Let’s face it – like it or not, as videogames become more and more mainstream, we’re going to see more and more instances of politics and gaming intersecting. Piki Politics is here to serve as both a history of political/gaming scandals (or collisions, if you prefer) and as a discussion on the political motivations and context behind them.
This week I’ll be taking a look at the portrayal of video games in today’s news media. Why is it that the industry has become the new “boogeyman” in the eyes of concerned parents nationwide, and what role does the news media play in perpetuating this image?
As the trial of self-confessed mass murderer Anders Breivik comes to a close in Norway, the gaming industry has once again found itself in an uncomfortable position. With Breivik himself claiming he used violent games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to help train and plan for his killing spree, the supposed link between videogames and real world violence has once again been brought, front and center, into the spotlight.
It’s a position that the industry has become all too familiar with; following a violent tragedy, developers, publishers, and gamers alike find themselves under fire, with media outlets implying or singling out videogames as one of the main underlying causes of said tragedy. Here in the United States, we’ve seen this happen a few times, most famously in the wake of the school shootings in Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon (In the towns of Littleton, Paducah, and Springfield, respectively).
Following these shootings, the industry came under attack. Some 200 news articles printed in the ten year span between 1997-2007 point to videogames as being the central explanation behind the shootings, often times outright ignoring other explanations in favor of sensational headlines that point the blame towards the gaming industry. This constant barrage of damning accusations is one of the main reasons why those outside of the industry believe the myth that violence in videogames causes violence in real life, despite claims to the contrary from researchers and scientists around the world.
Even so, it’s easy to understand why, in the wake of tragedy, we are so eager to reach out and assign blame. We live in a world where bad things happen to good people, a place where things just aren’t fair. Still, it’s hard to accept that someone would go out and kill a fellow human being for no reason- we need an explanation. When it’s revealed that the person behind the violence engaged in other violent activities, be it a videogame or something else, it’s a convenient explanation to latch onto. “Of course they lashed out violently,” one might say, “look at all the violent media they consumed! It was only a matter of time.”
But, as any internet scholar will tell you, correlation does not always equal causation, particularly in this case. Millions of people have played violent videogames without consequence, a fact that many psychologists are quick to point out. Christopher Chambers, a research fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, made this point quite handily in a recent interview with Reuters, stating
If a person plays violent video games and then commits acts of violence, it doesn’t prove that the video games caused the violence. There could be no link whatsoever, or it might even be the other way round: that the person’s violent tendencies drew them to violent video games in the first place.
Videogames have become the latest in a long line of “boogeymen” that are supposedly stalking the American public, plotting and planning for just the right time to corrupt our youth through violence and other explicitness. They have become a convenient “folk devil” for today’s politicians and moral crusaders, filling a role that in the past has been occupied by other forms of media. Before videogames, it was television and heavy metal that drew the ire of concerned parents. Before that, it was film, and before that, it was radio and rock ‘n roll that were reaching out into homes across America and stealing the innocence of our youth.
Like other types of media, videogames represent common fears and anxieties that arise whenever a new form of technology grows in popularity. Simultaneously touching on concerns surrounding youth violence, the role of computers in shaping our future, and the decline of parental control, they make for easy fodder for those looking to point the finger at something. In the past, politicians have made “folk devils” out of everything from car makers to Elvis, giving their supporters a cause to rally against. With so many in the mainstream media treating videogames and those who play them as social outcasts, it’s easy to see why they’ve become such a common “punching bag”, so to speak, for the moral crusaders on Capitol Hill.
As videogames become further entwined with the mainstream, it will be interesting to see how their current status as “folk devils” evolves. Traditionally, as new forms of media gain acceptance, they begin to fade out of the negative spotlight and into the status-quo. But with advances in gaming technology allowing for more detailed graphics and intricate gameplay, violence in games is only going to become more realistic. With that in mind, I doubt that politicians and those who support them will ever let the “issue” of videogames simply die. At least not without a fight.