The NRA's new video game.
Guns obviously aren't the problem in the recent spate of public shootings involving guns in America. We all know that. What we couldn't work out, however, was who or what was to blame. Luckily, the NRA – protectors of all things firearm – stepped down off their pulpit of morality and American freedom and blessed the public with the truth – what it was that can accept the blame for people using guns that are readily available in supermarkets to kill other people: video games. Of course.
At a press conference in December, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre got all fire and brimstone on video games, claiming, “Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media and Obama’s budget kill people." What was funny about that was literally everything he said, but what makes it even funnier (and also – at first glance – sad, hypocritical and infuriating) is that the NRA have recently released a shooting game app for iPads and iPhones.
Although, despite lobby groups and politicians slamming Ted Nugent's favourite organisation for utter hypocrisy, it turns out the game really isn't violent whatsoever and, actually, looks boring as hell. Also, while they may be deluded and lacking in many forms of the kind of logical processing abilities humans need to not be idiots, they're not stupid enough to purposefully publish a shooting game after tearing up video games in the international press. Chances are the NRA submitted the app to the iTunes app store weeks before this whole debacle began and just fell victim to some very embarrassing timing.
Grand Theft Auto, the game most gun-users seem to have a problem with.
But that media coverage opens up something that's been hugley ignored elsewhere. Since the Newtown shooting in December, politicians, gun-nuts, parents, lobby groups and video game industry heads have been fighting each other in a frenzied battle for video game freedom. There’s now a newly proposed bill in the US to tax ‘Teen’, ‘Mature’ and ‘Adults Only’ games, with the proceeds being donated to mental health programs. This catch-all tax would mean that non-violent games – like Guitar Hero, for example – would also suffer, leaving it to become just a general tax on most video games. Or any video game worth playing that isn't Mario Kart, basically.
When I caught up with community group Southington SOS recently (who wanted to rid their town of all violent video games by burning them – something they ended up not succeeding in) spokesperson Dick Fortunato told me, “Violent video media and violent video games have the effect of causing anger, aggression, super-hyped competitiveness and desensitisation. And we don’t think that’s a good thing as a mass-societal effect.”
I don't think anyone would disagree with Dick – anger and aggression generally aren't great for a society – but until Obama's £6.2 million study into the effect of video games reaches any kind of conclusion, there's unfortunately no hard evidence to support Dick at SOS and Wayne at the NRA's theories about video games making people violent.
Chatting to Rob Crossley, associate editor at video games site CVG, he told me about what really stirs the pot of debate between games and violence – a generational misunderstanding of computer games.
“Video games are massive business these days, but there's also a whole generation who don’t understand them,” he told me. “They don’t want to understand games and, in the vacuum of fact, they fill up with speculation. People who are middle-aged and people of a different generation look at games and automatically think they’re for children. I mean, they make millions of different assumptions about games, but the key, most popular assumption is that games are for children, and that assumption itself is at the heart of the issue. If you look at an 18 [rated film], like a Tarantino movie, they're violent and gory, but no one really complains because there’s an assumption that it’s media consumed by adults.”
Rob reckons that this blend of ignorance and the media’s love for a good scapegoating, "video games killed our child" story is what's driving the bad vibes for video games. Historically, the industry has always had a hard time when mass-shootings occur, with the likes of the Daily Mail stirring the cauldron of moral panic and insisting to mothers that, if their child plays one more second of Super Mario Land, he’ll most definitely grow up to be just like Jeffrey Dahmer, only more murderous and more of a prick.
“What better way to sell your newspaper than to subscribe to that view and to sell to that target market?" Rob pointed out. "They’re targeted at certain demographics; demographics of a certain generation who don’t play video games. News editors are also of that generation. Most national newspaper editors don’t even have a fucking clue what Tomb Raider is.”
But ultimately, people are looking for something to shift the blame as quickly as they can, whether that be the families of victims, politicians or just outraged moral warriors. The problem is, reasons behind shootings are not immediately comprehensible – they're often a complex mix of social ingredients, which are difficult enough to identify, let alone lobby against for change.
“When a kid goes into a school and shoots it up because he has massive problems that were undetected, that’s hard to believe," Rob told me. "So when a news editor pushes out that it was actually these secret video games that you’ve never played before that are turning him into a terrorist or turning him into a serial killer, that becomes more believable because people don’t know the answers and are desperate to find them.”
Follow Sam on Twitter: @sambobclements
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