In light of recent events, video games have again found themselves in the cross-hairs of politicians and the mainstream media. The ongoing argument is that the increase in violent gun related crimes is somehow directly influenced by video games. It’s true that games have grown increasingly more mature over the years, but so has their target audience. Contrary to popular belief, the average age of a video game player in the United States is 37. The reality is that persons under the age of 18 represent a relatively small demographic within the gaming industry. Much like everything else that has been deemed inappropriate for certain ages, video games adhere to strict rating policies to keep content not suitable for minors…away from minors. The ESRB issues ratings for games much like the MPAA does with movies and retailers are then prohibited to sell that content to persons under age. Unlike sneaking into a different theater to see an R rated film, inappropriate games only reach the hands of children if purchased for them by adults. The truth is that if you’re a parent and you feel your child is playing games that are too violent…then stop buying them those games. Parents are encouraged to do their homework and research which titles they purchase instead of just ordering everything on little Timmy’s Amazon wish list.
But although games are among the most restricted forms of entertainment in terms of their availability to inappropriate age groups, they still somehow seem to be bearing the brunt of the social attacks. Everyone on the planet, including children, can access red band movie trailers in a matter of seconds on the internet via YouTube. Cable channels broadcast music videos and television shows that promote all manners of violence which can be seen by anyone within viewing distance, regardless of age. That’s not to mention the laughably irresponsible news organizations that build ratings by instilling fear in the public and making their audiences afraid of everything from weather to toothpaste. So with hundreds of other media sources corrupting our impressionable youth, why have video games garnished so much negative attention?
The answer to that question is simply because games are relatively new and easily misunderstood by other generations, which makes them convenient scapegoats. Whenever violent crime related tragedies enter our lives through various media outlets people are always paralyzed with fears. It's terrifying to think that something so horrific could happen so randomly and with little explanation as to why. To calm these fears people have to believe there’s a distinct reason or motivation behind why a person could commit such a crime. But why isn't it enough to blame those directly responsible for the malevolent acts or the manufacturers that supplied the weaponry? Why does society feel the compulsive need to conjure up catalysts to explain violent behavior that is in its very nature, unpredictable? Unprovoked, violent crimes have been around since the beginning of time. The only reason these heinous acts occur more frequently and with greater severity is because of the growing accessibility of deadly weapons. The harsh reality is that all of these violent acts have had one thing in common and that’s guns, not video games. But since this country was founded with gunpowder, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see any substantial changes to our regulations for firearms. So with gun owners and manufacturers trying to avoid the hailstorm of accusations they have to shift the responsibility elsewhere. And with the music winding down it seems that the video game industry has been left without a chair.
If you’re one of the many Americans that feels it’s necessary to stockpile an arsenal of weapons for “home defense” or the impending zombie apocalypse, then knock yourself out. I’m not going to debate gun control policies and everyone is certainly entitled to owning firearms as stated in our constitution. However, it should at least be pointed out that when our forefathers wrote the 2nd Amendment in 1787, they were referring to the formation of musket toting militias in order to preserve the interests of a state in the event of government corruption. The entire concept was initially conceived as a means to keep balance between state and government, not so Rambo wannabes could shove M16s under their mattresses. It should also be noted that when the constitution was first written women weren't allowed to vote and it was acceptable to buy and sell people as property, so not every idea is a winner. But as long as we’re misinterpreting the constitution, let’s not forget that censorship of video games is in direct violation of our Nation’s 1st Amendment, which is the reason this country was founded. If all of this seems familiar, then you might remember a certain Supreme Court case from 2011 that overturned a previously established law in California that criminalized the sale of "violent video games" to minors. The reason that law was thrown out is because the Supreme Court declared video games as a form of artistic expression which is protected by our freedom of speech.
Video games today have grown far beyond barrel rolling gorillas and fruit eating hockey pucks. Games nowadays are complex, multi-layered experiences with compelling and often emotional plots. As far as vessels for storytelling, certain games have far surpassed the limits of film by allowing players the choice to alter the narrative. And I don’t think anyone would argue that it wouldn't hurt for directors such as Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay to sit down with a game like Heavy Rain and take notes. But the idea that games have evolved into deeply enriching experiences is something that eludes those pointing the fingers. When people are afraid they only feel safer if they can project those emotions onto an entity which can then be chastised. Just look at the numerous citizens of Salem during 1692 that were executed for nothing more than being a woman. Now with hysteria gripping our country again it appears video games are the target of a modern day witch-hunt. Politicians more concerned with their approval ratings than logic, have been clamoring for soapboxes across the country and spewing forth rhetoric so irrational that it makes Charles Manson seem sane. As an example of this misinformation, countless lists are being “published” featuring games with violent sounding names in an effort to shock ill-informed parents into burning their child’s Xbox. One of the most popular “offenders” that keeps popping up in the media is Midway’s Mortal Kombat…a fighting game that’s over twenty years old. If video games are responsible for an outbreak of violent crimes, then wouldn't this outbreak have peaked decades ago when the more mature themes were first being introduced? And why are games with offensive sounding names the only ones being targeted as influential? What about games like Flower or Farmville? Perhaps it’s because there hasn't been an increase in the number of children sauntering through fields or adults quitting their jobs to plant beets.
I've been playing “violent” video games for as long as I can remember and despite the occasional rant, whether written or spoken, I’m one of the most passive people you’ll ever meet. I can honestly say that I've never had the urge to steal a car and drive it through a park crowded with people because I've played the Grand Theft Auto titles. But on the other hand, hearing a politician say that we need to “investigate” the role of video games in violent crimes makes me want to bash somebody in the face with a shoe. For years listening to a politician speak has seemed oddly reminiscent of a scene from the Exorcist in which we’re left wading through a puddle of pea soup with confused expressions on our faces, but this is a new low for our country. In a recent interview Senator Leland Yee, the man responsible for writing the aforementioned overturned legislation back in 2005, stated that gamers have to just "quiet down" because they have "no credibility in this argument". These kinds of comments are not only absurdly nonsensical but they are downright offensive to those involved in the industry both as developers and consumers.
The video game industry is full of hard working individuals that have created amazing works of art while making significant contributions to our struggling economy. The gaming industry generated a world wide revenue of $67 billion dollars in 2012 and is estimated to grow to $82 billion within the next five years. So to dismiss the contributions made by these studios and their employees as nothing more than a "corruptible” form entertainment is simply despicable. For our government to even entertain the idea that games are responsible for anything other than helping our hobbled economy just shows how cowardly our representatives truly are. If everybody is determined to overlook the fact that there would be fewer violent gun-related crimes with fewer guns in circulation, that’s their choice. But don’t try to shift the focus from the issue by throwing one of the most creative, lucrative and innovative industries under the bus.
So to my fellow brothers and sisters, both in the industry and those sitting at home with calloused thumbs, I simply say to you that we just have to weather the storm. There was once a time when this country shunned rock and roll because it was deemed the “devil’s music”. But today KISS plays in every stadium across the country and mothers aren't covering up their children’s ears for fear that they’ll grow up to be goat slaughtering heathens. And now the music that was once blamed for corrupting an entire generation has not only been embraced, but it’s also considered to be classic. A time will come when video games will be acknowledged for what they truly are and what they have done. But until that time comes, let the government spend our tax dollars on more of their “studies” and try not to take what you hear or read in the press too personally. Games are still in their infancy and the time will come when they receive the respect they've earned.