I hadn’t planned on writing about this topic. I thought that it was being covered adequately by my peers. But, then I saw this article by MSN Living Editor, Charyn Pfeuffer. Give it a read and make sure you watch the video embedded in the story too, where a reporter refers to Call of Duty as Call to Duty.
Reading that article made me realize how ignorant most people really are about video games. Still not convinced? How about this article from the Telegraph? No? This article from Giles Sheldrick at express.co.uk? How about the press conference NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre held days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Most of these pieces barely deserve to be called journalism, but I’m not here to debate the ethical status of print journalism in the UK or the US. I’m here because I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.
Let me get a few things out of the way. I, in no way, shape, or form, am condoning violence in video games. I am not advocating for the absolution of violence in video games as part of a larger, national conversation. I am not, in any substantive way, saying that video game violence shouldn’t be scrutinized or talked about.
I can absolutely see the value in scientifically studying the effects of violence in video games on the human brain. I don’t think it would be wise to ignore the possibility that violent video games do influence our behavior in some way, even if it is small. I don’t, therefore, take issue with the President’s recent announcement calling for a national inquiry into the effects of violent video games on behavior. What I do take issue with is the context in which it was announced.
It only took a few days after Sandy Hook for the media to begin writing about the role violent video games played in Adam Lanza’s decision that day. It took a few more days for parents to then start responding to the stories being published by the media. It took then several more days for video games to be outright blamed by politicians on Capitol Hill and key members of the gun lobby, because, you know, it couldn’t possibly have been a gun that killed anyone.
Context is everything. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook a national conversation on violence in video games was imminent. And yet again, the context was one of culpability. Vice President Joe Biden invited members of the video game industry to Washington D.C. to participate in a discussion about what had happened in Newport, Connecticut. I find it exceedingly interesting that the video game industry was the only entertainment industry that had representatives invited. Hollywood and its violent films, the record industry and its extremely violent lyrics, and even the publishing industry with its graphic literature, were all given the pass. They weren’t there. There weren’t even considered. That in and of itself immediately positions the video game industry as having fault, as if it were implicated in Adam Lanza’s decision to kill 26 people.
I for one think that the American people have become inundated with a paralyzing fear. We are told to be afraid of so much that the real issue gets lost to discussions about causal factors and peripheral reasons. We have to believe that something, anything made this 20-year-old man pick up a gun and murder 26 people. We just can’t believe that someone would do that; we can’t believe that someone is capable of that. So we have to rationalize it. We ask why. And so often we blame video games.
You see, what happened at Sandy Hook was the result of a decision by Adam Lanza to pick up a gun, break into a school, and shoot 26 people. He didn’t finish playing Dynasty Warriors (the game franchise Adam Lanza played that has been so popularly cited by the media), put down his controller, and cognitively decide that the game was telling him to kill people. He didn’t walk into Sandy Hook brandishing a halberd, shouting Japanese as he cut down 26 people. He picked up a gun and he pulled a trigger.
Video games are not to blame for what happened at Sandy Hook. If we are going to talk about violent video games, it absolutely cannot take place within a context of culpability. Video games are not to blame for anyone picking up a gun and shooting someone. If we are going to talk about violence in video games it needs to take place within the context of a national conversation about the nature of our culture and the role of violence in that culture. We need to talk about what we as a society deem admissible. We need to talk about the glorification and melodramatic representation of violence in our culture. We need to talk about violence, period. We don’t have to decide anything. We don’t have to make any declarations. But, we do need to talk. It’s not fair to posit video games as the poster-child for the causal factors of violent acts, because violence is all around us, not just in the games we play. Video games deserve to be a part of that conversation, not the conversation about gun violence, the real issue.
Every time something like Sandy Hook happens, video game violence is brought up. And every time it is brought up, gamers, game journalists, developers, and publishers have to wade through several months of being America’s most-hated pop-culture category. Our existence becomes the real-world version of high school, it happens all over again. We’re told that parents know better, that politicians have the answers; we’re told that retailers should be more responsible in what they market to children. Everyone seems to know better than us; the people who play these games, the people who buy these games.
Article by Jon Hamlin
Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at email@example.com. All Articles by Jon.