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The video game controversy has been an ongoing debate with one side insisting that video games increase violent tendencies amongst children and the other debunking it. Timothy F. Winter blames video games for violence amongst children in his article 'The Government Should Stop Kids From Buying Violent Video Games,' published in U.S. News and World Report on 10th May 2010 while Michael D. Gallagher insists otherwise in his article, 'Video Games Don't Cause Children to be Violent,' published in U.S. News and World Report on 10th May 2010. Both articles are directed towards parents as the topic concerns children and whether they are affected by video games, a common form of entertainment in any given household. This essay will critique the strengths and weaknesses of the articles with regard to how the authors used the rhetorical proofs of ethos, pathos and logos. Though Winter is better at using pathos in his article than Gallagher, his argument contains fallacies which weakens his argument considerably while Gallagher's article is reinforced by his usage of logos.
The rhetorical proof ethos can be categorized to three different parts, that is, initial ethos, derived ethos and terminal ethos (McCroskey, 2004). McCroskey (2004) defines initial ethos to be the ethos of the source before the communicative act, derived ethos as the source's ethos during the act of communicating and terminal ethos to be the source's ethos at the completion of the communicative act. Ethos plays an important role in an argument because the audience judges not only the argument, but the speaker as well (Borchers, 2006). The key factors in constructing a believable ethos are source credibility, prestige and personal proof (McCroskey, 1997) and as Gallagher is the president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, a company that deals exclusively with video games (The Entertainment Software Association website, 2010), he is more than qualified to give his opinion on the subject thus he has high initial ethos. Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council and though that organization advocates most forms of entertainment, its primary focus is television (Parents Television Council website, 2010) so his initial ethos is not as high as Gallagher's. Winter and Gallagher both have derived ethos because during the body of their articles, they both include factual material and opinions attributed to qualified sources (McCroskey, 2004). Winter cites findings from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Parents Television Council and the California Legislature. Gallagher includes sources from the Supreme Court, FBI statistics, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a quote from Hon. Robin Cauthron of the United States District Court, and the FTC. Both Winter and Gallagher have terminal ethos because as a representative of the Parents Television Council and Entertainment Software Association, they manage to make their corporations look good through their arguments.
Winter's stance on video games is that it encourages violence amongst children due to the flaws in the rating system while Gallagher firmly believes that the rating system will prevent children from playing violent video games. Both writers are slightly biased in their articles in supporting their stance but Winter is noticeably more so than Gallagher. Winter's article may offend the percentage of his audience that are gamers as he states that, 'The industry's arguments are logically and morally bankrupt.' Reinking, Hart and von der Osten (1999) point out that if the writer's tone is mean or arrogant, it offends the public and will fail to persuade the public. Winter is sarcastic and snide in his comments about the video game industry in his article. Gallagher expresses his genuine concern for the subject as he believes in finding a solution to the problem and is generally respectful to the audience. To appeal ethically to the audience, one has to be committed to the truth, have sincere respect for others and to be concerned about the issue (Reinking, Hart & von der Osten, 1999). Thus from an ethos standpoint, Gallagher is better at backing up his argument with ethos than Winter.
Ramage, Bean & Johnson (2004) associates pathos with emotional appeal which focuses on making the audience feel what the writer feels. They further state that pathos relies on the audience's imaginative sympathies. Gallagher concludes his article with a sentence that will appeal to the audiences' sympathies, '...American's rights to speech and expression are sacred and inviolate- millions across the political spectrum agree with us.' His audience, Americans as this article appears in the U.S. News Report, are being emotionally manipulated to believe that those opposing Gallagher's argument are suppressing their freedom of speech. He is relying on the audience to sympathize with the video games industry as they are being oppressed. Thus Gallagher has developed some pathos in his argument, as he knows his audience and how to sway their emotions (Borchers, 2006).Winter also displays a knack for utilizing this rhetorical proof as he describes in length the violent acts one can commit when playing a video game such as 'shoot a police officer and urinate on him as he tries to crawl away'. The examples he gave serves two purposes; it provides evidence that supports his reasoning and it also gives his argument presence and emotional resonance (Ramage, Bean, Johnson, 2004).
Winter's inclusion of specific details in his argument can help to create an image in the audience's minds that will trigger their feelings (Ramage, Bean, Johnson, 2004).Winter uses terms like 'ultraviolent video games' to further insinuate his message to the audience that video games are a negative form of entertainment that focuses on violence. Reinking, Hart and von der Osten (1999) affirm that pathos can be used to drive people to action, people who would otherwise passively accept an argument based solely on logic. Winter's graphic details will cause parents to be against video games because they would not want their children to participate in these violent actions. Gallagher attempts that strategy as well when he indirectly accuses his opposition of taking away American's freedom of speech by condemning the video game industry because video games are considered to be media too. However, the rest of Gallagher's article lacks pathos as he does not attempt to connect with the audience as much as Winter. Therefore, Winter displays a better use of pathos than Gallagher in his article.
