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Ending gun violence is no game

Published: January 24, 2013
Section: Opinions, Top Stories


I’ve enjoyed video games as long as I can remember. Until I was six, and lucked into a Nintendo 64, I only got to play games at friends’ houses. Since then, I’ve expanded from platformers like Super Mario 64 and role-playing games like Pokemon, to additional genres like first-person shooters (such as the Halo series). As long as I can remember, though, video games have regularly been linked to controversies.

Back in 2005 it was discovered that an unused piece of game code for a sexually explicit feature in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas could be accessed through computer mods and cheat devices, even though it was not meant to be part of the final game and could only be accessed through external modding devices. In this case, the game was then re-classified with an “Adults Only” (AO) rating, removed from stores because most retailers refuse to sell AO games and caused political uproar while a new version of the game without the feature was quickly published.

Recently, after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the National Rifle Association and others blamed video games as a contributing cause of the shooting. Possibly as an accidental example that even the NRA doesn’t believe the story that they were selling, the NRA then published an app for Apple devices that was itself a shooting-style video game, “NRA: Practice Range.”

While the fact that the NRA created a video game after scapegoating games as a possible cause of shootings is simply ironically funny, the fact that Vice President Joe Biden sat down to discuss the problem of gun violence with members of the games industry is not.

Suggested fix? Some say it would help to make the disregarding of game ratings a crime; a “solution” that is unrelated to the problem of 10- to- 13-year-old kids buying and playing Mature (17+) rated games. Having spent time selling video games in a retail store, this would be an unnecessary change. Almost all retailers, especially the national stores that sell the vast majority of games, already enforce the ratings as company policy. When I sold video games and a customer requested an M-rated game, I couldn’t push the sale through without checking an acceptable ID. While some people at other retailers might just sell without asking, policies generally hold up. Making it a law might be a more effective way of ensuring that parents take a decent look before buying a game that might be questionable, but it’s not going to fix the problem of gun violence.

It will not solve the problem of gun violence because, as elaborated on a Cracked.com article on the topic, violence in video games is—if anything—a symptom of a cultural violence obsession, not the cause. We, as a society, like violence. For most of our national history, we’ve been in some sort of war. As Robert Brockway put it in his column, “We’re a nation of warriors, and most of us don’t have a war.” As a society, we also love heroes, and whether they are real soldiers, movie characters such as John McClane, comic heroes such as Spiderman or video game heroes including the Master Chief, they all “hurt bad guys.” That’s just what most heroes do, they stop bad guys and while they don’t all use guns, they almost always somehow hurt the bad guys.

Another rather simple reason that video games shouldn’t be blamed for the prevalence of gun violence in the United States is that other nations where games are similarly popular don’t face the same struggle with gun violence that we do. Case and point is Japan: both the United States and Japan are big on gaming. While video games as an industry launched in the United States, industrial titans like Japan’s Nintendo, Sony and, for a time, Sega, are largely responsible for the survival of the industry to the present.

Of the largest three developers, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, two are from Japan. If gaming were to blame for our societal problem with gun violence, then one could expect Japan to have a similar problem; but it is just not the case.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, a product of American capitalism or media? This raises a small problem, because our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a similar culture but doesn’t have the same type of problem with gun violence that the United States has. Sure, hockey is a lot more popular than baseball or football, and Canada has a parliamentary democracy instead of a representative democracy, but overall, there are a lot of similarities. Yet, Canada does not struggle with the same level of gun violence that we do.

In just the two days that I spent working on this column, five people were shot in one incident in New Mexico. By the time you’re reading this, something else may have happened, too. Last semester, a workplace shooting in my home state of Minnesota took multiple lives, including a member of my synagogue. It’s time to find a comprehensive way to reform gun laws. The Second Amendment was not meant to be a blanket shield used to allow average civilians to own or possess assault weapons used only to kill human beings. We are never going to achieve meaningful reforms if attacking video games becomes a distraction, disallowing us from rooting out actual causes of gun atrocities.