Video Game Violence is Controversial… Again?!

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Round and round we go. Whenever there is violence, a shooting, murder or homicide that ends up headlining mainstream media, there is always one culprit: video games. There are many reasons why the gaming industry is to blame when troubled criminals run rampant through a populated area, blasting everyone within range. Some conclusions I agree with and others I quickly dismiss. Ignorant claims and assumptions get tossed out as legitimate and leave whoever said it with egg on their face and a foot in their mouths. I cannot count on my hands and toes how many times I’ve had debates, conversations and yelling matches with people who feel our games are the reason their children have become ne’er do wells. There is one simple reason why the masses chose video games as their scapegoat: it’s easy. A whole lot easier than analyzing the movies watched, novels read or friends kept before during and after the violent event; and how much does the blame fall on the parents who raised them? Don’t you worry, folks. That’ll be discussed very soon.

You can’t prove a negative…

So who is it this time, pointing the finger at the big bad industry? Who has become the new advocate for attempting to redefine our first amendment rights? Jack Thompson? Leland Yee? No. The fire has been reignited by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Specifically, the industry is to blame for the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. One of the few hobbies gunman Adam Lanza dabbled in was, you guessed it, video games. Since mature themed games contain violence, the Senator called  for games to once again be specially regulated for their negative influence on minors. She had this to say about the issue:

If Sandy Hook doesn’t do it, if the knowledge of the video games this young man played doesn’t do it, then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future.

The accusation makes for an open and shut case, right? Well that’s where things get a little dicey.

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You see, politicians and others sharing this school of thought base their conclusions on the absence of evidence. It has been said “you can’t prove a negative,” meaning a claim that is believed to be true cannot be proven otherwise; there is no conclusive evidence proving it false. At the same time, there is no evidence to prove the claim is true. It is not possible to uncover Lanza’s true motivation for what occurred that day due to a suicide at the scene.  The tie goes to the runner; the runner in this case is the majority belief. As is any accusation or issue, it always takes two (or more) to tango.

The facts don’t lie…

Having made the point of being unable to prove a negative, I choose to rebel against it and use facts to support my claims anyway.

Let’s look at the hard evidence here, shall we? The video game industry generates a billion dollars in sales annually (that’s billion with a B). According to the ESA, in 2011 alone “consumers spent $24.75 billion on video games, hardware and accessories.”  There has to be a large portion of people who purchase these games to have the industry raking in this kind of dough. In fact research by Magid Associates, reported by Digital Trends, concluded “more than half of Americans play video games.”  Let’s stop right there to create a scenario based on the evidence gathered.

Roughly 9% of video games with a mature rating were sold in America (there he goes again with stats). It was stated earlier that $24.75 billion (with a B) was made from video game sales. This means $2.23 billion in sales were from mature video games (9% of $24.75B). Video games sold brand new are priced at $60 a pop. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume all sales were of new games, excluding DLC and used game sales. So we now have 37,050,000 ($2.23B/$60) avid gamers that purchased mature titles. Now if what Senator Feinstein said is true, there are well over 37,000,000 gamers classified as bona fide murderers and sociopaths, roaming the streets of America. Yet the last reported number of deaths from violent crimes totaled to 12,996. The numbers just don’t seem to add up, do they?

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So if games do not deserve the full brunt of the blame what, or who, does? Simple: the parents.  The individuals present since birth, during the terrible twos and through difficult times in adolescence. Who knows their child better, right? Well that can’t be said for Lanza’s mom, Nancy. On one side, her son was an introvert, she, an outgoing and jovial woman. As polar opposites, you can imagine how tough it was for them to connect. She needed to find something that could be shared with her son for a bonding experience. But what hobby was chosen to bring these two closer?  Games? Fishing? Nope. Guns.

That’s right, folks. Nancy was a bit of a gun enthusiast. According to a CNN report, she would take her son to the shooting range regularly. Not only was he exposed to guns outside but inside the home where Nancy kept several hand guns and assault rifles. It was later reported the reason for such a lethal collection was for self-defense purposes. I’m not sure if living in an affluent community such as Connecticut justifies the need of such weaponry but, hey, I may be wrong.  So getting back to my original question, do video games deserve all the blame for Lanza’s violent behavior? There are too many factors that contributed to such chaotic behavior that day. Labeling games as the guilty party is just unfair… or is it?

Well, I guess she has a point…

I am among the millions of gamers that claim the status of “hardcore.” For the most part, hardcore has come to be defined as “the more violence, the better the game.” We are sensitized to it. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing but it’s the direct result of playing numerous M Rated video games. Sometimes the violence is justified; if it has a terrific story, for example Metal Gear Solid, the blood and gore seen on screen can be ignored. Games like Gears of War on the other hand… You see, here’s where I understand the stance of overprotective parents, high ranking officials and politicians: games that are violent just for the sake of being violent make it very difficult to defend. Try defending a soldier cutting his enemy in half with a chainsaw gun, laughing with every rotation of the blades as his weapon sinks further and further into flesh. Kinda tough, isn’t it?

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An article written about a recently released game and masterpiece in Bioshock Infinite discussed this very point. It seems 2K Interactive went a bit over the line. We’re talking Evil Dead status here. It received great reviews and critical acclaim across the board. At the same time, the blood and gore showcased in the game made Hannibal look like Marry Poppins.  Now I don’t mind body fluids cascading on pavement when it comes to a murder scene, a war torn city or a game based on military events of the past; just so long as the ends justify the means. Games can be artistically violent when characters, story and the setting are highlighted throughout. Like the Slam Dunk Competition is to the NBA, decapitations and fatal sequences are synonymous with gaming. It’s just too easy to rely on shock value in order to turn a profit. Pushing the envelope of gratuitous slaughter only serves to worsen reputation.

In conclusion…

I love video games. I’ve played them ever since I could tip toe high enough to reach the joystick and buttons of an arcade machine. People that curse the name of developers and the games they create, play the blame game in order to reach the conclusion of why little Timmy was sent home once again for fighting in the school yard frustrate the hell out of me. First of all, taking responsibility for actions caused by the person throwing stones at the glass house is more respected that shirking liability and pointing fingers at what may or may not have influenced such behavior. Drop the rock in the dirt, clean off your hands and learn from the incident that occurred. Another reason for frustration is that many developers deserve it. Many would rather stick with the status quo, create a game, insert hero with a five o’clock shadow, load him up with weapons, have him kill bad guys and save the day (EXPLOSION!). Game over. Really? That’s the best you’ve got?  One rotten apple definitely spoils it for the bunch when developers fail to creatively weave in a violent scene or two into their product. I’m all for keeping our first amendment rights the way our forefathers intended; it should be used more as a right to influence originality, not a shield used to continue producing the same old bloodthirsty gaming experience and expect zero backlash.

This cycle will continue until more games evolve, putting heavier emphasis on the content, character and story (remember that awesome game Journey?) In the same breath, people need to own up to the negative actions they take. Senator Feinstein is not to blame for pushing this issue back into the spotlight, even though her comments were fairly ignorant to begin with. Any attempt to restructure our constitutional rights for personal gain (trust me, this is a personal vendetta), should never be allowed. As was the result the last time video game violence and constitutional rights were questioned in the Supreme Court, I predict the same conclusion to play out. However, the damage has been done. Where do we go from here? It’s all about change. If the industry won’t change how they deliver content, why should people like Senator Feinstein change their opinions? Think about it.

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