Posted by Alex (2160 posts) -

I'm coming up on ten years working professionally in this industry (something I'll reminisce more about in a month or so). This realization has me feeling a bit nostalgic lately, not to mention thinking about the many changes that have come in that time. I'm of course referring to things like the huge advances in technology and interactivity we've seen, the groundswell of support for independent gaming, the rise of competitive gaming as a medium people will actually pay attention to, and a greater focus from the endemic press (not always positively, certainly) on the human side of the game industry, among other things.

The ugly specter of Jack Thompson's legacy continues to haunt our industry to this day. How have we allowed that to happen?

These are all, to be sure, major shifts that have occurred over a relatively short span of time, as these things go. As an industry, we have most certainly evolved into something bigger, crazier, and frankly just a lot more interesting than what we were ten years ago. Which is why I find it all the more frustrating that we're still dealing--or, in many cases, not dealing--with the same cultural problems that plagued this business long before I even started in earnest.

Back when I began my career, video games were mostly mired in a place of cultural scapegoating and mockery. Jack Thompson, the patron saint of saying ridiculous things and somehow getting the media to repeat them, had just begun his war on Grand Theft Auto and the supposed sickening violence of our industry. Fast-forward to January, 2013. The primordial crazy being spouted by Jack Thompson has been taken up by actual politicians. And no, I'm not just talking about the likes of Leland Yee, whose campaign to ban violent video games in California was met with an expensively dismissive wanking motion from the Supreme Court. I'm talking about those who, in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, have taken to violent games as the scapegoat du jour. I'm talking about major political figures like Vice President Joe Biden, who has at least shown an ounce of restraint when talking about the need to research the link between violent video games and violence in reality, as well as Senator Lamar Alexander, who demonstrated the opposite of restraint when he said violent video games were "a bigger problem than guns."

It boils down to this: as I look at the perception problems that plagued the industry in the past, and the perception problems that plague the industry now, I'm seeing far more overlap than I feel like I ought to. But why is that the case?

For one thing, I don't think we've ever done a particularly good job of defending ourselves. Gamasutra's Kris Graft wrote an intriguing piece back when Biden was first making overtures to the game industry over Sandy Hook. The whole piece is worth a read, though to sum it up, Graft basically believed that going to meet with Biden under the auspices of helping to "fix" gun violence in America was tantamount to admitting we're part of the problem. In my opinion, he was absolutely right. While I respect those who disagreed with Kris--including IGN's EIC Casey Lynch, whose retort was equally thoughtful--having seen the result of the meeting, it's difficult to believe that our representatives going there really did much of anything except to help galvanize the notion that violent video games really do have a serious place in this conversation. Now the news media has picked up on this violent video games angle all over again, just as it did with Jack Thompson so many years back.

Ignoring outreach from the Vice President's office wouldn't have necessarily been a smart move either, because that says we're indifferent to these kinds of problems. Rather, it might have been nice to see a response to Biden's invitation that rejected the question of "how can we help to stop gun violence in America" on the merits that video game violence has never been linked directly to actual violence, or at least not any more than violent films, violent music, or whatever else. The ESA, who are ostensibly the lobbying agency for our industry, have made a few limp reiterations of that fact in statements following Sandy Hook and the meeting with Biden. It was the ESA who helped win us the right to constitutionally protected free speech in that fateful Supreme Court case. So why are they not more confidently responding now, knowing this is the case?

The ESA has done some good work defending the industry, but when it comes to the violence debate, its responses have lacked strength.

There are those of us out there who are, at least, trying to steer the conversation back to a saner place. The always great Adam Sessler had an interesting bit on Fox News' live webcast this past week, speaking about the history of video games and their similar persecution compared to music, film, and even opera. Plenty of writers have written intelligent op-eds expressing weariness over the continuation of this debate, especially in the face of all the research that's been done previously. But it often feels like we're talking at ourselves. Hell, I'm probably just as guilty of that right now as anyone else. Which is why I maybe find it a bit frustrating that those who are chosen to represent us in the larger scope of the world aren't more assertively balking at this notion that we need even more research into these supposed links between violent games and real world violence. Why have I not seen a press conference that simply features the head of the ESA staring slack-jawed at a TV monitor featuring Wayne LaPierre's airing of grievances over Mortal Kombat and Bulletstorm? Why has nobody in any position of significant power in this industry simply gotten in front of a camera and said, "Look, you have got this all wrong..."?

