Killing in the name of: When does the blame game stop?

By Julie Horup
3 December 2011 06:10 GMT

Tired of the old chestnut about games causing violence? It’s time for gaming to grow up and stop passing the buck, Julie Horup argues.

Decades ago it was films, then it was Marilyn Manson, and now it’s Grand Theft Auto.

Colorado, USA: 13 killed. Oslo/Utøya, Norway: 77 killed. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands: 6 killed. Virginia, USA: 32 killed. Illinois, USA: 6 killed.

See, video games do cause violence.

Before you start throwing around trolling comments, calling me a stupid games journalist who shouldn’t be allowed near the Internet, just take a few minutes to consider the statement. I’m right. You know why? Because it’s the truth. Games can cause violence – but despite ignorant attempts to connect the death tolls above with your favourite hobby, this doesn’t mean they’re the reason that unstable sociopaths go on a shooting spree when something goes haywire in their head.

Press A to learn about anger management
Like other forms of media, many just as innocuous to their aficionados, games have the ability to push someone over the edge – when they’re already dangerously close to it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit it. It happens all the time, and games aren’t the only culprits being singled out; decades ago it was films, then it was Marilyn Manson, and now it’s Grand Theft Auto with a little bit of Modern Warfare as well as Doom. People constantly need a scapegoat in case something goes wrong – just look at what’s been done in the name of religion through history.

Controversially Violent

Mortal Kombat, 2011. Refused classification in Australia for extreme gore.

Bulletstorm, 2011. Triggered a media circus describing it as the most violent game ever.

Left 4 Dead 2, 2009. Refused classification, then censored, in Australia, for extreme gore.

Saw, 2009. Like the source material, considered gratuitous and exploitive by some critics.

Madworld, 2009. Another media darling considered the “most violent game ever”.

Having said that, it’s not as much about games causing violence as it’s about violence being an innate weakness in human nature. It’s there right from the birth, and if not, then it’s being fostered by our surroundings; maybe through abuse, maybe by being left alone to burn ants with a magnifying glass or maybe just because it somehow excites certain problematic individuals to see other people suffer. The difference is that while most of us learn how to control our anger and thus are able to play a simulation of shooting without triggering a violent episode, others aren’t as well equipped, and slip through the cracks.

An individual isn’t prompted to violence because games carry some brainwashing power, or because evil masterminds are masquerading as developers, but because of biological or psychological malfunctions and a lack of care when its important. Call it broken DNA or a dysfunctional society, I honestly don’t care – but don’t pretend it’s because of a virtual playground called San Andreas.

Press X to learn about reality
The fact is that video games don’t breed violence; society breeds violence. When young children were gunned down in Norway earlier this year, it wasn’t successful because the perpetrator had played Modern Warfare 2. Had he played paintball, he would probably be just as skilled (if not more) with a rifle, but who would be sane enough to condemn something playful and innocent like that? It’s just a game.

Critics might want to consider how cathartic an experience it is when you overcome John Terry on a virtual pitch in FIFA instead of chanting disgraceful profanities at him in the real world. In this case maybe he deserves it, but the same goes for Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. I may feel the urge to slap someone around or whip them with a dildo, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually going to do it. I’m pretty much content with the whole affair never leaving the screen of my telly.

Ctrl + Alt + Del
When we argue so vehemently that games are innocent as little baby lambs, we do them a disservice. We make them different from other forms of media which have weathered these same kinds of attacks and come through unscathed. It’s stupid, really, because it’s a lost cause; the mainstream media will also find something to demonise when senseless acts horrify, and while we could defend games against baseless allegations, we might be better off if we simply didn’t bother. Games aren’t innocent, helpless souls anymore. Their virginity has been popped; they should be able to take a beating, and if not, then they probably deserve a 3/10. They need to stand alongside other forms of grown up media and take the criticism as the sound and fury it is.

I’d rather spend my time slaying dragons or saving the universe than constantly having to convince worried mothers and desperate attorneys that their children are going to be alright.

Pouring fuel on a blazing fire by responding, giving the critics more ammunition, never ends well. I’d rather spend my time slaying dragons or saving the universe than constantly having to convince worried mothers and desperate attorneys that their children are going to be alright despite enjoying a pastime that merely imitates a bombastic reality with its catastrophic consequences.

Violent games aren’t capable of giving birth to an entire generation of psychotic lunatics, and they never will be – much as music, film and TV won’t. There’s a reason age ratings have been put in motion, and there’s a reason we can choose to remove blood from certain games, but trying to escape the unwanted responsibility of deranged actions by placing the blame on something as simple as entertainment is perhaps the most irresponsible thing about this whole situation.

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