Opinion// Video Game Violence - Biden and Complacency

Posted 11 Jan 2013 17:20 by
United States' Vice President, Joe Biden, asked representatives of various creative industries - as well as the entirely uncreative National Rifle Association, and retailer Walmart - to talk about the problem of gun crime in that bullet-ridden country.

It seems to many people in the video games industry in the States – those directly concerned with making games, as well as selling games, and also in the very tertiary realms of reporting/marketing games – that this meeting will be a hanging party with games as the criminals and the politicians as the judge, jury and executioner.

A moaning and a gnashing of teeth has started in the games media, with scapegoats being set astride stalking horses and sent into battle against anybody anywhere even thinking to mention gaming as anything other than an “achingly” beautiful new narrative form or “just good old fun”.

Some people in the video games media are not happy about the meeting at all. “We will not allow law-abiding video gamers to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen!” they are screaming from their desks.

"No fair, “ they say, “you can't blame us for Sandy Hook and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine.

“Video games are not just about violence and guns, they are also about rolling around collecting stuff that sticks to you, they're about sports and make-up and deserts and cooking and puppies and singing and driving and knives and swans and tanks and islands full of lunatics and ponies!!”

Many of these childish squeals emanate from the same quarters as the equally pointless and disengaged cries of, "Take our industry seriously! We make more money that Hollywood!"

So, why are video games involved in a task force that urgently needs to look at an endemic problem for the entire nation of the USA? Is it because video games are part of the culture? Or is it because video games are being singled out for specially bad treatment?

Let's see who else is being consulted:
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
BlueWater Strategies
Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance Action Fund
Ducks Unlimited
Outdoor Industry Association
Pheasants Forever
Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Wildlife Management Institute
Defense Small Arms Advisory Council (DSAAC.)
Firearms Import/Export Roundtable
Independent Firearm Owners Association (IFoA)
National Rifle Association of America
National Shooting Sports Foundation
National Association of Arms Shows
Branded Entertainment
Comcast Corporation
Directors Guild of America
Film & Television Alliance
Motion Picture Association of America
National Association of Broadcasters
National Association of Theatre Owners
National Cable and Telecommunications Association
Academy Sports + Outdoors
Bass Pro Shops
Big 5 Sporting Goods
Dick's Sporting Goods
Dunham's Sports
Gander Mountain
Sportsman's Warehouse

Why, that's quite a lot of other people who don't shoot people and whose industries also do other things (I'm sure Dick's Sporting Goods sells balls too).

(I particularly love 'Pheasants Forever' – a pro-gun lobby whose mission is, “the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.” It's also got a neat video game. Yeah, basically it teaches people to shoot.)

Biden also asked Walmart, which sells bullets (check out the 50 rounds of Federal Champion 9mm Full Metal Jacket shells), lots of bullets. Bullets that do kill people.

Walmart initially said, “Nope. Nothing to do with us. We don't just sell bullets and guns, we also sell Barbies and gum and singlets and beans...” (it didn't say that, I said that, Walmart initially just refused to show) but then Walmart relented and has agreed to meet with Biden. Yes, even Walmart via David Tovar, its vice-president of corporate communications, said that the retailer was "'sending an appropriate representative to participate'' because ''we take this issue very seriously and are committed to staying engaged in this discussion.''

Of course Walmart needs to stay engaged in this discussion, if it doesn't then how does it defend itself and its sales of cookies and glue?

Entertainment Software Association CEO, Michael Gallagher, will represent the USA's videogames industry when its turn comes later today. I hope Mike will simply state a few accepted truths:

1) Millions of people play video games – even big, dumb ones like Call of Duty, Battlefield, GTA and the other popular examples of violent games – millions of people don't go on shooting rampages.

2) Guns and bullets do kill people.

3) Millions of people play driving games – they don't all win Nascar.

4) Because someone plays video games and does go on a rampage murdering children does not mean the one caused the other. Correlation is not and never will be causation.

5) Unlike, say, the laws governing the refraction of light refraction no single, operative, unassailable law exists linking play and actual violence.

6) There still exists a gap between thought and deed.

However, despite this opportunity and despite all these other organisations being asked to provide their thoughts (or whatever passes for thought at the NRA) it appears to many commentators in the world of games that political pressure is mounting to censor violence out of games.

The facts are mounting up. For example, the Biden meeting comes after Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat from West Virginia) introduced a bill requiring the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects violent video games and other entertainment media have on children.