Again, I don't have a solid answer to that, though I imagine business reasons most certainly factor in. It's difficult for the game industry to turn the tables on the NRA's hateful video game rhetoric when you consider that the same arms manufacturers that fund the group are the ones who hold the rights to the guns we license for those same violent video games that the NRA supposedly is lambasting. That's a web of ugly that reared its head this week thanks to Eurogamer's Simon Parkin. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

Biden's office was right about one thing. The video game industry does have a perception problem, but the issue isn't solely inherent to the violence it purveys. We, as enthusiasts of the medium, are often portrayed as loners, social outcasts, and, quite frankly, cringe-worthy human beings by those who have not taken the time to understand that those are really only a very small portion of our greater whole. People aren't so much worried about "violent video games" as they are "violent video games played by people who are probably socially awkward serial murderers." The picture of seething, hateful blobs of humanity resting comfortably in an office chair as they curse at and "pwn" people in grotesquely violent shooters has become the default picture people call up when thinking of those who play games. There are people like this, and they are loud, crude creatures who frankly misrepresent the notion of what gaming is supposed to be about (fun, competition, interactivity, creative expression, among other things). There are awful people like this in every facet of entertainment, but somehow, we've let our awfuls become our default image. Angry commenters, forum trolls, and thoughtless haters are stealing our narrative and feeding into this resentful and fearful perception people have of what games are all about. All the while, those who are actually paid to represent this medium are quietly nodding along, trying to figure out how to right a ship that feels like it's been rudderless for ages.

Ultimately, it starts with us, and our seeming inability to communicate our better qualities to the outside world. It's not as if gaming hasn't produced remarkable stories outside of the most wretched connections to those who do terrible things. As one particularly recent example, amid all the THQ layoffs of last week, it impressed me to no end how quickly the many developers and publishers came together to collect and promote job listings for those who suddenly found themselves unemployed. I can't think of another industry so quick to spring into action like that when their peers--and, quite frankly, their previous competitors--find themselves in a tough spot.

I am very much looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V. I am less looking forward to the recursive conversations about video game violence it's likely to spark up all over again.

Cleaning up our image isn't just about making ourselves look less overtly obsessed with violence (though, that would probably help). It's about making people recognize us as people, making them recognize the good this industry is capable of, and that any large community can't be adequately judged by its few bad eggs. We've spent way too much time allowing the media, politicians, and frankly a good chunk of the rest of the world dehumanize us into easily dismissed, mock-worthy caricatures. We've let a perceived obsession with violence define us.

We have made major strides in recent years at diversifying this medium, both in terms of the kinds of games we play, as well as those who call gaming a personal pastime. But we've done this quietly, internally, and in a way that has clearly had no major impact on how those outside of our core group view us. As a result, here we are, however many years later, still facing these same issues, these same stereotypes, these same political push-backs that feel like they should have dissipated into obscurity long ago.

I guess I just find all of that a little bit sad.

--A

Staff
#1 Posted by Alex (2160 posts) -

I'm coming up on ten years working professionally in this industry (something I'll reminisce more about in a month or so). This realization has me feeling a bit nostalgic lately, not to mention thinking about the many changes that have come in that time. I'm of course referring to things like the huge advances in technology and interactivity we've seen, the groundswell of support for independent gaming, the rise of competitive gaming as a medium people will actually pay attention to, and a greater focus from the endemic press (not always positively, certainly) on the human side of the game industry, among other things.

The ugly specter of Jack Thompson's legacy continues to haunt our industry to this day. How have we allowed that to happen?

These are all, to be sure, major shifts that have occurred over a relatively short span of time, as these things go. As an industry, we have most certainly evolved into something bigger, crazier, and frankly just a lot more interesting than what we were ten years ago. Which is why I find it all the more frustrating that we're still dealing--or, in many cases, not dealing--with the same cultural problems that plagued this business long before I even started in earnest.

Back when I began my career, video games were mostly mired in a place of cultural scapegoating and mockery. Jack Thompson, the patron saint of saying ridiculous things and somehow getting the media to repeat them, had just begun his war on Grand Theft Auto and the supposed sickening violence of our industry. Fast-forward to January, 2013. The primordial crazy being spouted by Jack Thompson has been taken up by actual politicians. And no, I'm not just talking about the likes of Leland Yee, whose campaign to ban violent video games in California was met with an expensively dismissive wanking motion from the Supreme Court. I'm talking about those who, in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, have taken to violent games as the scapegoat du jour. I'm talking about major political figures like Vice President Joe Biden, who has at least shown an ounce of restraint when talking about the need to research the link between violent video games and violence in reality, as well as Senator Lamar Alexander, who demonstrated the opposite of restraint when he said violent video games were "a bigger problem than guns."

It boils down to this: as I look at the perception problems that plagued the industry in the past, and the perception problems that plague the industry now, I'm seeing far more overlap than I feel like I ought to. But why is that the case?

For one thing, I don't think we've ever done a particularly good job of defending ourselves. Gamasutra's Kris Graft wrote an intriguing piece back when Biden was first making overtures to the game industry over Sandy Hook. The whole piece is worth a read, though to sum it up, Graft basically believed that going to meet with Biden under the auspices of helping to "fix" gun violence in America was tantamount to admitting we're part of the problem. In my opinion, he was absolutely right. While I respect those who disagreed with Kris--including IGN's EIC Casey Lynch, whose retort was equally thoughtful--having seen the result of the meeting, it's difficult to believe that our representatives going there really did much of anything except to help galvanize the notion that violent video games really do have a serious place in this conversation. Now the news media has picked up on this violent video games angle all over again, just as it did with Jack Thompson so many years back.