Though both Winter and Gallagher have used the rhetorical element of logos in their arguments, Gallagher's use is stronger as Winter's article contains fallacies that weaken his argument. Logos refers to the internal consistency and clarity of the message and to the logic of its reasons and support (Ramage, Bean, & Johnson, 2004). Gallagher makes a good point when he states that the video game industry has a rating system that informs and empowers parents. He believes that parents should be in control of deciding what their kids are allowed to play and that the rating system will enforce that. He backs up this argument by stating facts from the FTC like how 87% of parents were satisfied with video game ratings and that the FTC has applauded the video game rating system because it clearly displays rating information and restricts children's access to mature-rated products. In his article, Winter uses refutation to this claim, that is, the practice of countering an argument with evidence or reasoning (Borchers, 2006) by stating statistics from the Parents Television Council that indicate that an underage child is able to purchase a mature game 36% of the time. Winter is framing his evidence; he is maximizing his readers' focus on his data and is guiding his readers' vision and response (Ramage, Bean & Johnson, 2004). However, Jenkins (n.d.) points out that the FTC has found that 83% of games purchased by underage consumers are made by parents or children accompanied by parents. Parents are responsible in restricting the access of mature-rated games from children and Gallagher points out that the video game industry is working to help parents as current-generation game consoles come with built in parental controls that allow parents to block video games they do not want their children to play. He states that major U.S. retailers are also working to help parents by enforcing age restrictions in the purchase of games. Though a functioning and praised rating system exists for the video game industry, Winter is not satisfied because he is of the opinion that children will continue to be able to play violent video games.
Gallagher's article consistently debunks the statement that video games cause violence amongst children and he supports himself by including FBI statistics that confirm that youth violence has declined in the recent years as video game popularity has increased. However, Winter's article confirms that more than 3000 studies links violence tendencies amongst children to the consumption of violent media. Jenkins (n.d.) states that though much research has been done on whether video games contribute to violence amongst youth, most of this research is inconclusive and have been criticized on methodological grounds. He concludes that no research has found that video games are a primary factor in increasing violence amongst children and turning them into killers. Ramage, Bean and Johnson (2004) discuss universal quantifiers, which is the tendency to confuse universal quantifiers with existential qualifiers. As Winter ignores the fact that playing violent video games is not the sole cause for violence amongst children, he is guilty of this fallacy. Gallagher refutes Winter's statement by quoting the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 'The state has not produced substantial evidence that...violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors.' Thus Winter is begging the question, that is, a fallacy where he asserts the truth of an unproven statement (Reinking, Hart & von der Osten, 2004) when he states that video games increase violence tendencies amongst the youth. Not only that, Jenkins (n.d.) points out that the most studies on violent video games found is a correlation, that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment. Winter is also guilty of the fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which is confusing the correlation for the cause (Ramage, Bean & Johnson, 2004).
Winter brings up a very good point in his argument, that video games are different from other forms of entertainment because the player is actively engaging in the violent acts rather than just watching it onscreen. Children who are playing violent video games choose who to beat, rape, maim or kill and Winter reasons that because of this unique problem, the government should do more to prevent children from playing adult games. Winter's reasoning is linked to the audience's values as parents would not want their children to play these violent games and as such he is persuasive (Ramage, Bean & Johnson, 2004). Gallagher tries to claim otherwise by quoting the Hon. Robin Cauthron of the United States District Court, 'the presence of increased viewer control and interactivity does not remove these games from the release of the First Amendment protection.' However his claim does not prove anything, just that video games are entitled to freedom of expression thus it is redundant in this context.
Both articles include the rhetorical elements of ethos, pathos and logos to support their arguments. It is clear however, which is the stronger argument. Winter's usage of ethos to support his arguments is poorer than Gallagher's as he is more biased and appears less credible than Gallagher. However, Winter effectively uses pathos to sway the audience in his argument as he includes specific examples. Though Gallagher does try to persuade his audience in this way, he is still lacking in the element of pathos. Logos plays an important role in any argument and though both authors have strengthened their arguments with this rhetorical proof, Gallagher does a better job at logically reasoning with the audience. He supports his claims with suitable evidence and makes some very good points. Winter has points that are refutable because he is guilty of fallacies in his arguments. In conclusion, Gallagher presents the better argument when he proves that video games are not to blame for violent tendencies amongst children and that the rating system will help prevent children from playing mature games.
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