The Blame Game

No single raindrop thinks it is responsible for the flood...

I know this is late but I spent Friday with a stomach in massive pain. Turns out I put too much chilli in a salad dressing and spent the majority of the day competing for gold in Hurling. Anyway, this weekend’s topic is whether we can put all the blame on games for modern societal ills. Joy…

It’s hard not to feel awful for what happened last week, at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

I won’t detail it because it was horrific and disgusting, but in a nutshell – nutter with a gun kills lots of people. Sometimes, it does seem we live in a strange world with strange people, some of which have little to no respect for the lives and rights of others. It was a callous, cruel and cowardly act. I know some are calling for the death penalty. In rare cases I agree with it, and this is one of those rare cases.

However, the media LOVES to explain what could drive any individual to this sort of evil crime, and of course, then comes the blame game. Of which Video Games come out every single time in an arbitrarily poor light.

Now, I’d like to state here I am 30 plus VAT, and I’ve been playing video games since I was about four years of age. I remember games like Quartet and Dizzy, The Ninja and Alex Kidd. My grandparents – as my legal guardians – always did believe this was the future and of course, being the wise and sensible people they were, they were right. But it is important to note that whilst games were and are a part of my life, they are not my WHOLE life. Games are a passion – they’ve been there from a very young age, it’s often hard not to get attached to something that has been so prevalent in a lifetime. They are with me, indeed, I will admit I suspect what I’m working on right now is more in line with a game than a script – but what can I say? You get inspired by many things, and the many adventures and games I have played over the years have definitely left a lasting impression.

Here’s the kicker – only once have I had a run-in with the law. I punched a teenager when he made a disparaging and disgusting remark the day before my grandmothers funeral. About him sneaking into her resting spot and having “fun”. He wasn’t a gamer at the time (this was about a decade ago) – he was part of a local gang – and after hearing this, just in my earshot, I ran at him and punched him in the face. Indeed, it was the kids mother who ensured no charges were brought – she said I should have done more than punch him in the face for that comment, and his bike – his gang symbol – was sent for scrap. I thanked his mother and apologised to her for my reaction, but she told me no apology was necessary, and that he had to learn in some cases, what you say will prompt a reaction. And if they’re bigger and stronger than you, then they should get the lessons early that they will get their lights punched out.

Generally speaking, I don’t have a violent bone in my body. My support worker is surprised at how placid I am, considering the circumstances of my early life. I just don’t see the need for it. I accept violence happens – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for the wrong reasons – it’s just… not my thing. I’m a wanderer of the gaming landscape – how you shoot, fight or burn things doesn’t really strike me as new or revolutionary. As human beings, we have found many ways over the years to hurt ourselves and others. Everything we come up with in gaming is a variation on an already established theme.

And that’s important to acknowledge before we blame easy, softer targets. The human species has come up with some horrendous, callous, cruel methods of extracting information and killing others in ever more efficient, expedient ways. Indeed, let’s be honest about it – the Hiroshima Bomb was the most expedient, efficient method of destructive force devised. It also happened to be the cruelest, most horrific method as well. We’ve come a long way from beating each other with sticks and stones – we now have high-tech methods, rockets that pilot themselves over long distances and guns designed to churn out over a thousand bullets a minute. Violence is here. It always has been. And as long as the methods exist and are available – legally or not – they will happen. Point one, made.

Of course, just because you CAN, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD, and here’s the next point; responsibility.

For you see, as much as we can blame games for someones violent behaviour, the question then becomes – why did it affect them differently? Surely, if games are so horrific and terrible and they are turning us all into killers, you’d expect to see crime go UP in most areas, and yet for a large majority of countries, crime has gone down. That’s not the correlation that you’d expect to see now the gaming industry is so large and dominant.

Indeed, for all the studies and expense thrown at investigating a link between games and violence, they’re all pretty much inconclusive – those that denote actual results are often savaged and debunked when exposed to the wider scientific community, be they on the side of games or the side of those promoting a link. It’s just unlikely – I think, if we’re all thinking about this rationally, we’d agree on that. It’s unlikely.

Take, for example, the movie industry. We’ve had shock horrors, and there have been many who campaigned against showing some of the more graphic or violent movies, stating that they warped young and impressionable minds, and made them more likely to be violent to others. The same can be said of certain TV shows – and the music industry, where ‘Gangsta Culture’ has thrived and still continues to thrive for so many people. We’ve even been through this with comic books in the sixties and seventies. Video gaming is just the latest in a long line of mediums that are having to take the unfounded accusations.