Ignoring outreach from the Vice President's office wouldn't have necessarily been a smart move either, because that says we're indifferent to these kinds of problems. Rather, it might have been nice to see a response to Biden's invitation that rejected the question of "how can we help to stop gun violence in America" on the merits that video game violence has never been linked directly to actual violence, or at least not any more than violent films, violent music, or whatever else. The ESA, who are ostensibly the lobbying agency for our industry, have made a few limp reiterations of that fact in statements following Sandy Hook and the meeting with Biden. It was the ESA who helped win us the right to constitutionally protected free speech in that fateful Supreme Court case. So why are they not more confidently responding now, knowing this is the case?

The ESA has done some good work defending the industry, but when it comes to the violence debate, its responses have lacked strength.

There are those of us out there who are, at least, trying to steer the conversation back to a saner place. The always great Adam Sessler had an interesting bit on Fox News' live webcast this past week, speaking about the history of video games and their similar persecution compared to music, film, and even opera. Plenty of writers have written intelligent op-eds expressing weariness over the continuation of this debate, especially in the face of all the research that's been done previously. But it often feels like we're talking at ourselves. Hell, I'm probably just as guilty of that right now as anyone else. Which is why I maybe find it a bit frustrating that those who are chosen to represent us in the larger scope of the world aren't more assertively balking at this notion that we need even more research into these supposed links between violent games and real world violence. Why have I not seen a press conference that simply features the head of the ESA staring slack-jawed at a TV monitor featuring Wayne LaPierre's airing of grievances over Mortal Kombat and Bulletstorm? Why has nobody in any position of significant power in this industry simply gotten in front of a camera and said, "Look, you have got this all wrong..."?

Again, I don't have a solid answer to that, though I imagine business reasons most certainly factor in. It's difficult for the game industry to turn the tables on the NRA's hateful video game rhetoric when you consider that the same arms manufacturers that fund the group are the ones who hold the rights to the guns we license for those same violent video games that the NRA supposedly is lambasting. That's a web of ugly that reared its head this week thanks to Eurogamer's Simon Parkin. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

Biden's office was right about one thing. The video game industry does have a perception problem, but the issue isn't solely inherent to the violence it purveys. We, as enthusiasts of the medium, are often portrayed as loners, social outcasts, and, quite frankly, cringe-worthy human beings by those who have not taken the time to understand that those are really only a very small portion of our greater whole. People aren't so much worried about "violent video games" as they are "violent video games played by people who are probably socially awkward serial murderers." The picture of seething, hateful blobs of humanity resting comfortably in an office chair as they curse at and "pwn" people in grotesquely violent shooters has become the default picture people call up when thinking of those who play games. There are people like this, and they are loud, crude creatures who frankly misrepresent the notion of what gaming is supposed to be about (fun, competition, interactivity, creative expression, among other things). There are awful people like this in every facet of entertainment, but somehow, we've let our awfuls become our default image. Angry commenters, forum trolls, and thoughtless haters are stealing our narrative and feeding into this resentful and fearful perception people have of what games are all about. All the while, those who are actually paid to represent this medium are quietly nodding along, trying to figure out how to right a ship that feels like it's been rudderless for ages.

Ultimately, it starts with us, and our seeming inability to communicate our better qualities to the outside world. It's not as if gaming hasn't produced remarkable stories outside of the most wretched connections to those who do terrible things. As one particularly recent example, amid all the THQ layoffs of last week, it impressed me to no end how quickly the many developers and publishers came together to collect and promote job listings for those who suddenly found themselves unemployed. I can't think of another industry so quick to spring into action like that when their peers--and, quite frankly, their previous competitors--find themselves in a tough spot.

I am very much looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V. I am less looking forward to the recursive conversations about video game violence it's likely to spark up all over again.

Cleaning up our image isn't just about making ourselves look less overtly obsessed with violence (though, that would probably help). It's about making people recognize us as people, making them recognize the good this industry is capable of, and that any large community can't be adequately judged by its few bad eggs. We've spent way too much time allowing the media, politicians, and frankly a good chunk of the rest of the world dehumanize us into easily dismissed, mock-worthy caricatures. We've let a perceived obsession with violence define us.

We have made major strides in recent years at diversifying this medium, both in terms of the kinds of games we play, as well as those who call gaming a personal pastime. But we've done this quietly, internally, and in a way that has clearly had no major impact on how those outside of our core group view us. As a result, here we are, however many years later, still facing these same issues, these same stereotypes, these same political push-backs that feel like they should have dissipated into obscurity long ago.

I guess I just find all of that a little bit sad.

