Life Through Games

On Guns, Violence and Video Games

Filed under: Uncategorized — MrShad @ 10:39 pm January 28, 2013

It has often been said that if you want to start an argument on the Internet, express an opinion and wait.  If you came out and boldly said “The sun, generally, has been pretty good for us.” you can expect a range of responses from “My mother died of skin cancer, you fucking monster!” to “It is going to explode and kill us all soon anyway.”  It is unavoidable, there is simply nothing that can be said without inviting rapid, and particularly on the Internet, viscous disagreement.

Recent tragic events have brought firearms to the forefront of the national discussion again.  Leftist politicians who have always harbored the goal of disarming the American public have used tragedy to gain ground in a historically unpopular field.  There is nothing quite like the death of dozens of children to give your argument the veneer of moral authority.  Other people, including the NRA, Democrat congressman Jim Matheson and Democrat senator Joe Manchin tried to focus the blame on our violent media in general and video games in specific.

No matter where you stand on the subject of guns and the right for free people to keep them, if you haven’t read Larry Correia’s excellent piece “An Opinion on Gun Control”, you are most likely inadequately informed on the realities of the current debate.  If you have an open mind at all about the role of firearms in our culture, you will find the article enlightening.  After making your way through that, I invite you to read a shorter, more philosophical essay at Reason or Force about the civilizing effect of an armed populace.

It is probably apparent at this point that I am a gun-rights supporter.  I firmly believe in the right of a person bare arms.  When it comes to the topic of carry-permits or having to prove to the state that you need weapons, I believe a free person does not ask permission to be armed…serfs do that.  Of course, I am a stickler for gun safety rules, and I support every attempt to educate people, both adults and children (I have seen more reckless behavior with firearms from adults than I ever have from children), in the proper use and handling of weapons.

I could point out statistics.  Everyone does, both for and against.  We all claim the ones we like are authoritative and the ones we don’t like are biased or illegitimate.  If I were to mention that more people die, by an order of magnitude, in car-accidents than to guns, anti-gun people would cry foul because vehicle death are accidents.  Somehow death by tragic circumstance is better to these people than death by malicious intent.  They might be right, I don’t know.  I do know that it is not the number of deaths, by itself, that motivates the gun-grabber to action.

I could show that even if we were to give in to the totalitarian impulse to disarm law-abiding citizens, it wouldn’t really work.  The cities with the highest rates of gun violence are the same cities with the stiffest anti-gun-freedom laws.  With one exception, every mass-shooting incident in the past few decades has been in “Gun Free Zones”.  Obviously gun laws only work on those willing to follow them, and those are the very people we need not be afraid of.  The people we want to stop will simply ignore whatever laws we pass.

Currently, over half of American homes have at least one firearm.  There are almost as many privately owned guns as there are people in the US, so statistically, if a house has one gun, it has many.  This number has been on the rise in the past few years, yet the over-all crime rate, and more importantly the violent crime rate, is decreasing.  Mass-shooting incidents, as terrible as they are, are exceedingly rare and getting rarer.  It is obvious from the numbers that guns alone are not the problem.  That is an unassailable point.  They are, however, symptomatic to the problem.

Humans are a violent race.  All of our stories glamorize the violent solution, or the clever trick that gets someone else to commit or experience violence so the protagonist doesn’t have to.  Video games are interactive stories, and therefore, are drenched in violence.  To most gamers, the more violence, the better.  We love it!  We pay for it! We crave more of it! Robert Brockway wrote a great article on Cracked about the phenomena.  Cracked is notoriously uneven in the quality of articles, but when they are good, they are very good.

America, in particular, has this strange tolerance for violence.  When it comes to the content of our media, we are fine with grisly depictions of violence, but heaven forbid we flash some side-boob on prime-time TV.  We have the same standard for video games.  The hero can slaughter amounts of humans that would de-populate entire countries, but show a PG-13 sex scene, and your game is “shocking” and “controversial”. When the Hot Coffee hack was revealed on Grand Theft Auto, the response was so severe it triggered law-suits and patches.  Bethesda was so scared they made it difficult to display nude characters in Oblivion even for modders.  If you think about it, that makes no sense at all.  Ideally we would be very careful with both our sexual encounters AND our violent ones, but I can almost promise the people involved in a one-night stand are going to regret it less than the people involved in a drive-by.