But the industry wants to get better. It says this in an almost desperate voice. And yet – it shouldn’t have to.

Yes, Video Games can be crass, sexist, mysogenistic, crude, exploitative and generaly violent. But guess what? There is nothing games are doing now that hasn’t already in some ways been done by other mediums. Games put their own spin on things, their own stamp, but we look at games and we see parallels with the modern world, with already established names and titles and shows and movies, and we sigh because we kind of know that we will get blamed long before anything else.

As for the “It’s interactive, that’s the problem!” retort, I played games at school like Manhunt (group-based hide and seek crossed with dodgeball) and we went paintballing, Laser Quasar and the like. All interactive, exciting and grounded in guns and/or some sense of violence. I also have played video games all my life. The end result? Articulate, educated, imaginative, friendly and actually, in the real world, a little bit shy (although apparantly that might be the bipolar – yes, I also have a mental health issue!).

I am simply not programmed for violence in the real world. I enjoy a bit of it virtually, of course, but it’s not real. Even with Bipolar I know it’s not real and I know right from wrong. I am able to make that distinction. As are many millions of others.

I believe that because I know it to be true – my old WoW guild comprised of a new mother trying to have some enjoyment in her maternity leave year from some big company, a solicitor/lawyer (who has become one of my dearest friends ever. Free legal advice for the ultimate in win situations!), a primary school teacher and a nurse. All professions requiring a human touch, intelligence, sympathy, understanding. And they all played World of Warcraft with me. Games are now a modern social revolution – a pastime indulged by the young and the old, from all walks of life. Sure, there are bad eggs and yes, X-Box Live is a good example of the gaming community applying the Penny Arcade Greater Internet F**kwad Theory in practice, but that’s true for anything.

If we do something wrong, we are punished for it. Banned, or made to apologise. That is taking responsibility – and it is something modern society does very poorly. Look around, all this talk of reclaiming missold PPI, being asked to claim compensation for even the most mundane of trips and slips, talk of writing off large debts and being debt free in a year or two. We are a society that is grounded in shirking our responsibilities so others can take the blame instead. Instead of, “I slipped, my fault, I didn’t see the yellow cone!”, it’s “I slipped and I’m suing you for thousands because of my injuries!”.

Parents wonder why their kids get intro trouble, and yet don’t take any parental responsibility. Governments constantly blame the previous parties for every single one of their problems, even when we’re years on and they’ve had every opportunity to work out those issues. Celebrities cheat, lie and steal and are graced with million-dollar deals to talk about their experiences publicly. Society itself today has annihilated personal responsibility. It almost doesn’t exist.

Where is the question that some of these horrid people committing really vile acts may actually just be sick in the head themselves? That they are responsible, and that whatever prompted them to enact such extreme force on an unsuspecting world, they must accept the full responsibility. Sometimes, there is no answer. There is no cause. And pointing fingers doesn’t help – we are left with that hollow, empty feeling that in some cases, we never really know why. Maybe there isn’t a why. Maybe it just is, and the criminal may not know either. Answers are not always needed, and answers are sometimes not always there.

Truth is though, if we must accept some blame – then everyone else has to accept their part as well. All mediums, all societies, governments and cultural movements have to take their share of the burden. Games aren’t immune – but they shouldn’t be asked to take the whole burden. And here’s why;

We cannot continue to be an expanding and important economic pillar of many countries if at the same time, politicians and society wants to do our chosen hobby in at the same time. They need to make a choice. And I suspect they’ll be very happy to take that £8 in VAT from our games, the tax from the studios and the other taxes from employee wages. The games industry is HUGE – and generates revenues and taxes that even recently made the UK government cream their pants and want to make our country more attractive to the industry. Yes, the industry should grow up and be more responsible now it’s a big boy. But so should consumers, and so should society at large.

Games, and all other mediums, are merely a reflection of our current tastes. And track back through the last twenty years, we’ve all been through fads, crazes and focused on specific genres and specific titles. There was a period of time War FPS games were actually unpopular! Really, I kid you not! The way we are now is reflected in the games we buy, the TV shows that get started (and cancelled!), the movies that succeed. It’s always been that way. Fifty Shades of Grey denotes there are an awful lot of women out there frustrated their boyfriends and husbands won’t indulge their fantasies of kinky bedroom shenanigans. Although I can’t work out what the success of Transformers denotes… that society has no taste, maybe?

To take the blame is to accept you are creating or are the source of a problem. Games may be a part of some larger ill – but it is that, a part.

Any more blame than that is not only unnecessary – but uncalled for, and perhaps those people need to start paying attention to a little bit more than just a few games in a year…

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