--A

Staff
#2 Edited by delete3 (10 posts) -

Really enjoying these weekly posts.

#3 Posted by horseman6 (393 posts) -

The problem has always been the same in America; we are a culture defined by violence and the glorification of violence. The issue isn't video games or guns, it's an extremely complicated problem that has been growing over the past 40 years. Any one with even a slight bit of sanity will realize that banning violent video games will do nothing and restricting/banning guns will do nothing. So how do we deal with the problem? I don't know if we can but until we can accept responsibility and stop shifting blame onto easy scapegoats, nothing will ever change.

#4 Posted by MetalGearSunny (6992 posts) -

Great article, and I agree with everything you're saying. I'm also totally sick of everyone pointing the finger at video games.

Online
#5 Posted by Jimbo7676 (716 posts) -

Video games will eventually be such a part of our culture that this will no longer be a problem. The reason we have this image is that the Jack Thompson and the news media decided we had it. The media will do whatever it can to scare people because that makes them money. Fear keeps their eyes on the news and the news media doesn't give a damn about reporting the truth or using yellow journalism spin if it will make them money. This will go away when people who play video games make up a large part of elected officials and show themselves to be not crazy.

#6 Posted by oasisbeyond (213 posts) -

Problem with the states they are scared to talk about mental illness more then talking about video games and guns. 80% of these shootings come from someone mentally ill. My ex has an illness, and let's say since going off her meds, she's living a life of misery and crazy. It's real and people need to start talking about it and also put a lot of money into helping people that can't afford the help.

#7 Edited by MattGrant (122 posts) -

I agree completely. We should take up arms and punish those who scorn us!

#8 Posted by MattGrant (122 posts) -

But in all seriousness, great article.

#9 Posted by probablytuna (3660 posts) -

We need more people like Sessler doing interviews with the media.

#10 Posted by Grimhild (723 posts) -

@horseman6 said:

The problem has always been the same in America; we are a culture defined by violence and the glorification of violence. The issue isn't video games or guns, it's an extremely complicated problem that has been growing over the past 40 years. Any one with even a slight bit of sanity will realize that banning violent video games will do nothing and restricting/banning guns will do nothing. So how do we deal with the problem? I don't know if we can but until we can accept responsibility and stop shifting blame onto easy scapegoats, nothing will ever change.

Fixing the busted education system and reliance on nanny-state programs that perpetuate generations of families living in government housing for the inner-city areas where most of the crime figures come from would be a start.

But that would take actual effort on the part of politicians and, like you say, accepting responsibility.

It's actually been declining for the past 20 years, though. Dramatically. But that doesn't make for a good story.

#11 Posted by Turambar (6784 posts) -

Biden's office was right about one thing. The video game industry does have a perception problem, but the issue isn't solely inherent to the violence it purveys. We, as enthusiasts of the medium, are often portrayed as loners, social outcasts, and, quite frankly, cringe-worthy human beings by those who have not taken the time to understand that those are really only a very small portion of our greater whole. People aren't so much worried about "violent video games" as they are "violent video games played by people who are probably socially awkward serial murderers." The picture of seething, hateful blobs of humanity resting comfortably in an office chair as they curse at and "pwn" people in grotesquely violent shooters has become the default picture people call up when thinking of those who play games. There are people like this, and they are loud, crude creatures who frankly misrepresent the notion of what gaming is supposed to be about (fun, competition, interactivity, creative expression, among other things). There are awful people like this in every facet of entertainment, but somehow, we've let our awfuls become our default image. Angry commenters, forum trolls, and thoughtless haters are stealing our narrative and feeding into this resentful and fearful perception people have of what games are all about. All the while, those who are actually paid to represent this medium are quietly nodding along, trying to figure out how to right a ship that feels like it's been rudderless for ages.

Yes to all of this.

#12 Posted by Hobosunday (41 posts) -

It's hard when you're a scapegoat, you take so much punishment from the rest of the world and it's nearly impossible to fight back without making things worse. Yes, there are violent video games. Yes, we have crazy people who play these violent video games. But this doesn't mean that the video game industry is the cause for serial killings.

We need a leader. A person who can rise among our ranks and help stop this thought process. Someone who is charismatic and intelligent. Someone who breaks the stereotypes gamers have held for so long. It might not fix everything, but it's a step in the right direction.

#13 Posted by gschmidl (23 posts) -

I cannot stop laughing at "expensively dismissive wanking motion."

#14 Posted by ICantBeStopped (396 posts) -

Nice article. Also, GTAV might not do what you're saying, GTAIV didn't make a big sensationalism splash.

Where the fuck is Unprofessional Fridays?

#15 Posted by Slayer (81 posts) -

Great piece Alex please write more of them!

#16 Posted by Incapability (208 posts) -

Video games as a scapegoat is just tiring. It should be obvious that blaming video games is nothing more than an easy fix, sweeping underlying problems under the rug - and if it wasn't video games, then it would be violent movies, and if not that, then music, then comics, then books, then any sort of written words about violence that anyone might happen across ever, and then, ultimately, something even more bizarre.

