The Witch Hunt for Video Games
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December 12, 2012 will be remember as a day of great tragedy as this is when 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people in Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of which were little children between the ages of six and seven. As our country slowly recovers from the second worse school shooting in American history, only surpassed by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, we start to look for answers to the simple, rational question of why.
Since then, various media outlets have been quick to blame various sources, from internet culture and social media such as Facebook and Twitter to the mentally disabled. The conversation of gun control has once again been renewed and politicians are now being pressured to establish new laws and take extensive measures in order to prevent something like this from happening again.
In the midst of all of this, the video game industry has been under fire as many believe violent video games are to blame. Even the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre has publicly stated that he blames violent media, specifically video games, for Sandy Hook as well as other recent shootings. Now, recent news reports that the Connecticut town of Southington will start a new initiative called the Violent Video Games Return Program. This new initiative offers a $25 gift certificate in exchange for a violent video game. The game will then be ”snapped, tossed into a town dumpster and likely later incinerated.” Although violent movies and music is said to also be accepted, this in conjunction with the NRA’s statements, West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller’s proposed bill to study violent video games and the various news reports about the effect of violent video games shows that video games are to be the scapegoat for the Sandy Hook shootings.
To be clear, I personally empathize with anyone, directly or indirectly, who was affected by the tragedy in Newton. In preparation for this article, I read the reports on what happened that day and was beside myself with despondency after I finished. It is not an easy read. The accounts on what happened as reported are disturbing and I can whole heartily understand the desire to want to prevent a situation like this from occurring ever again.
That being said, I cannot and will not support a witch hunt on video games. This has happened before; video games have been put under intense scrutiny either due to a particularly controversial mechanic in a newly released game or a horrible tragedy that happened recently. In recent years, it has died down a bit but this recent shooting seems to have renewed this argument. Video games are still a fairly new entertainment medium, having started in the 1970s, which means that people as young as 40 may not understand the video game industry.
However, that kind of ignorance does not justify an attack on a medium you don’t understand. Many who blame video games for violence do not understand what many of these games are about. These people don’t know that games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare are pretty standard power fantasies with a good and bad guy. They don’t know that there are artistic merits to the stories in games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Spec Ops: The Line. They haven’t comprehended the concept of video games not being toys for little kids and instead being a source of entertainment like film with content suitable for different age groups with various topics for various tastes.
Now I can understand the basic idea: person plays game where he shoots everyone he sees, person then wants to do that in real life. I understand that this logic assumes the video game has a strong influence on the player. This is a flawed concept as, with most things in life, it’s not that simple. When one plays a game like Call of Duty Black Ops, the enjoyment isn’t necessarily from shooting a gun and killing those around you; the enjoyment comes from succeeding in your objective. Your objective is usually to beat your opponent, who is usually bad to your good guy. If your objective is to shoot people, its because they will shoot you or someone else if you don’t. If they do not threaten you, then you are less incline to shoot them. This is why hunting games don’t sell well. Video games don’t glorify violence; they glorify completing goals. The same concept applies to sports games, puzzle games and other types of games that don’t feature violence.
Another point is the comprehension level of the person playing the game. Most adults can understand that what they do in a video game is not how it would be like in real life, just like they would know with movies, music or books. Maybe the graphics and physics in a game are highly realistic but a game can never create what you personally would feel if you were to do what you’re doing in a video game. For example, shooting and killing someone in a video game is bombastic. Blood spurts everywhere, that person will spin around or fly back or crumble to the ground, and it usually takes several shots to get them down. Shooting and killing someone in real life is abrupt. There’s not that much blood right away, and the person will just drop and immediately just cease to exist. Shooting someone in real life is just so quick and physically effortless that many of us won’t be able to handle or even comprehend what just happened. That mixture of shock, terror, closure and confusion is something that can’t be replicated in a game. There are few who don’t understand what the difference is from a psychological stand point and that includes children and those with some form of mental impairment that distorts the understand of reality and fiction.
Which brings me to my final point. Few understand that video games are not just something kids do when they’re not playing outside or watching TV. Video games are not toys; they are a artistic media format with content for various tastes and age groups. There’s big budget games, independent games, art house games, family friendly games, action games, dramatic games, scary games, and music games just like there are in film. And just like in film, there are games not meant for a 10 year old to be playing. Pulp Fiction is a classic but its something you probably shouldn’t show your five year old. Not because Pulp Fiction is bad but because its inappropriate for that particular audience. Even then, such judgment is reserved for parents to make, not our schools or our churches or our government. Django Unchained is an extremely violent movie with offensive language and more but I don’t see anyone setting up a book burning for the DVD when its released.
Point is video games are made for everyone, not just children and as such sometimes features content not appropriate for children or even for you, your beliefs, ideologies, and philosophies considering. Therefore, if you don’t like the content, either for your child or you, don’t let them or you play it. Even if you argue that children will find a way to play it anyway, that’s not the industry fault. That is not a failing of the publisher, developer, distributor or even the retailer as long as they didn’t sell it to them directly.
On the other side of this, I want to also briefly bring something else to light. There is a belief that all this finger pointing is unnecessary for something that doesn’t happen that often. School shootings are not the norm and we shouldn’t be overly concerned about what to do when there is one. This logic doesn’t make sense to me. I live in California and we tend to get earthquakes from time to time. When I was younger, I lived in a city that literally was on top of one of the biggest fault lines in the country and was practically destroyed after one particularly bad earthquake so I understand the threat is there. However, I haven’t felt a bad earthquake in over 10 years. There have been little ones where the stuff in our house shook a bit but that’s all. Still, my household keeps an earthquake kit with blankets, food, flashlights and various other goods ready just in case. By the logic that school shootings aren’t the norm, my earthquake kit is useless. This is not the case and with that comparison in mind, I do agree that something needs to be done. Maybe its gun laws, maybe its better help for mentally impaired people, maybe its a giant shield around every school in the country. Whatever it is, less effort should be put into blaming someone and instead should be focus on helping those who were affected and finding a rational solution.
However, for right now, the video games industry has a bounty on their head. Politicians will be trying to pass legislation to restrict video games and news channels will villainize the medium. Libricide is already going to be committed so all we can do is hope this will fade away with time or else, 2013 is going to be a difficult year for video games in the public eye. For now we should give our condolences to the victims in Newton, Connecticut and not blame influences for one man’s decision to go on a rampage.
How do you feel about the recent attacks on video games? What are you feelings on the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary? Do you feel the blame on video games is justified? Leave a comment below and feel free to say your piece on these events. Both and all sides of the argument are welcome.