The Same Lame Blame Game

Here’s a fun little experiment you can do at home. Pick up a video game. It can be any kind of video game, all the way back to an Atari 2600 cartridge to a PlayStation 4 disc. Now, use it in the way it was intended by the manufacturer.

How many people did you manage to hurt? How many people did you kill?

Okay, now try using it in any way you can conceivably think of, even in ways never intended by the manufacturer. How many people can you manage to injure or kill before you get taken down by the police or your fellow citizens?

According to President Trump, the greatest threat to our country, and particularly our young people, comes from video games “shaping young people’s thoughts”, according to a report from the Washington Post. The report added that “[h]e also proposed that ‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’”

Well, yeah. Because goodness knows that we’ve established time and again that playing violent video games leads directly to an increase in violent behavior. Oh wait, no we haven’t. But just in case, we should violate the First Amendment rights of video game makers to be on the safe side, because that’s the best and most direct way to resolve the problem.

Apparently Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, suggested that violent video games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.” Of course, because video games have been known to cause cancer and drunk driving. That’s some quality thinking there, Brent.

And that’s not the worst of the kind of conclusion-first, evidence-not-at-all thinking on display at this particular meeting. Rep. Vicki Hartzler was quoted as saying “[e]ven though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person.” I’m just curious, exactly what did you teach? Because I can’t imagine any teacher I ever had literally stating “I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link” and then trumping those factual studies with their own “intuition”. Then again, they never had the benefit of being legislators, which apparently gives you… supernatural powers?

Speaking of legislators, Sen. Marco Rubio felt the need to chime in with his usual wisdom, “acknowledg[ing] there is no evidence linking violent video games to the tragedy in Parkland. But he said he wanted to ensure ‘parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to.’” Wow, that’s a brave stance. I wasn’t aware that the ESRB rating system for video games and the MPAA rating system for motion pictures were state secrets. Thanks for getting those declassified and making them available to parents everywhere, Sen. Rubio. With leadership like that you should consider running for President.

If these politicians and other “crisis actors” (yeah, I said it) really believe there’s a causal link between video games and real world violence, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Start funding some quality, rigorous studies into the phenomenon, or better yet lift the ban on the CDC investigating the potential link. Address the very real concerns raised with the studies they continuously lean on (you know, the ones that don’t show a causal link?) and find something more than a spurious correlation.

The hysteria over video games recalls the hysteria over Dungeons & Dragons from the early 1980s, the outrage over explicit music that managed to stretch all the way from the mid-80s to the late 90s, banned books that seem to be a perennial controversy, or any time bad or undesirable behavior is blamed on media or culture rather than placed squarely where it belongs: on the people who perpetrate it. That’s not to say that the media doesn’t influence behavior to some extent, but to ban media in an attempt to control a handful of bad actors is very much akin to cutting off the noses of an entire community to spite one face.


It’s Just a Fantasy

I’ve had a little free time lately, so I decided to check out some books on my Kindle Fire (yes, that’s a shameless plug, but I do love it so very much). I’ve been a fan of fantasy ever since I was a kid, and in the last ten years or so I’ve become a huge fan of the sub-genre of modern fantasy. Most of it actually seems to be a spin-off of trashy romance novels, but I can’t honestly say that’s a bad thing (I have been known to enjoy some trash in my day as well). My most recent forays have been somewhat hit-or-miss, but there have been a couple of gems that I stumbled across, as well as a couple near-misses that if you have a higher tolerance than I do you will probably enjoy.

