This is something a little different from my usual fare, but its connection to gaming - and to game development - makes it important enough to mention here.
For anyone who both games and follows the news, it's the same old song-and-dance. A school shooting or similar tragedy occurs. A collection of anti-games advocates bumble forth in an attempt to justify their hatred of an entire medium (along with a whole host of other self-interested pundits). Some people listen to them; it's human nature to want to find the reason behind such an atrocity, in the hopes that it can be prevented from happening in the future. People buzz about the potential cause for a while, until everyone sort of quiets down and forgets about it.
Which is to say, "nowhere."
Ultimately, we just end up right back where we started.
In this case, however, someone in the Senate took initiative. In the wake of the horrific Newtown shooting (and a whole host of other shootings taking place across the country), Senator Jay Rockefeller proposed S. 134, which would call for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on whether or not violent games and violent media have a harmful effect on children. It also calls on the Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and Center for Disease Control to become involved. On the surface, it seems like an admirable idea, right?
The Entertainment Consumers Association - a well known video games advocacy group - doesn't think so.
Careful. This might make you a killer.
In a letter sent out yesterday to its members, the ECA refers to the research as completely unnecessary, stating that it represents "a distraction from finding the real cause" behind tragedies such as Newtown. It also brings into question the motives of the man behind the bill. Rockefeller, it explains, is a well-known critic of gaming; he recently went on record to voice his disagreement with the Supreme Court's decision that video games represent protected free speech.
"Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it," reads the Senator's remarks. "They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature of Saturday morning cartoons."
"With all due respect to the Senator," the letter continues, "the highest court of the land has reviewed the scientific research and concluded that video games do not cause violence. The non-scientific personal opinion of the Senator should not get to overturn the Supreme Court Ruling."
Think about how many Orcs and Trolls died to the Fellowship.
I'd also like to add...has Senator Rockefeller actually read some classic literature? It's not exactly tame. People in Shakespeare regularly find themselves meeting violent, bloody ends; to say nothing of the sort of stuff children might read in Lovecraft or even Dickens. In short, Mr. Rockefeller might be a little off his rocker...but we're getting a bit off-track.
The letter goes on to completely tear apart the whole concept of the proposed study. It raises some very good points, including the bias of both Congress and the Senator where gaming's involved, the flimsiness of the link between violent crime and violent games, the demographics involved in more recent shootings and, perhaps most interestingly, the fact that it's not really possible to study violence. You can really only study aggression.
There's one other factor I'd like to bring up: the simple fact that a bill such as this one represents a gross oversimplification of the real issues. I wish the reasons behind events like Newtown were as simple as "he happened to play a violent video game once." I really do. It would be so much easier to deal with them, and to prepare for them.
Looks pretty harmful, yeah?
The fact is? They're not. Trying to pretend like they are does a great disservice to everyone, particularly if you're clearly just trying to serve some personal agenda. Rockefeller clearly has a vendetta against gaming; this intense bias is severely clouding his judgment in this case. What do you suppose happens if his biased 'study' finds a connection? What sort of legislation do you suppose might come next?
Suffice it to say, games might not be 'protected speech' for much longer.
As I hope you've found by reading this blog, games - and the
developments related to them - do so much good for the world; far more
than ill. You've got games to treat depression, advances in AI and
motion control that could help surgeons, charity events that help save
the world... you've got neural controllers that could eventually help people control artificial limbs! Men like Rockefeller seem to blatantly ignore all
these contributions, shoehorning games into some narrow role as the demon
that causes school shootings.
People need to start using this.
It needs to stop. I agree whole-heartedly with what the ECA has established in its letter. It's time to stop pointing the finger at video games. It's time to stop using an entire industry as a scapegoat, and start looking into the real reasons these things happen. Moreover, it's time to take the reins away from fossils who've only a tenuous understanding of modern technology and media. They've done enough damage already.
In short, it's time to stop blaming, and start thinking.
I'll see you folks tomorrow.