovery of a hidden sex scene in this year's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas brought Senator Hillary Clinton, among others, to reiterate the old idea that videogames were exposing children to sexual and violent content that would harm them in some way.

Journalists have been raising concerns about videogame content since 1976, when the arcade game Death Race let players drive a car over running humanoid zombies, and lawmakers have seldom passed up an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. Concern about videogames' alleged potential to corrupt youth reached a peak in 1999, when journalists reported on a home video in which Eric Harris talked with his friend Dylan Klebold about how the massacre they later committed at Columbine High School in Colorado would be like the videogame Doom. Since then, negative coverage of videogame violence has been steady, and governments' usual reaction to specific controversies is censorship. Once news of San Andreas' hidden sex scene broke, Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification quickly revoked the game's classification, effectively banning it from sale.

When I tell people about my doctoral research, they often ask if I'm trying to prove that videogames really do turn players into killers before I manage to explain that I investigate videogames' political aspects. Parents usually inquire if playing videogames will harm their child or teenager. For the generation of parents, journalists and legislators that grew up before videogames became a part of popular culture, the new medium seems to be the bearer of a strange newness that threatens to corrupt youth and destroy the foundations of society. But really, videogames are packed with themes which suggest to players that it is good to be a guardian of one's societies' traditions and institutions. These themes, in turn, are part of aesthetic traditions that videogame developers constantly turn to as a basis for new creations. The medium is, in fact, dominated by conservative sentiment.

Roger Scruton captured the essence of conservatism when he wrote, in The Meaning of Conservatism, that it 'involves an attempt to perpetuate a social organism, through times of unprecedented change'. English parliamentarian and intellectual Edmund Burke crystallized this conservative attitude in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, which championed British constitutional monarchy against the threat posed by an enthusiasm for radical change sparked by the French Revolution of 1789. Just as Burke sought to preserve his society, in videogames the protagonists very often defend living people and existing institutions from traitors, usurpers or invaders who threaten the most radical change a society could ever face: its own destruction.

We see the conservative impulse to preserve even in such early games as 1978's Space Invaders, where the player controls a mobile gun turret as it mounts a defence against an infinite onslaught of alien attackers. The defence motif, on which videogames' conservatism is built, persists in videogames right up to the present. Even Doom, the game talked about by the Columbine killers, has its hero defending a human outpost on Mars from demons teleporting in from Hell: the massacre certainly was not a replay of the game's heroic premise.

The games that most arouse the ire of politicians, judges, journalists and parents in Australia and overseas are, in fact, uncommonly rebellious and transgressive. Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, which began in 1997 and to which the controversial San Andreas belongs, has players guiding the games' protagonists as they rob, assault, murder, car-jack, and trade in illegal drugs. Yet such games, which put the player in the villains shoes for the sake of novelty, are atypical of videogames in general, and they revel in rebellion not out of any political radicalism or desire to corrupt, but rather because playing the bad guy is a novel and welcome change for players more frequently involved in world-saving heroics. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Are Video Games Conservative?


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.