Anything except mental health issues. Anything except guns. Anything except a culture that has developed these things.

#17 Posted by jayjonesjunior (1090 posts) -

This is "Video Games", we are the biggest entertainment industry in the world, are you really afraid some redneck-creationist-mouth-breathing-politician is gonna make us go away?

Money Talks.

#18 Posted by mithical (313 posts) -

Another great read, Alex. I feel like there's a little something every gamer can do to help dispel the image of the socially awkward gamer, and that's simply letting others know. If you meet someone and they cringe when it comes up that you're gamer, take the time to talk to them about it and let them see for themselves just how far off the stereotype is. Not being a dick while you're online helps too.

#19 Edited by Laiv162560asse (487 posts) -

Great piece, Alex. I was delighted to see that you were bang on the money in backing up Kris Graft's piece. The game industry has no place in a discussion about how to reduce the likelihood of gun massacres - because there is already nothing our industry can do to lessen their likelihood. This 'discussion' is taking place in bad faith, because the actual content of the discussion is irrelevant. The purpose of this debate, in the first place, is to make game industry figures behave as if they carry some kind of responsibility for violent crime in society. Participation merely lends legitimacy to these hostile external perceptions.

The reason we are locked into this recurring cycle of scapegoating is twofold. Firstly, these things work themselves out of the public consciousness over a span of generations and, as you say, it's been a relatively short period of time since the last bout of scaremongering. Indeed, comparatively speaking, it's been a relatively short time since video games came into existence. There are probably still some people around who believe comic books are a threat to the moral fibre of our youth. We will have to wait a while before perceptions of gaming match those of eg. comics, where the hysterical viewpoint is marginalised and therefore carries no political capital.

The second reason is gaming competes as a scapegoat with another industry which has more political clout. This is something that may or may not change.

Finally, I disagree with you that our behaviour within gaming communities will have any bearing on changing public perceptions. Those people who are quick to demonise and ridicule gamer stereotypes tend to do so either maliciously, for their own validation of ego, or irrationally, out of an uninformed fear response. People hurling insults at eachother over XBL are fairly pukeworthy, but they're not the root of all our ills. Youtube comments are some of the nastiest cesspools on the net, as well as being a higher profile forum than most gaming communities, but you don't see media pundits using YT comments to characterise the average consumer of media. Regardless of if we're all boy scouts and girl scouts, perceptions won't change because there is very little experiential crossover between our communities and the critics of the medium. Stuff like this is more a matter of slow generational perception shift. However, you are right in calling for more a more strident philosophical stance from industry figures, since these can help speed that perception shift.

#20 Posted by liquiddragon (240 posts) -

ALEX, these articles are quite good. Please keep it up!

I do find myself trying to hide the fact that I'm a big nerdy gamer from "nongamers".

#21 Posted by Carousel (418 posts) -

Alex Navarro: Single-handedly saving giantbomb.com

#22 Posted by Vexxan (4620 posts) -

Great article, hopefully in a few years these people complaining about video games are gone and replaced with people who actually knows what they are talking about.

Time to get real, "Murica".

#23 Posted by Phatmac (5726 posts) -

"expensively dismissive wanking motion" Oh, Alex.

#24 Edited by Nailbunny (5 posts) -

The video game industry is not absolved of accepting responsibility. While the medium has diversified, you can't ignore the popularity of Call of Duty and various other shooter games. The games industry shares equal responsibility in our culture of glorified guns and violence. We should not be afraid of some introspection as long its equally divided across our cultural influences.

#25 Posted by Pr1mus (3908 posts) -

@Hobosunday said:

It's hard when you're a scapegoat, you take so much punishment from the rest of the world and it's nearly impossible to fight back without making things worse. Yes, there are violent video games. Yes, we have crazy people who play these violent video games. But this doesn't mean that the video game industry is the cause for serial killings.

We need a leader. A person who can rise among our ranks and help stop this thought process. Someone who is charismatic and intelligent. Someone who breaks the stereotypes gamers have held for so long. It might not fix everything, but it's a step in the right direction.

You mean this guy!

Wait a minute... that's probably a poor choice of image for the task at hand.

Jokes aside i agree with the feeling that someone who can be eloquent, has a lot of credibility and visibility and is able to speak this obscure and cryptic language known as "common sense" would be great to bring some much needed sanity to this debate.

#26 Posted by Nicked (248 posts) -

I think one problem games face w/r/t violence in games is that the violence is often thoughtless or routine. Tested had a recent podcast on Tarantino's use of violence in his films which is definitely worth a listen. I don't feel that most game designers are trying to make a comment about violence the way Tarantino is.

#27 Edited by jakob187 (21670 posts) -

I was typing up a bunch of stuff, but I just realized that a lot of it is shit that Sess said a while back on CNN. LOL It goes to show that HE is the guy that should be talking to Biden.