Chance in Hell and Texas Hold ‘Em (The Chance Lee Series, by Patrick Kampman) – I first picked up Chance in Hell through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. I figured for free how could I go wrong? Turns out I managed to go so very, very right on this one. It’s a witty, fun, breezy ride through a modern interpretation of vampires, werewolves, witches, and other things that go bump in the night, with an unusual twist for modern fantasy/horror: the protagonist is a vampire-hunter. Well, ex-hunter, anyway. Which is a good thing, since one of his love interests in the series is a vampire. And the other is a werewolf. Makes that just a touch awkward. The first book is actually light on the romance, which I appreciate, and heavy on the action, which I appreciate even more. The action is fast-paced without being frenetic, the plot is well-developed and interesting (it revolves around Chance trying to dispose of an urn with… less than ideal results throughout), and the characters are all very well developed. There are no stock characters; everyone feels very real and fun, even the bad guys. While I could have stood to see a little more heft to it, I’m not sure the plot could have sustained it, so I think the author ended it in the right place, leaving enough hooks lying around for the second book to roll right in and keep going, which feels like a natural extension of the first. The characters in this one are even more fun, the plot is even more intricate, and I feel like Mr. Kampman is just starting to hit his stride with this volume, which made it well worth buying for me. There’s clearly going to be a book three, and I can’t wait for it. All that having been said, I don’t know that it’s worth the purchase price for the paperback version of either book. It’s easy for me to recommend either one at the Kindle price of $2.99, but with the physical copy of either one coming in at three times that, you may want to save your money for something else unless you’re really into guys who date monsters.

Death’s Hand (The Descent Series, by S. M. Reine) – This is another book I got through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (yes, I’m cheap. Sue me.) This is one of those near-miss books for me. It’s the story of a young woman who is a retired exorcist, but not the kind you’re thinking of. This kind involves a lot more ass kicking. Like, a lot more. The storyline is actually quite good, and the world is fully developed. In fact, and I never thought I would say this outside of a Tolkien novel, it’s too developed. I never found myself feeling anything at all for the protagonist outside of a vague contempt, and a lot of the details seemed superfluous in many cases. The saving grace was the supporting cast, most of whom got a lot less attention than I would have liked. It also seemed to me that Ms. Reine was setting herself up to make a very bold choice at the end, but instead she went in a different direction which was far less fulfilling for me. While the rest of the series may play out in such a way as to justify that choice, I won’t be finding out, because I just don’t have the patience to invest in another book. While I don’t exactly regret having read this one, I can’t see myself pursuing another. If you have more of an appetite for exquisite detail than I do (and she really does have a deft way with words), there’s a lot to love here. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Kindle Only Books

I don’t know if these books/stories are available in other formats, but I was only able to find them on the Amazon Kindle store. Be warned.

Faculty of Fire (by Alex Kosh) – I really have no idea what to say about this one. Should I lead with the great story or the bad editing? The wonderful characters or the horrible grammar? The amazing world-building or the atrocious spelling errors? There’s so much that’s right about this book, and yet so much that’s wrong. It comes so close to being one of the best high fantasy books I’ve read in a long time, but it suffers from a bad case of young teenage boy wish-fulfillment. I suppose the best thing I can say is I’ll be buying the next book in the series when it comes out, warts and all. Just know what you’re getting into, and if the downsides are going to be too big of a turnoff then don’t bother.

Last Chance Jack – A Fantasy Short Story (by Cate Dean) – I’m not usually a fan of short stories; they so often seem to rush straight to the conclusion, or just leave out important little things like character development, details, plot, or any reason for existing. Ms. Dean manages in this story to avoid all of those pitfalls, crafting a deft narrative that is sweet, captivating, and intelligent. A surprising “fallen guardian angel” story, Last Chance Jack is a quick read, but has a compelling plot, strong characters, and doesn’t take the easy out I was expecting (although there is a solid payoff at the end). For less than $1 I highly recommend it.

Ice and Fire (by Christopher Bunn) – Another short story that I found surprisingly charming, particularly because it’s a fairy tale. Mr. Bunn manages to perfectly capture the innocent and sweet nature of modern fairy tales (not the old style, original Grimm’s Fairy Tales) in a delightful story of a princess and her childhood friend, the King who wanted more than he could have, and the deal that almost doomed them all. This is one for folks who want a taste of that childhood innocence back, and again, at less than a dollar it’s a steal.