The Senator asked his colleagues, “to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental-health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies.”

It also comes after former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, David Axelrod, Tweeted: “In NFL post-game: an ad for shoot 'em up video game. All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn't we also quit marketing murder as a game?”

So, how have the meetings gone so far? After Biden met with representatives of the “entertainment industry” (Movies... Hollywood – the Motion Picture Association of America in fact) the MPAA released a statement:

“The entertainment community appreciates being included in the dialogue around the Administration’s efforts to confront the complex challenge of gun violence in America.

“This industry has a longstanding (sic) commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families. We welcome the opportunity to share that history and look forward to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions.”

The NRA, stated that:

“We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment.

"While claiming that no policy proposals would be 'prejudged,' this Task Force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners -- honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans...”

So, the NRA is disappointed – and so, it seems are some members of the games industry. Take Paul Tassi writing in Forbes using the headline, “Joe Biden Sets Misguided Meeting with Video Game Industry About Gun Violence”. Paul states facts such as, “The simple fact is that the mere idea that the video game industry should be lumped in with the gun industry in crafting a solution for this problem is absurd.”

That's the level of debate, opinion passing for 'simple fact'. This is not a simple fact, this is a simplistic opinion.

How about, “Joe Biden shouldn’t blame video games for gun violence” the strawman raised up like another tedious zombie in another tedious zombie game by Canada.com's Patrick O'Rourke.

Biden isn't blaming games.

Or there's this, “Opinion: Meeting with Biden is a mistake for the game industry" from Gamasutra Editor-in-Chief Kris Graft, who supports this via the astonishing conjecture of two related cultural events... with only a one-way relationship:

“We live in a gun culture: We won our independence through force. Our Second Amendment is the right to bear arms. We've been at war for the past several years. That's just a fact. It's our gun culture that breeds this fascination with firearms and the popularity of violent, shooty video games. It's not the other way around, and I think that people outside -- and apparently inside -- the game industry have lost sight of that.”

I can only assume that Kris hadn't bothered to check out who else was being asked to present to Joe Biden. I also hope that he looks outside his own country at all the other countries in the world that, “won their independence through force”. But I'm not here to argue domestic politics with a respected journalist.

I'm here to suggest that video games are part of the culture. Moreover I am here to suggest that the idealised version of reality that seeks to set 'art' aside from the everyday is opening itself up to being censored out of existence.

Real life, everyday people do see the interactive violence of some – best-selling – video games as genuinely dangerous and dangerously infectious. The reality that millions of people play video games every day but do not go out on terrifying rampages is not the perception. The politically savvy NRA knows this, which is why the NRA deflects opinion away from gun control and pricing bullets at $100 each to games and movies and comics and rap music.

In reality, the NRA has a tiny number of gun totin', freedom lovin' mostly (and we use this term advisedly) male members (4 million) in comparison to the 211,500,000 gamers (per NPD figures for September 2012) in the USA.

We're not seriously suggesting that a government task force should only hear the arguments against video games made by a minority of gun nuts and pheasant shooters?

We are? In that case, we deserve everything that this sort of arrogant, entitled, naïve complacency will inevitably deliver.

Given an opportunity to present the more than obvious case that millions of people play dumb-ass, shooty, bang bang games and don't go on gun killing sprees in infant schools to the second most important politician by title in the most influential country in the world, the games industry's response should be: "It's not fair, you don't blame us, we don't want this opportunity to put an end to these idiotic canards! We want to pretend that we don't actually matter at all. Stop looking at us! We are not part of your culture!"?

Good plan games industry media. Well played.

Source: The Economist
Source: The Economist
Or, of course, Mike Gallagher could take the graph you see here (from a report in the highly respected Economist magazine from 2005) called “Chasing the dream - As video gaming spreads, the debate about its social impact is intensifying”.

What I really hope is that he does not:

1) Deny any link between video games that use realistic scenarios and the real world while simultaneously claiming the importance of video games to culture.

2) State the it's the fault of “Gun Culture” and that “Gun Culture makes us make violent games!”

3) Scream loudly, roll around on the floor of the House yelling “No fair!!! Pick on movies!”

4) Fail to rebut the NRA with facts or at least well formulated analysis.

5) Fail to turn up, because hiding from the reality of actual people's perception always wins out in the end – or if not, you can restart.

Except you can't. This time we have to engage because engagement is not the same as taking the blame. At least not in a grown-up world.


The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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