In the wake of the atrocity in CT, another wave of anger has rang out against violent video games. Joe Lieberman, senator for CT and erstwhile next-vice-president-of-the-US, made a statement speaking of the link between video game and movie violence and violence among young men, particularly what he called ‘vulnerable’ young men.
And predictably the entertainment software industry reacted with its well-rehearsed counter that, according to all the available research, violence in video games does not cause violence in real life. A position it has polished after every gun attack since Columbine.
Now, let me say that the entertainment software industry paid my bills for good chunks of the last two decades. I’ve worked on technology for violent video games, and been remunerated with their profits. I’ve written books that detail how to simulate ballistics in games, how to simulate dead bodies (known euphemistically as “rag dolls” in the trade), and how to create characters who follow realistic military tactics. So any moral culpability is mine as much as anyone’s.
So it might seem a relief (if not a foregone conclusion) that — as far as I can tell from the research — there is no direct causal link between violent video games and real-world violence. On the strength of the evidence, the games industry is right and the politicians are scape-goating, again.
Except that is ass-backwards. Everyone is arguing the wrong point, the real point is being missed. I think.
The issues isn’t cause. The issue is condonation.
The pursuit of realistic violence in video games, the increase in fidelity of gun models, sound effects, tactics and splattering blood animations is real and obvious to anyone with an interest in the industry. Pick up any games magazine in the store and count the proportion of pages with a picture of someone heroically brandishing an offensive weapon. I’d be very surprised if you’ll find any with less than 50% of all pages (including editorial). Even in so-called highbrow mags aimed at old-fart gamers like me (Edge, for example), it can be as high as 90% (from a quick survey of my back copy pile). Type some variation of “Best Games of 2012” or “Most anticipated games of 2013” into YouTube and you’ll get hours of commercials filled with mass murder and gun violence.
Violence in video games might not be a direct, isolatable cause of violence in real life, but must take its share of the responsibility for creating the milieu of glorification of killing which is all pervasive in media aimed at men. It both responds to the obsession and fuels it. Demand for these games draws the biggest budgets out of publishers, and the addictive experiences they provide, drives demand for the more. Games didn’t create the problem, but they feed it.
I can’t help but see the games industry as morally culpable in letting themselves be drawn by profits into supporting a culture where murder is routine. Where it solves problems. Where guns provide power, and bigger guns are rewards for progress. As the fidelity ratchets up with each cycle of game designs, there is no moral absolution from studies that show no direct causal link.