Whether you have strong opinions about the NRA in support or opposition, the elephant is in the room and it is obvious. The tragedy that unfolded on innocent children and teachers in Connecticut, USA is now well known. In its wake, the games industry is under attack; once again it has been questioned on its ethics. The NRA is leading that condemnation.
Long ago I would have stood defiant in staunch support of the games industry but recently there is no denying that the industry has itself acknowledged its growing pains. Developers, journalists and players together are starting to seriously address the 'tropes' of sexism and racism present within games, trying to look to the future. The question is: is extreme violence in gaming one of these tropes and does it have the right to remain in our work?
In a short chat over Twitter with Rhianna Pratchett writer of the new Tomb Raider, we both agreed that representation of women as strong, non-sexualised lead characters in games is still too few and far-between against the torrent of male heroes. What has this to do with the NRA and violence? If we as an industry can acknowledge our shortcomings we can take steps to move forward and right our wrongs.
While I do not feel we have a clear answer as to whether violent games are a catalyst for shootings, perhaps we should look at the arguments without impromptu denial of the accusations. Here are some of the common arguments below:
Violent games are sold to children making them desensitised.
They are NOT sold to children under law. The problem is, young children DO play violent video games. Parents constantly ignore the parental safety features and warnings. Over here in Europe, PEGI explicitly states the content in a game and the (legal) age the player needs to be in order to play the game. If this is ignored by parents, then the buck cannot be passed.
However, the industry I feel must accept that games will get into the hands of younger players, until we accept this, we may be doomed to condemnation through the ignorance of others when horrific murders occur.
Games don't kill people, people kill people.
We've all heard 'guns don't kill people people, people kill people' a common view among supporters of free will. While it's hard to disagree that the argument is true, in relation to games, if we say that 'games don't kill people, people kill people' you can see that this argument is passing-the-buck. No one will do anything about the problem.
I feel this is an easy stance to adopt because it refers back to the mental stability of the murderer. I do not disagree that there will always be people determined to kill but does that infer that everyone is powerless to solve the problem?
Games are a virtual outlet.
The argument that games are a virtual outlet is an interesting one. Some argue that because there is a virtual space to act out our desires that we are effectively allowing our rascality to remain outside the real world where people could get hurt.
The British philosopher Alan Watts along with Freud have argued the duality of the human being, the good and the bad in balance.
If we are to censor/sanitise our game worlds where would we express our rascality / our darker side? On the other hand, I feel conclusive data is required to determine whether these virtual worlds are a indeed a sandbox, or a catalyst/inspiration for depravity to be enacted in the real world.
Why games? There are comics, films, television, books...
I don't know why games are singled-out. I feel the extraordinary success of Assassin's Creed, Battlefield and Modern Warfare and their ubiquitous marketing campaigns lend themselves well to being seen as the 'epitome' of modern gaming by people outside the industry. The average of a 'gamer' is not a teenager but much older.
The Nintendo Wii was/is an extraordinary success and yet why is the bundled Wii Sports rarely used as an example of the game's industry's content in the wake of a tragedy? Likewise Angry Birds, Temple Run and Plants Vs Zombies are all great successes but in times of tragedy they are not mentioned.
However, the games industry does produce very violent video games and it is a medium which is - in comparision to all others - quite young. The increasing realism and extra dimension of interactivity may or may not lend itself to psychological traits that we do not as yet understand due to lack of research. The only way to know this conclusively is, I feel, to support further independent research.
My final thoughts put bluntly.
The hard-and-fast truth is we live in violent and sad times and the games industry needs to see itself as a collective of artists and talk about this! We can no longer ignore the elephant.
Persistent wars, the deaths of people in under-developed countries every three seconds and the increasing gap between rich and poor has left many people desensitized to the value of the lives of others. Not guns, not games and a societal, not gamer-specific level.
Wealth and power is still idolised in media and this drives a desire to be famous, to be recognised by any means. From filming yourself having sex to becoming an organised criminal. The goal is to give yourself status by any means necessary.
Young people are particularly sensitive about their status among their peers and we have encouraged this with status symbols.
While I cannot conclusively say that is was infamy and press coverage awarded to killers on TV that drove a depraved young man to murder young children in Connecticut, I feel that society is unable to look in the mirror and see the harsh reality of what caused this attrocity. Everyone is passing the buck.
If we are not priding ourselves on the happiness of young people but instead how many products we can get them to buy, then don't expect change.
Art inspires life, and life inspires art.