Yup, I was hoping that this wouldn’t happen and I wouldn’t have to talk about the horrendous events at Sandy Hook over the last few days. But it seems that yup, once again the media has other ideas and must tout the reasoning behind the killers drive as an obsession with Call of Duty. Oh do grow up, media idiots.
“You really don’t think games affect people?”
This was the discussion this morning with someone at the doctors surgery as they poured over their copy of The Sun newspaper (a frankly stupid newspaper I wouldn’t be caught dead with), with the headline title “Killer’s Call Of Duty Obsession”, with the tag underneath “Massacre loner addicted to controversial video game”. The chap was older than me and I simply stated as he sighed and moaned about games that games weren’t, in my opinion, to blame. Especially not in this case – a young man whose mother believed the world was going to end, who had trained him to use guns and had them lying around the house as well as pre-existing dispositions to violent tendencies, left alone in a basement with a condition that required them take some hefty medication, all might have conspired to create a perfect storm – the fact he may or may not have played Call of Duty is neither here nor there. Someone with a tendency towards violence is drawn to a first person shooter – it’s hardly rocket science, is it? And if it wasn’t Call of Duty, it would be something else. My argument was, simply, that games are once again being wheeled out as the scapegoats to explain a tragic but extremely complex set of circumstances. They want simple answers. Simple reasons. Nothing about cases like these are so simple. There is no A to B, not without detours C through Z along the way.
For you see, The Sun and newspapers of their ilk don’t want the truth – because the truth doesn’t sell. I want to wheel out that phrase that a friend of mine who worked for a newspaper in my early adult life gave to me when I was talking about subjects like this; “Never let the truth get in the way of a good kicking.” The truth isn’t a saleable commodity. For if they reported the facts – that the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, was a mentally unstable individual who was being raised in an environment that was extremely hazardous to his own mental wellbeing – we’d all go “Oh right. So the system failed him, the psychiatrists failed him, his mother failed him. Will they fix this now?” Much easier to blame a video game, because Violent Games Are Bad, but only if you discount the wealth of evidence that suggests that video games cannot inspire violent tendencies, and in fact may prove beneficial for health and learning. By blaming games you create a media backlash that will get a humbled response from the makers of said game.
Except the problem is the games industry is now a lot more powerful than the printed press and TV News channels. It generates a wealth of tax income, it creates jobs, it drives growth. That the industry has internal problems with finances and risk aversion is not the issue in this instance – the fact is, games are here to stay. Not only that, but the average age of a person who plays video games has rocketed up as all generations of people begin to enjoy themselves and relax into a hobby that is starting to become a normalised, baseline pastime that everyone can indulge in. It’s relatively cheap and quite enjoyable for the most part. Far from catering to a specific demographic and their moral outrage, it would appear that there is no moral demographic left in most places to be outraged. They’ve indulged in what the media wants to paint as an evil hobby, and most walk away thinking, “Well, it was fun… but I’m not walking away wanting to kill someone.” The shock headline from today only seems to affect a small percentage of individuals who want to be morally outraged by something, and seek to be outraged about whatever there is to be outraged by. For everyone else, we can see the headline for what it is – bullshit without any scientific or factual basis yet for making such a case. And even if there were video games in the house – so what? Like millions of other Americans and people across the world, they bought Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. I don’t hear of a wave of people going out on a killing spree.
Of course, it wasn’t just The Sun. The Daily Express yesterday claimed he had an unhealthy obsession with Dynasty Warriors too, which might have inspired him. Now, I don’t know if anyone has played Dynasty Warriors reading this but let me explain it to you in layman’s terms; it’s a game based on the novels “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, a historical epic about Ancient China. All the individuals involved walk around with comically oversized weapons and have superpowers that rival any of our comic book heroes, as they mow down wave after wave of faceless NPC to the point you wonder how Ancient China could squirt out this volume of humankind for the purposes of the slaughter. It is badly voice acted, poorly scripted and quite simple. It is not the sort of game that we in the gaming world take seriously, let alone would point the finger at as somehow inspiring violence – because it is so slapstick, so silly, so cartoon-like that it is impossible to walk away emotionally moved by it. In a pantheon of stupid games, Dynasty Warriors has its own special plinth. It has for a decade now defined stupid games, but isn’t an awful game. Because it knows how stupid it is. And revels in the stupidity. There’s no gore, nothing terribly nasty happens… yeah. Dynasty Warriors inspiring violence? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
I was reminded earlier of Roger Ebert’s take on the subject by Boing Boing! For all the disagreement we in the gaming world have with Mr. Ebert, truth is we still respect many of his views and on this one most of us would be behind him 100%, where when asked for a soundbite about how violent movies affect killers, he accused the news of being worse. The news gives them fancy logos, theme tunes, 24/7 coverage. People want to talk about the killer, his (or her) face plastered everywhere, inescapable. It’s an indelible fame, one which cannot be undone. Their infamy lives on after their death and they remain famous, as everyone continues to wonder what their motives were. Of course, Mr. Ebert’s quotes were not used – the news stations found dogs who would bark on command for them.
