I love Fallout 3. I have actually been playing it again this last week. I love headshots and critical hits. I love being the lone gunman. Still, I play the game in such a way that, though I will steal anything from almost anyone, I feel bad when my karma drops to “evil”. I love a first-person RPG with a huge selection of interesting ways to kill things, and I almost always play it in such a way as to still be the hero. The games are designed to be more fun if you do it that way.
Programers want to make games fun, and they want them to pull you in. They give you choices, and let you play things out in several different ways. The weird thing is, when a game is open-ended enough to offer you the chance to be a villain, it is always the wrong thing to do. Mass effect, Oblivion, Fallout: each game in each series presents players with a “choice”; you can be the hero, or you can be the villain. Good karma for helping people, and bad for hurting them. The thing is, if you play through a few times, trying different options, you quickly see that “good” is meant to be the “right” choice. The hero option in every one of those games will net you better companions, more interesting quests, and a more ultimately satisfying story. You are rewarded for being the good guy, even when you are meant to kill monsters and villains. That’s basic storytelling, and even video game programers know it.
Other games don’t really offer the same choices, in that there are missions to complete and you just choose how to meet the objectives. these are most of the war games out there, like Call Of Duty, that people are more likely to reference when talking about mass shootings. These games aren’t really my style, largely because they have a single story to tell you, and you don’t make a lot of choices along the way that aren’t about how to complete the objective. There isn’t any morality involved in the choices. There are also games like Grand Theft Auto, which do reward anti-social choices; many fail to realize that GTA is a satire, and it is an inappropriate choice for players who are not able to grasp that. It has a “Mature Content” warning on it for a reason.
Video games don’t make people violent. They don’t train you to be violent. Many of them have become advertising avenues for gun manufactures, who don’t seem to mind have their products tied to these games, which seems to mean that they either don’t think this is a real problem, or they just don’t care that people are being killed. There may be a problem here, but it isn’t about the games.
My stepson played GTA 5 this week. He also watched a video in class of a surgical procedure. All the violence and all the horror movies he has watched did not prepare him for how visceral it was to see someone cut open with precision and good intention. His bloody, gory, violent entertainment meant nothing when confronted with real blood. He commented on being surprised by this, but it didn’t shock his mother or me at all. Reasonable adults who have experienced these games, movies, television shows, and other fictional entertainment know better.
Sure, there are violent, damaged people who play video games and take the worst from them into the real world. The same can be said of people who read the Bible and focus their energies on hating people and calling them names. Are we going to start blaming the Bible for being violent, racist, sexist, and in favor of slavery? Because those things are in there, but they aren’t the focus for healthy people who see the message of love and community and forgiveness and embrace those, instead. We talk about movies and video games, because we are willing to restrict the speech of their creators, and the entertainment of their fans, in order to feel safer, but it isn’t a valid trade or an actual solution.
The net positive effects of playing video games outweigh the negatives, as long as reasonable choices about age appropriate content, time spent playing, and physical activity away from the game are being made. Children learn to cooperate, to solve problems, to negotiate. They learn hand-eye coordination that is proven to help surgeons in their work. They learn storytelling and, in the right kind of game, even empathy and ethics. What they don’t learn is how to clean, load, aim, or fire a real firearm. That requires them to be able to get a hold of an actual weapon, and that is where the real trouble is.
Video games aren’t killing anyone; they aren’t helping anyone kill. Guns are.
The entire world recognizes that the killing capacity of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs makes them much more dangerous than “conventional weapons”; why can’t we see that firearms and explosives are much more dangerous than swords and spears? Why do we pretend that guns are just another tool, no different than an axe or a hammer, when guns are designed exclusively to be damaging to living things?
Disney didn’t teach kids to use swords. Die Hard didn’t teach them to blow things up. Wiley Coyote didn’t teach them to use rocket powered roller skates. Millions watch what the WWE calls”wrestling”, and yet cases of people of any age injuring one another emulating what they see those athletes doing are pretty rare, and we all know that no one really gets hurt. It isn’t that violent entertainment trains people to be violent. The fact is that the only thing that allows violent people to go on a shooting rampage is access to guns and explosives. A knife, while dangerous, is not as deadly as a firearm. A crossbow is not a deadly. A campus rampage with a bow and arrow is not as deadly. The problem, ultimately, is with the guns. Guns made to be so easy to use they turn children into killers. Even when the guns are in the possession of trained paramilitary police, they aren’t safe to have in public.
So, can we please stop trying to put this on the entertainment industries. They do a lot of things badly (I am looking at you, Adam Sandler), but they don’t turn customers into killers. We do have issues of treating mental health problems, but those are healthcare issues, and we know that the US has problems with its healthcare. The biggest problem, though, is now, has been for decades, and will continue to be guns. Unless we are willing to admit that, the problem will not ever be solved.
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