#28 Posted by Tonch (70 posts) -

Good read, Alex.

I think maybe the rise of indie games that's been happening lately could help the perception of the industry a little bit-- they tend to focus on a variety of creative topics and mechanics that the most visible and annualized games don't get into. Indie games are getting more and more people to recognize games as art, and I think maybe if they became more visible (especially through popular channels such as Steam, 3DS, iOS, what have you), then more people might see game creators (and players) as people who are very passionate about their hobby or career, people that enjoy expressing themselves.

Of course, more things than that need to happen, but every little bit helps, and I feel like "underdog"-type games are some of many that could help with the perception issue.

1up.com recently published a handful of articles under an interesting cover story related to game violence.

#29 Posted by buft (3317 posts) -

@Turambar said:

Biden's office was right about one thing. The video game industry does have a perception problem, but the issue isn't solely inherent to the violence it purveys. We, as enthusiasts of the medium, are often portrayed as loners, social outcasts, and, quite frankly, cringe-worthy human beings by those who have not taken the time to understand that those are really only a very small portion of our greater whole. People aren't so much worried about "violent video games" as they are "violent video games played by people who are probably socially awkward serial murderers." The picture of seething, hateful blobs of humanity resting comfortably in an office chair as they curse at and "pwn" people in grotesquely violent shooters has become the default picture people call up when thinking of those who play games. There are people like this, and they are loud, crude creatures who frankly misrepresent the notion of what gaming is supposed to be about (fun, competition, interactivity, creative expression, among other things). There are awful people like this in every facet of entertainment, but somehow, we've let our awfuls become our default image. Angry commenters, forum trolls, and thoughtless haters are stealing our narrative and feeding into this resentful and fearful perception people have of what games are all about. All the while, those who are actually paid to represent this medium are quietly nodding along, trying to figure out how to right a ship that feels like it's been rudderless for ages.

Yes to all of this.

Exactly, I've had this issue come up myself. When im meeting new people often through mutual friends they will have the prior knowledge that i play games and while this isn't the same social stigma it was while i was in high school in the pre-playstation days i have had incidents where people have said something to the effect of "all these people at the party, you must not feel too comfortable" i couldn't believe it, I'm an outgoing guy, gaming is part of who i am but its just a tiny part, i can function well in society.

#30 Posted by AnEternalEnigma (283 posts) -

Good shit, Alex.

#31 Posted by Hobbaswaggle (63 posts) -

Great article Alex! It seems like our society often looks for someone or something to blame when horrible things happen to us and while our quick-to-action attitude can do amazing good, in a time-sensitive crisis we have a much more difficult time slowing down and and being honest when it comes to societal introspection. We all rage against the caricature of the 'otaku' in our head when we're bested in competitive gameplay, but we rarely stop to think how someone could get to that point. I personally cannot even imagine pouring my life into one hobby/fictional universe, but I think that is what we need to do if we want to 'solve this problem'. Maybe we need an otaku reality show.

#32 Posted by rachelepithet (1391 posts) -

1) It's our fault for not standing up to those stereotypical freaks, calling them out on their bullshit, taking a "no mas!" stance (familiar with that soccer incident?) by having zero tolerance for antics, cause freedom of speech ain't covered by private companies bulliten boards. 2) Like most stereotypes, they're true. There are simply too many of them to defend oneself as a "gamer", fight to keep games un-"prohibited" by politicians cashing in on paranoid-sheltered-WASP-soccer-mom ideology to get votes, other than that, avoid everything else about the culture aside from buying your games of choice. Don't call yourself a gamer. Don't use the word in your eharmony profile. Don't try to salvage the word. Your just a person who likes games, like most people. The way a normal person likes music and movies. You wouldn't put audiophile on a fucking resume, why gamer? 3) Did I mention that old, out of shape, white Anglo Saxon Protestant/ athiest, golfing, richer than the money they'll ever spend, wife chosen for stepfordness or to cover up his gayness, level 69 Mason/Rotary/Lion/Tiger/Bear/etc., toupee or crown silver haired, politically-correctly racist, not quite said rape should be legal but supports convoluted law that basically would, dirty, scummy, yellow bellied Senators, Congressmen, Lobbyists, et al. use violent media as scapegoats to win easy votes from parents that only pretend to be concerned parents for appearances in their social circle, rather than what would produce actual results, and also because said Men basically receive all of their funding from corporations and 90% of the reason they became politicians was to make Lockhead and gun makers more money, and maybe overturn roe v wade if there's time. Our government is run by business, and even tree hugging democrats can fail to take a stand on what really causes violence and perverse hatred and bullying in our civilization, just to get the soccer mom vote. 4) What really causes child murder? Sheltered, uncultured, and left all alone at home by their absent workaholic parents, they get bullied and no one sticks up for them. They in turn become bullies. They're so ignored no one knows they've been abusing animals or writing sick diaries. The class obsessed family shelters themselves from interactions with minorities, the kid finds it easy to be brainwashed by nazi bullshit, loves to feel like a part of something bigger than themselves, nazis can't be picky on who joins up with them, they need all the idiots they can get, doctors fail to do more than try out unproven, hugely side effect ridden drugs on the kid, the s.o.b. becomes obsessed with making a statement, with being heard, chooses to consume violent media, can't enjoy fiction without thinking its real, and then maybe just maybe designs a portion of his mass shooting to resemble what he saw in a game or movie.

