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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 12, 2013

 
Dishonestly and ignorantly switching the culprit from guns to games

by David Atkins

The dishonest stupidity. It burns.

The $60 billion industry is facing intense political pressure from an unlikely alliance of critics who say that violent imagery in video games has contributed to a culture of violence. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with industry executives on Friday to discuss the concerns, highlighting the issue’s prominence.

No clear link has emerged between the Connecticut rampage and the gunman Adam Lanza’s interest in video games. Even so, the industry’s detractors want to see a federal study on the impact of violent gaming, as well as cigarette-style warning labels and other measures to curb the games’ graphic imagery.

“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and a frequent critic of what he terms the shocking violence of games, said in an interview. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”

Gun laws have been the Obama administration’s central focus in considering responses to the shootings. But a violent media culture is being scrutinized, too, alongside mental health laws and policies.

“The stool has three legs, and this is one of them,” Mr. Wolf said of violent video games.
Mr. Wolf seems quite confident in this assessment, displaying all the usual brash arrogance of the science-denying Republican Party, together with a healthy dose of get-off-my-lawn ignorance to boot. The science, of course, is pretty clear that video games don't cause violence:

But it turns out that the data just doesn’t support this connection. Looking at the world’s 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.

It’s true that Americans spend billions of dollars on video games every year and that the United States has the highest firearm murder rate in the developed world. But other countries where video games are popular have much lower firearm-related murder rates. In fact, countries where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world, likely a product of the fact that developed or rich countries, where consumers can afford expensive games, have on average much less violent crime...

Again, with only 10 datapoints, it’s not a perfect comparison. But it’s hard to ignore that this data actually suggests a slight downward shift in violence as video game consumption increases...

So, what have we learned? That video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence. That countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.
Science and statistics. Imagine that. But Chris Christie amps up the silliness:

“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”
Says a blustering ignoramus who has probably never played a first-person shooter in his life. His gut says so, so it must be true.

People who don't play video games usually do not understand them. They're today's billiards in River City, a newfangled thing that a bunch of mostly younger people do that many older people fear and do not understand, and thus becomes the easy target of fear-peddling Harold Hill con artists.

So allow me to explain: video games are a tension release, often played by people who take pleasure in meting out justice in a virtual world because the real world is severely lacking in justice. They're cathartic and can do wonders to reduce violent tendencies in people like myself with a strong sense of moral justice. The virtual violence is usually nearly comical in its extremism, but enemies (if they're human at all) tend to have expressly nameless and stock, often faceless characters. Too much personalization of the enemies would trigger empathy in the player, making it more difficult to enjoy the game. It's the same reason that the Storm Troopers in Star Wars all look the same and are utterly dehumanized. It's much easier to feel OK about the death of millions on the Death Star if we don't think too hard about the families of the millions killed on board with a single pull of the hero's X-Wing trigger. But that doesn't mean that people who watch Star Wars are any likelier to commit acts of mass terrorism.

I myself am a deeply empathetic person. I once ran over a small animal in my car at night and remained upset about it for hours. The mere sight of blood makes me feel faint. The notion of ever killing or hurting a living creature, much less a human being, is horrifying to me.

But that doesn't mean I haven't killed tens of thousands virtually since I was a child playing the original Doom--the same poorly pixelated game that caused an epidemic of ignorant freakouts from misguided parents when it was released back in 1993. I've virtually mowed down tens of thousands of creatures human, alien, animal, supernatural and machine using swords, spells, guns and fists in Doom, Heretic, Half Life, Unreal, Halo, Call of Duty, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Painkiller, Tomb Raider, Far Cry, Planetside, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Dead Space, Star Wars, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soulcalibur and far too many others to count. I have many friends who are also passionate gamers and wouldn't dream of hurting a fly in the real world, horrified by killing animals for mere sport, and devastated by hurting another human being.

Do some sociopaths also play games? Certainly. Both Breivik in Norway and the Columbine kids were players. But so are millions of children and adults around the world. That's correlation, not causation. The Newtown and Aurora killers both were fans of World of Warcraft, a role-playing fantasy game with over 10 million players worldwide, no aiming or arcade elements, and so dissimilar from first-person shooters like Call of Duty as to be risible. It would be like blaming "violent movies" for violence because two killers liked watching Lord of the Rings, while two others liked watching Pulp Fiction. It's the sort of embarrassing comment only someone who doesn't watch movies would make.

Back in reality land, there are two common denominators in recent mass gun violence: 1) guns, obviously, and 2) mental illness.

On the mental illness front, we have Ronald Reagan's cuts and the refusal to fund a real mental health program to thank for that. The lack of treatment for the mentally ill is a direct result of Republican policies.

And on the gun front, we obviously have Republican policies that continue to put tools of easy, violent death in the hands of just about anyone who wants them. But there can be little doubt that the same people who so adamantly deny the scientific reality of climate change would love to displace the blame for gun violence away from guns and toward video games, a convenient theory for which there truly is no credible evidence. It certainly feeds into social and parenting hysteria while deflecting attention from guns and cuts to mental health services.

But as with deficit hysteria, it would be nice if there weren't so many Democrats like Hillary Clinton and remorselessly-kills-animals-with-guns-for-no-reason-but-won't-let-his-kids-play-Halo Paul Begala to help them do their dirty work.




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