Let’s look at this “who to blame” reflex we have.  To every thinking, rational person, both the prevalence of guns and the amount of violence in our media have very little to do with actual violent acts.  Great Brittain has a near-total ban on guns, yet the violent crime rate there is higher than in the U.S.  Millions of us steep ourselves in the most gruesome depictions of violence and murder money can buy every day, yet very few gamers actually deliberately hurt another human.  When something tragic happens, however, we are quick to blame something.  Part of it has to do with the need to feel like we are in control of our environment.  We want to stop bad things from happening to those we care about.  Something bad happened, and we want to do something to stop it from happening again.  To put it pithy: Something must be done.  This is Something.  Let’s do it.

That is the best-case scenario.  The worst-case, and the one that gets played on TV most, is to blame the talismans of the opposing tribe.  Gun rights are largely a right-wing tenant.  Not exclusively, of course, but I would bet that the Venn diagram of gun-owners and conservatives shows at least %80 overlap.  The media, excluding video games, tends highly to the left.  Again, not exclusively, but so much so that it is silly to pretend otherwise.  The video game culture, as games tend to celebrate individual accomplishment, inhabits a more libertarian ground, but that is only apparent to people who know video game culture.

When we understand that, and we get the reaction of the politically active and small-minded alike to blame the other team, we end up with a “Something bad happened. I hate you. So it is your fault.”  Leftist were very eager to blame gun-owners for the heart-breaking event in Connecticut.  The NRA and other talking heads hit back with a “blame the culture” counter attack.  While I certainly disagree with anyone that thinks taking guns away from private citizens is a positive thing, I don’t agree with the NRA on their response either. Jason Lomberg put up some thoughtful remarks to Venture Beat on that very subject.  I wouldn’t cancel my NRA membership, and I certainly support armed guards in schools, but pretending that video games are a significant influence on mass-shooting incidents is misguided.

Our own press was sadly complicit in the “blame the other side” rhetoric.  Twitter feeds and gaming news outlets all lit up with how outrageous it was for the NRA to blame our favorite past-time in an effort to deflect blame from theirs.  Of course, far fewer of these same outlets screeched about the leftist politicians who were already moving to enact new restrictions on what video games are allowed to depict and who can to buy them.  I might be wrong, but I would think that suggesting something contributed to a disaster is a lesser offense than crafting laws to ban it, yet the outrage was all directed against the NRA, leaving politicians with a (D) after their name conspicuously unscathed.  The gaming press, like the American press in general, is largely leftist, and “Blame team Gun-owner” was an itch many of them were just all-too-eager to scratch.  One ambitious, independent developer created a game that let you assassinate the president of the NRA with a sniper rifle.  He wanted the target of his rage to know how he felt, and specifically asked for links to the game to be posted to the NRA message boards and twitter feeds.  Like I said, we are a violent race.

So, what should we do?  I am afraid there are no good answers.  We are not willing to do anything that will work, and the things we are maybe willing to do will likely only make things worse.  I can’t claim to know the difference between the very mentally ill and the twisted and evil, but the results are the same.  It seems, if we really want to look for a correlation in these atrocities, we would quickly see just how many of them are enacted by mentally disturbed young men, and take more proactive steps in that direction.  But our experiments in involuntary commitment in the past have had dark results, and we are all loath to repeat them.  Increasing the amount of armed civilians seems to be the only workable solution, but that is a reactive rather than proactive measure, since the people who would stop the carnage cannot begin to act until the carnage has already begun.

This is really all I can offer:  Accept the world as it is;  change comes slowly to humanity, when it comes at all.  Love all the good things in your life.  Cherish your friends and family.  Understand that evil men will do evil things and be prepared to stop them, with lethal force if necessary.  We live in the best of all times in the history of humanity, so count yourself lucky to be here, now.


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