#33 Posted by i8246i (119 posts) -

I refuse to "change" anything from the "gamers" side of this perception bullshit.

It is up to the ignorant, mouth-breathing simpletons to stop shifting the blame of bad parenting and education on easily-attacked forms of entertainment.

Guess what? Before we had violent movies, video games, television...fuck, even guns...people killed each other FOR NO LOGICAL GODDAMN REASON.

I refuse to conform and contort myself to someone else's fucktarded ideals of "normalcy" just because they can't get their fat useless heads out of their fucking asses.

Fuck Biden, fuck the NRA, fuck anyone who can't figure out that the problem is their own ignorance. I'm going to keep playing my games, where I can blow up a hooker without consequence, because I UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REALITY AND FICTION.

#34 Posted by SSully (4185 posts) -

Great write up Alex, really some interesting things to think about here.

#35 Posted by thefncrow (13 posts) -

Why the recent focus is pretty simple. The two very visible mass shootings we've had, coupled with the latest one being targeted at rather young children, has awakened an urge to do something politically about the ridiculous level of violence in this country, something that had been just tolerable enough when it was just a constant stream of minor incidents and not moving up to mass shootings.

With the political wind changing, the NRA wants to take the focus off the proliferation of firearms, so they need a scapegoat, and video games are it. Things like Biden's comments aren't because Biden's been secretly biding his time waiting to strike at video games, but because the NRA is a big enough organization with enough clout that you can't just ignore whatever topic they want to demonize. It requires a response of some kind, and for anyone (including the ESA) to just outright dismiss the accusations is to make yourself look as extremist and out-of-touch as, well, the NRA.

#36 Posted by kycinematic (140 posts) -

We pretend we care about violence, then in the same breathe use our expensive war machines to murder countless people in other countries. It's almost like I'm living in a bad dream when the same media outlets who trumpeted our march to war act like they give one tiny shit about violence or people getting hurt. They only hate violence when its violence they don't approve of, and then to point the finger at video games, music or movies is ridiculous, because those are just the effects of our love of violence, the disparity of the rich and poor, and lack of opportunities for the poor and needy.

If everyone had a job that actually paid all the bills (and left some over for saving/night on the town/birthday presents) and universal healthcare I'd bet we'd see a huge drop in violence. Then we wouldn't have people having to rob others to feed their sons and daughters, and parents wouldn't have to go bankrupt trying to get their kid some help (or at the very least, we'd have less).

But I digress, excellent article, Alex. I figure as the years go on, there will be less stigma to being "someone who plays video games." It's obviously a double standard and is like going "OH so you listen to music? PFFF loser."

I'm also kinda sick of shooting people in games unless it got something unique surrounding it, like S.T.A.L.K.E.R for instance. (seriously try the stalker games if you haven't people)

#37 Posted by enthalpy (37 posts) -

@Nailbunny: @Nailbunny said:

The video game industry is not absolved of accepting responsibility. While the medium has diversified, you can't ignore the popularity of Cal of Duty and various other shooter games. The games industry shares equal responsibility in our culture of glorified guns and violence. We should not be afraid of some introspection as long its equally divided across our cultural influences.

I agree. The industry has made the decision, which I agree with, to sit at the table for this. Participating in these discussions and helping the issues be cast at the highest levels in a responsible, reasoned fashion is a way to legitimize the medium. Choosing not to act like the NRA is great, and if it turns out that the research to this date is borne out in the research done next, gaming will be quietly vindicated and continue to march into the mainstream. We have the supreme court ruling guaranteeing protection already. This is the next step.

#38 Posted by hookem1883 (27 posts) -

Great essay, Alex. I'm really enjoying "The Guns of Navarro" so far. I don't have any answers about this issue myself. I think, however, that as the video game industry becomes more inclusive (e.g. includes people who aren't middle class men from Japan and North America), you'll begin to see a change in this debate. I think part of the reason this debate continues is that people in power or in the media still cannot identify with gamers. But as the industry and the medium becomes more inclusive, or at least accessible, you'll inevitably have a larger number of people in positions of power that are gamers or know them and understand them. Like Sessler argued: books, films, opera used to have this same problem. I think this type of fear is based on a lack of exposure to the particular medium, rather than something inherently wrong with the medium itself.

#39 Posted by ReV_VAdAUL (44 posts) -

A fundamental truth in politics is that when you are explaining, you are losing.

