In Defense of Video Games


After what happened in Newtown, everyone’s been casting this way and that, looking for answers. It’s a natural human reaction. I can’t speak for everybody, but tragedies such as these that I’m disconnected from – that is to say I don’t know anyone even tangentially involved – tend to make me feel powerless, helpless. I don’t have children of my own, but I suddenly needed to reassure myself that the beautiful, wonderful children my friends have were safe and happy.

And almost immediately, the blame came thick and fast, from all sides. One couldn’t visit Facebook without seeing one’s news feed plastered with commentary from a LOT of people who really weren’t qualified to make such judgments. “More guns would’ve stopped this from happening,” “Less guns would’ve stopped this from happening,” “Better mental care would’ve stopped this from happening,” or my personal favorite, “God would’ve stopped this from happening if we hadn’t taken Him out of our schools.” Oh, right, because he stopped so many children from getting molested by priests.

And all the while, I’ve largely kept my mouth shut, except for a few cases where someone spoke from a place of ignorance or hatred. Because I don’t feel that I’M qualified to make such judgments. I’m not a teacher, psychologist, congressman, or law enforcement officer. And as I said, I’m not remotely connected, I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone who lost a loved one.

But then, as I knew would eventually happen, people started blaming video games. If a spree killer has ever been found to be within five miles of a video game, that game must’ve been the root cause of the killer’s actions. Somehow. And for once, this isn’t just a Fox News witch hunt, the liberal media is just as guilty of this stupidity. CNN apparently blames – of all games – Starcraft 2 for the shooting.

I watched that video and I facepalmed so hard I’m amazed I didn’t break my skull. How has that “expert” not been to a hospital to remove his head from his ass? Thank heaven for Youtube commenters.

And unfortunately, the media’s bias leads to people getting out their torches and pitchforks, like when people started wrongfully attacking Mass Effect on its Facebook page.

And I decided I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. I’m smart enough to realize that I’m not likely to change any hearts and minds with this, but it’s going to feel damn good to say it, so here goes:

CNN, you’re supposed to know better. Has anyone who works there ever even played a video game? Starcraft 2 DOES contain violence, I grant you – one could even argue that it contains violence against humans, assuming you’re playing as the Protoss or Zerg – but clicking a mouse on one unit and then clicking on an enemy to make it attack is about as far removed from a violent act as I am from wealth, fame, and women.

Thankfully, Nightline did a much better job – mind you, they covered all sides of the issue, and while they’re not really defending video games, at least they’re not conducting a mindless witch hunt.

And now the NRA, desperate to cover their asses, has decided to try to shift the blame to video games. It probably won’t work – the gun arguments seem to be raging louder than the video game arguments, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.

I’m not ruling out the possibility that violent video games could have an effect on real-life aggression, though I haven’t seen any substantive research by a credible source to prove it. And Congress agrees with me. But if it does have an effect, then it’s the same or less of an effect than violent forms of ALL media. Comic books, television, movies, music, even sports. And you shouldn’t censor one unless you’re willing to censor all.

The only thing I have to base that belief on is my own experience. See, I play a lot of violent video games. I have since I was twelve or thirteen years old and Mortal Kombat came out. Now, my parents didn’t want me playing that game, but as kids do, I found a way, namely visiting a friend whose parents were more lax about what games their son played. Did I become more violent as a result? No. Absolutely not. I don’t even like killing insects and spiders.

Nowadays, I play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on a fairly regular basis with friends. This is a game all about shooting other people, repeatedly, in the face, groin, ass, blowing them up with grenades, rockets, or artillery, or if all else fails, stabbing them with a knife. In real life, I’ve never even been in a fistfight – not one.

Games like these tend to glorify guns, but guess what? In real life, I’m terrified of them. The closest I’ve ever come to owning a gun is airsoft guns, my friends and I even ran around shooting each other with them – but even then, I didn’t “play” with them for very long before it all got just a little too real, and I stopped playing. I sold most of them, keeping just a couple for props for future videos. And as I may have mentioned before, my roommate mentioned wanting to get a real gun and keep it in the house – I got so scared I begged him to reconsider. My gun-owning friends laugh at me, and they’re welcome to do so – as long as I never have to be in a situation where a real, loaded gun finds its way into my hands.

No matter how many violent video games I consume, I will never become more violent or aggressive as a result, and the reason for that is simple – I have an extremely clear understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality. And how did I reach that understanding? Good parenting. My parents very clearly drilled the difference into my head while I was growing up, and I’m grateful every day for that and everything else they’ve done for me.

And I’m not suggesting that kids should be allowed to play violent video games – that needs to be determined on an individual basis by the child’s parents, but the answer given by Bonnie Ross in the Nightline video is the smartest I’ve heard yet: if you have concerns, sit down with your child, play the game with them, and be available to discuss the experience or answer any questions they may have. Aside from gently guiding them, it may have other benefits as well – playing The Legend of Zelda on my NES while my father tried to help me figure out some of the puzzles is one of the happiest memories I have as a child.

Video games are not the culprit. And it’s just about time the media and the entire country got around to understanding that. It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to convince everyone of this (or, indeed, anyone) with what I’ve written here today, but Penn and Teller have already said pretty much everything better than I can. So I’ll leave you with this.