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Monday, February 4, 2013

Hypocrisy And Hyperbole: Why Our Country’s Efforts To Vilify Video Games Angers Me

the condition of a person pretending to be something he is not, especially in the area of morals or religion; a false presentation of belief or feeling. — hypocrite, n. — hypocritic, hypocritical, adj.

1. an obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “She’s as big as a house.” Cf. litotes. — hyperbolic, adj.

Before you read the rest of this blog post, I want you to look at and study the two definitions above very carefully.

It’s simple logic that the loudest voices in a crowd tend to be heard the most. And when those voices happen to belong to U.S. Senators, heads of national gun organizations, and popular media outlets, and when the “crowd” in this scenario happens to be both the internet and the American populace, it would also be logical to assume whatever they’re saying is going to be heard by a heck of a lot of people.

What *isn’t* logical however is the nature of the information that is being spread by all these loud voices. Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, many of our country’s legislators and members of the press did what they seem to always do in the wake of tragedy: they looked for something to blame. When many directed their ire towards the U.S.’s gun control and legislation laws, the NRA in turn deflected the blame towards violent media such as movies and video games which they claimed influenced the shooter.

Like many other gamers, I was infuriated not only by the NRA’s (an organization who’s chief function is to promote and encourage the use of a device whose sole purpose is to maim and kill) refusal to accept any responsibility, but also by how quickly they just passed the blame along to movies and video games. I’m sorry, the Sandy Hook shooter didn’t kill people by throwing game or DVD cases at them, he used a gun. Also, when you blame violent video games and then go ahead and releaseyour own promotional video game less than a month later, it tends to weaken your argument; way to go NRA.

Of course, the NRA wasn’t the only organization that was ready and willing to jump aboard the “let’s blame video games” bandwagon. Last December Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto held a liveinterview on the show with Daniel Greenberg, the head of the Independent Game Developer’s Association. I’m sure Greenberg was expecting to have a civil and reasonable discussion with Cavuto; what he got instead were a few rather narrow-minded and, some would say, hostile responses from Cavuto who didn’t seem even remotely interested in entertaining the idea that maybe video games *weren’t* to blame for the shooting (journalistic integrity at its finest….). The interview ended with Cavuto abruptly and rudely cutting Greenberg off.

Sadly, Cavuto’s behavior was just the sort of response I’d expect from a media network that labeled one ofthe new planets in Star Wars: The Old Republic’s upcoming expansion as “The GayPlanet” (trust me, I wish I was joking….) because of its inclusion of optional romances between player characters and NPC’s of the same gender. Fortunatly Fox News’s attempt to redeem themselves by interviewing former X-Play host Adam Sessler nearly a month after the Greenberg interview went rather smoothly. 

During the interview (in which the anchor was not only willing to listen to Adam, but even helped extrapolate some of his talking points) Sessler laid out some hard facts: first, that the notion of violent media turning children into killers is absurd because such media was never intended for children in the first place. Thanks to systems such as the ESRB ratings, a typical ten-year-old could not walk into his local Gamestop store by himself and walk out with a copy of Call of Duty or Mortal Kombat, it just couldn’t happen. 

Sessler also mentioned how many parents and other adults are so quick to blame games and movies simply because they are so unfamiliar with them. He compared games to other competitive activities such as sports (which many children *do* play), saying that the myth of aggression spawned from competition and violence going hand in hand is just that: a myth. He even talked about a similar controversy that surrounded the rising popularity of Opera; saying that the frequent and often graphic displays of violence in many popular Opera productions had critics (some who’d never even been to an Opera performance themselves) trying to vilify the genre.

Sessler’s interview was certainly a massive victory for both gamers and game developers, but sadly the NRA and Fox News aren’t the only thorns pricking into gamers’ sides. More than a few U.S. Senators have made strides towards slapping the scapegoat label onto video games and making sure it sticks. 

Leland Yee, a State Senator from California who tried and failed to pass a bill outlawing the sale of violent video games in 2005, made headlines when he brazenly claimed that “Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry's lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.” The backlash against Yee and his statement was so strong that a week later he issued a public apology, claiming his words had been poorly chosen. However he did end his apology by reiterating his belief that the gaming industry has profited at the expense of children so take that as you will.

Unfortunately, the backlash against Yee didn’t stop other Senators, such as Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, from continuing their ill-conceived crusade.  In an interview with MSNBC, Alexander was questioned about his opinion regarding new gun control legislations that would require universal background checks. Alexander’s response was a long tirade which included a statement in which he claimed: "I think video games [are] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.” Right, because guns and the right to bear them have never affected anyone anywhere…. 

To quote Gameinformer editor Adam Biessener, who covered Senator’s Alexander’s wildly ignorant statement: “I'd settle for a world where people like Senator Alexander had legitimate, good-faith discussions instead of grandstanding about how (to uncharitably paraphrase the Senator) guns don't kill people, video games kill people.”

The sheer amount of ignorant blame and hostility that has been leveled towards video games by people who know nothing about the media they are accusing baffles me. The U.S. seems to enjoy drawing attention to all of its “enlightenment” and “innovation” but I’ll admit I have trouble agreeing with such claims while people like Leland Yee and Lamar Alexander are out there working so hard to keep the American populace in the dark ages.

Personally I think it’s about time that American standards grew up. Shame on Yee and Alexander and the NRA for perpetuating ignorance, but even more shame on outlets like Fox News for not only giving them the means to do it, but in most cases flat out agreeing with them. However, I’d be careful to point out that I don’t think Fox News and the U.S. Senators are the problem, I wouldn’t even say ignorance itself is the problem. To me, the problem isn’t the lack of knowledge, it’s the *refusal to accept* such knowledge. If you stubbornly refuse to change your opinion regarding the root of a problem, how can you hope to solve the problem? Ignorance is bad, willful ignorance is far worse.  

Follow me on twitter at @NateHohl and be sure to check out my other work here on "Thoughts of a Ganer" and at vgu.tv.   

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