Thus while gaming is doing a pretty good job or introspection and examination of violence within the medium that wont stop the scapegoating, hell scapegoating doesn't care about the truth it cares about shifting the blame. Pointing out that all artistic mediums have at some point been labelled, including novels, similarly wont bear fruit because to the scapegoaters and their target audience games, which they don't play, will seem essentially different.

So you change the narrative and shift the onus. You have to attack the people who are scapegoating you.

There are several potential avenues of response but the one I'd favor is pointing out how many gun owners kill themselves. The majority of gun deaths are male suicides. These mass murders which invariably end in the shooter dying too are just a variant on the much larger number of men who only kill themselves with their gun.

Focus on the suicides so the NRA can't shift into "If we arm the teachers, the janitors and all the students school will be safer! BUY MORE GUNS!" mode that they do whenever the mass shootings are brought up. Instead ask them why they aren't using their uniquely strong connection to gun owners to reach out to depressed or otherwise mentally ill men and get them help before they kill themselves and sometimes lots of other people.

Associate the withdrawn, disturbed young male stereotype of a gamer on gun ownership instead.

Take the fight to them rather than trying to explain to groups who have no interest in listening to you.

#40 Posted by NellyK (78 posts) -

I think Jeff Green said it best on GFW Radio a few years ago. Just paraphrasing here, but it went something like this: Everyone who didn't grow up playing video games need to die off before this finger pointing stops -- once they're all dead, this won't be an issue anymore.

#41 Posted by hookem1883 (27 posts) -

@Carousel: Totally agree.

#42 Edited by geirr (2570 posts) -

@Carousel said:

Alex Navarro: Single-handedly saving giantbomb.com

This..

@NellyK said:

I think Jeff Green said it best on GFW Radio a few years ago. Just paraphrasing here, but it went something like this: Everyone who didn't grow up playing video games need to die off before this finger pointing stops -- once they're all dead, this won't be an issue anymore.

..and this!

#43 Posted by Vigil80 (434 posts) -

Again that sensationalist piece from Eurogamer gets linked. I do not know what is so affecting about it.

On the whole, though, a well articulated write-up from Alex.

I'm torn. I believe the 1st and 2nd Amendments are both important, and I wish people from both camps could come together in opposing the shallow attempts to trade away either for political gain. Or at least not keep pointing at each other like guilty children yelling "he did it!"

@horseman6 said:

The problem has always been the same in the human race...

I'm not the sort to normally do FTFY posts, but, well, there we are.

Violence is not simply a bad habit to be broken. It's a force of nature. We (should) support people in controlling it, and not letting it control them. But trying to sterilize society is at best counter-productive. And, hypothetically, if they ever actually succeeded, actually got what some seem to be asking for, I believe the results would not be as idyllic as they might think.

I'm not saying nothing can be done. Being aware of mental health issues - though I'm wary of the many ways that could go wrong, too - and continuing to try to address poverty and hopelessness are worthy endeavors.

#44 Posted by RE_Player1 (7560 posts) -

@NellyK said:

I think Jeff Green said it best on GFW Radio a few years ago. Just paraphrasing here, but it went something like this: Everyone who didn't grow up playing video games need to die off before this finger pointing stops -- once they're all dead, this won't be an issue anymore.

The Jeff we all know and love has said something similar to that. I know he has said it before this but this notion was mentioned during his Up At Noon interview with Greg Miller, around the 14:00 mark:

Also great read Alex.

#45 Posted by GorillaMoPena (2130 posts) -

What we need to do is come up with a new form of media, so we can shift the scapegoat.

#46 Edited by AssInAss (2646 posts) -

@jakob187 said:

I was typing up a bunch of stuff, but I just realized that a lot of it is shit that Sess said a while back on CNN. LOL It goes to show that HE is the guy that should be talking to Biden.

And the most recent Adam Sessler interview with Fox News that Alex points to:

#47 Posted by George_Hukas (1317 posts) -

Clean up gaming's image?

Fuck off.

#48 Edited by Duck44 (61 posts) -

Given the recent hotness that surrounded the latest Tarantino film Django Unchained some time ago with it being criticized as being too violent (an arguement Tarantino will likely never be able to shake off) and films like it as being one of the reasons for violence occuring in real life; the pointing to a popular medium, be it films, comics or indeed games will continue to be present and film is a medium that has been around considerably longer than games. This fingerpointing will continue for the foreseeable future, especially around the time when incidents like Sandy Hook take place.

#49 Posted by csl316 (8665 posts) -

Another good read.  But honestly, now when the topic comes up again I just can't wait for it to go away again.
 
My nephew comes over, my brother puts in Saint's Row: The Third for him.  When I'm home, I hide Saint's Row and give him a racing game to play.  Just doing my small part.

#50 Posted by MrSpacs (24 posts) -

Good job Alex. You and Patrick have been supplying some excellent reading material recently, keep it up!