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 not like I’m some sort of newb: my first gaming console was an Atari 2600. I’ve played most of the consoles since then, and I’ve owned every iteration of Playstation and Xbox that has ever existed, as well as most of the Nintendo consoles. I’ve had a computer since x86 was even a designation, and “baud” was a word. I get gaming. Believe me. I’ve loved it, hated it, and been thrilled and frustrated by it. I just don’t think gaming gets me anymore.
For those of you who only started playing video games in the mid to late nineties (or heaven forbid, since Facebook and cell phones made video games acceptable), let me describe to you what gaming used to be like. You would sit in a room, usually by yourself, and you would put the game in. It would start up, you would play for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (depending on your endurance and the size of your bladder), and then you would pass out. If you were really lucky and you were playing the right kind of game, you might have a friend to play with. If you were unlucky, you had a sibling you had to share with (hi, Jen). That was about it.
Somewhere along the line somebody got the idea of creating multiplayer games in a very real way. I’m not clear on exactly when this happened (I blame Doom), because they didn’t dominate the world of gaming for a long time. They coexisted, out there but not overshadowing traditional gaming. At least to the best of my knowledge not before Everquest came along (colloquially known as Evercrack). I lost a lot of good friends to Evercrack, mostly because I just never saw the appeal. It seemed more like a job than a game, spending all of your time “grinding” (that would be doing senseless and boring tasks for in-game currency to buy in-game items or achieve other in-game objectives) so you could get to a point where you could, I dunno, play the game. And it was always a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.
Then I discovered City of Heroes. This is a massively mutiplayer online game in which you get to play a super hero, and it was tailor made for me. My wife became a gaming widow for about a year. She finally got me back when she lured me into World of Warcraft, which had taken over from Everquest as the fantasy MMO equivalent of crack. She got tired of it; I didn’t. At least, not for a long time. It took a lot of grinding, foul language, and downright immaturity that I would be shocked to hear from an 11-year old boy to finally get me to quit. Two years of that later I finally went cold turkey. I’ve been clean for about six months now, and I’ve discovered something: there’s no games left for me.
See, here’s the problem. I never liked first person shooters (Doom, I’m looking at you again). I just never got the whole “twitch-twitch-flinch-twitch-this is fun!” thing. And I’m done with MMOs. It’s not the games; it’s the players. I just can’t tolerate their bullshit. For the right game I’ll pay every month (although that did grate on me, I won’t lie), but as City of Heroes found out, the free to play model isn’t enough to keep you going when the content isn’t there and the jerk-to-fun ratio is jacked up to 11.
But when I go to look for a nice, simple game, something like the games of my youth, they all seem to be gone. Note I didn’t say “easy”. Anyone who wants to claim that Metroid or even Super Mario World was easy has either a short memory or way too much time or their hands. But I don’t want to have to invest three days learning the control scheme. I don’t want to have to do mental and physical gymnastics to control my character (Wii, Kinnect, I’m looking at you this time). Even the franchises I used to love have confused added complexity for improvement. I loved Civilization. Civilization II may well have been the pinnacle of game making. Civ III was so convoluted and confusing I couldn’t even finish a game on the easiest setting. I hear they’re up to 5 now. Good for them. I wouldn’t even give them 5 bucks for it.
How about a basic platformer with some deep story? I’d love to see a great RPG that I can sit down and play for hours, not sit down and watch for hours a la Final Fantasy 13, which was so painful I couldn’t get through the first two hours, which translated to roughly fifteen minutes of actual gameplay. How about instead of adding bad multiplayer, you take the time to program the game such that I can choose between playing it FPS or strategic (Fallout 3, I’m talking to you). How about just once, you deliver a game experience that maybe isn’t all about the hottest graphics and coolest sound, and instead rewards me with gameplay so compelling, so rich, so intuitive and fun that I want to come back again and again, and I’m actually willing to pay twenty dollars more for extra content, because the original game was JUST THAT GOOD?
Oh, and how about not forcing me to be online just to play a single player game, Blizzard? ‘Cause, yeah, that’s bullshit.