What’s worse, it’s brought Jack Thompson back into the fore. Please send him back to his cave. That is all I have to say about this individual.
For you see, I can write about this and you can now know that in my 30’s, I’ve been around computers and video games since I was about four years old and my grandparents got into that scene in their retirement. Arguably, I am one of those at risk sorts – I have Bipolar Disorder, I am disabled and I am a bit of a loner for the most part as I do have mobility issues. But at no point in my life have I felt any need to be violent, or to go and commit an unspeakable act of violence against the world. For you see, I’m not really a violent person. I can enjoy it in games, on TV, in movies. But I’m not the sort of person who enjoys that in real life – I have an over-active conscience, parts of my family instigated Catholic Guilt into me from an early age and such forth. The vast majority of us are not in any way predisposed to violence of this nature. We are still a species that has a tendency towards violence, of course – anger and rage and their ilk inspire violence and it would be stupid to deny that as part of our very being – but society and our own upbringing helps to dictate who we are, and what we do, and how we do it. We grow up with a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong. Lines are drawn in the sand.
Some people – in rare occasions – miss these vital steps of development for whatever reasons you may provide. The point is that this isn’t as simple as just blaming video games. Adam Lanza was a complex individual who lived in conditions which may not have been beneficial to his own mental health and well-being, an individual with a history of mental health problems and yet no-one stepped in to assist him or his mother, who was preparing for the end of civilisation as we know it with food and guns around him, and no doubt affected him in some way. Neither do we know why a 20 year old young man can somehow walk into a school unchallenged and start gunning people down in this day and age. Or why he chose a school in the first place – maybe a sore point to take vengeance on in what he felt were the last days of the world? I can theorise, but the truth is we simply don’t know. He is dead, and therefore he cannot tell us what was inside his head at the time. We cannot get an answer – and the press, desperate as it is to ease the pain, finds easy answers to complex problems, even when the answers are completely wrong and in an exam situation would score them an F.
I think we all feel in some way shocked about what happened. And we should all feel sympathetic to those who are having to deal with this tragedy so close to Christmas, with so many children killed. I wish I could hug some of these people, and not stop hugging them. To show them love, compassion and understanding in the absence of the media being able to. For the media just needs to keep the headlines rolling. They forget that at the heart of it is a brother who has lost his family, and families who have lost their children, as well as families who will have lost their parents as well. They forget that this Christmas, they will be mourning rather than celebrating with everyone else. They forget that this will have likely profoundly affected the survivors of the massacre, who may require years of therapy. They forget all of this because it’s not important to detail the human suffering that comes with it – just as long as they have a snappy headline each day to keep the gullible and the foolish and the easily swayed coming back for more, it doesn’t matter if the headlines are true and come from credible sources. They can just bury an apology on page 19, or at 2am in the morning when no-one is looking.
It’s sort of ironic, isn’t it? In a year when the gaming world and gamers grew up, it is now the press that has so soundly been critical of us who refuses to mature gracefully. It hasn’t learned any lessons of the past, nor does it appear it wants to, as it is counter-productive to where it wants to go. They scramble for any scrap, every shred of paper that might link violence to video games. No matter how tenuous. No matter how vague. No matter how inconceivable the link. As long as something is found – and if not, hell, make it up. Who cares? It’s only the biggest entertainment industry in the world, generating billions and billions of dollars globally with brands arguably more famous than most film stars and titles. We can do it and sort of ignore the millions and millions of people out there who obviously play games and enjoy them and are unaffected by them, right? It’s not like gaming is normal now, something everyone does at some point to get through this bleak economic time when we could all use a little light distraction and fun now and then, right?
Seriously… just grow up. Society has changed, as is evidenced in the comments of these papers websites and on news channels, condemning the lazy journalism. Society is a big boy now and knows how to play with its toys. We grew up.
It’s time the media did as well.