A tragedy occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, a little more than a month ago, when a disturbed man in his early 20s decided to walk into an elementary school and murder six teachers and 20 first-graders. Predictably, the outrage and pouring of emotion over this madman’s actions has led to finger-pointing with the video game industry being one of the prime targets. Indeed, Vice President Joe Biden and others are meeting on Capitol Hill now to discuss what should be done about violent video games along with guns and violent movies. I can go ahead answer that for them now: Nothing. At least, not by the government.
Now these are my own thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the diverse opinions of the other people that write for this site. However, let me explain why I think nothing should be done by politicians about video game violence.
Just For Starters
We don’t even know if there’s any connection between the shooter’s motivations (I refuse to use his name by the way) and video games. There’s been some mention in the media that he played games such as StarCraft, Counter-Strike and Dynasty Warriors. However, the implication that these games contributed to his murder spree is tenuous at best. In fact, very little is known about the shooter, his mental condition or his motivations nearly a month later in the haze of sketchy, incomplete and flat out wrong reporting by the news media. The police have not even released their findings in the shooting but we sure as heck have politicians, mainstream media, various blogs and celebrities certain that video games contributed.
And so, now we have hearings on Capitol Hill attended by politicians and representatives from the video game industry purporting to do something about the menace known as violent video games.
The connection between violent video games and violence in general has yet to be confirmed. Somewhat hilariously, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) called for a study of violent video games just days following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Yeah, because we haven’t continuously had one study after another confirming or denying a connection between violent video games and violent kids nearly every month for the past decade or more.
We also saw the NRA get pounded by the media the week following the Newtown shooting before it partly blamed violent video games and movies while using some obscure and poor-selling titles as examples. That was an odd turn for an organization whose unofficial motto is, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” So now videogames and movies kill people?
Facts and Violence
Violent crimes committed with guns in the United States have been trending down for the past 20 years according to the FBI. The violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758 in 1992. In 2012, it was 386. In schools, violent crimes per 1,000 students dropped from 53 to 14 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This is at the same time that the video game industry has seen an explosion in popularity and is now mainstream with games like Call of Duty, Halo, Grand Theft Auto and more selling millions upon millions of copies.
Clearly, what we need is more gaming based on this information alone.
I mention these facts because the attacks blaming the video game industry to this point largely appear to come from emotion and/or ignorance. Frankly, that’s a horrible way to craft policy meant to regulate an industry. Politicians that took advantage of this emotion and ignorance gave us great hits like the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, warrantless wiretapping, TARP, the “Stimulus” and the joy of being molested before boarding a plane. All intrusions on civil liberties or spectacularly mismanaged by our all-knowing “leaders” in the government.
A Road Well Traveled
Indeed, we’ve been down this road before with the most ruinous example being the comic book industry. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a shoddily researched book called “Seduction of the Innocent” in 1954 that blamed juvenile delinquency on comic books. The media clutched its collective pearls, comic books were burned and Senate hearings were held by very important people just like those we have today. The comic industry introduced the Comics Code Authority in response, worried that the government would pass laws outlawing comics. Immediately, several comic book publishers closed down and some very talented artists left the industry as the comics they created did not meet the codes’ strict rules and regulations. It was very nearly the death of the comic book industry.
We’ve seen the same sort of demonization for rock’n'roll, rap, Dungeons & Dragons, various books and other forms of entertainment as well. As a child born in the 70s who grew up playing video games, it is hard to remember a time when video games weren’t demonized in some way. It just seems especially hysterical now with game industry representatives meeting with Joe Biden and his committee of all-knowers and a chirping mainstream media.
What to Do (and not do)?
The last thing the video games industry needs is heavy-handed regulation or demonization at a time when it is beginning to truly emerge with a heightened level of maturity in story lines, subject matters and design.
Are there still games that are potentially offensive or go over the top with violence and/or sex? Yes, and that is why ESRB rating labels are on the front of every game published in the United States. It is the role of family to police these games, not the government. I recently had to warn a family member that she might not want to purchase Far Cry 3 for 13-year old daughter. My own 10-year old son constantly asks why he can’t play Call of Duty when some of his younger friends can. Yet, I saw what is likely some of the very same parents who complain about violent video games lined up out the door with their 10 to 16 year old kids at GameStop when Black Ops 2 released.
Indeed, one notable incident following the Newtown shooting was a 7th grader who garnered news coverage to rid America of violent video games. As the news reporter shuffled through games the kid owned including Call of Duty, Gears of War and Borderlands I couldn’t help but think the news reporter should have been asking his parents why the kid had such a large collection of M-rated games instead of lauding the child.
We don’t need regulation, guidance or scapegoating of the game industry from a group of politicians that have failed at some of their main responsibilities and haven’t passed a budget since 2009 while running up trillions of dollars in debt for four years straight and counting. Instead, we need more common sense and attentive parents who realize that the big “M” on the front of a game case means that game likely isn’t meant for their kid.