Wednesday, January 02, 2013

I Want A Real Discussion About Violence - Not About Video Games

From the Washington Post

Ok. It’s time. I’ve been trying desperately to not get into the debate about video game violence after the shooting in the Connecticut Elementary School. The internet and media outlets have been flooded with discussions about violent video games. And while a number of them are coming out with articles that support the gaming industry, and that video game violence does not lead people into acting out, it’s still a pervasive topic after all of these weeks.

I’ve been trying to not dive into this topic because it’s over-saturating the market. In many ways it reminds me of the days following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. After that first day of news, I was looking anywhere, desperately, to find something other than that. Cartoon Network became my salvation. Even Nickelodeon was holding news coverage about it. I remember Linda Ellerbee and some of the Nick News kids breaking in every 20 minutes with updates. It was too much. So there I was, a senior in high school, watching Cartoon Network just to get away from it.

And that’s what I have been trying to do with this blog, provide a comfort zone away from the insanity, even for a few days. If you’re reading this blog, probably 99.99% of you are on the side that gaming violence does not cause real world violence. People are the source, not the media. Graphs, charts, visuals, and everything in-between have been showing how violence has been on the decline over the past decade as the consumption for media has increased. It still doesn’t stop video games from being a scapegoat, just as movies, television, books, and theater have been in the past. Video games are more pervasive because of their nature. Unlike movies or television, the user has an active role in the story. Players can direct their characters around a world for themselves, versus sitting idle as the scene plays before them. Cutscenes are still a hit or miss, some requiring button mashing sequences and others not, but the rest of the game it’s pretty much you controlling the character.

Repeating history and the active nature of video games, it’s going to be a while until people get over their fascination with blaming games on everything. Until the next new thing comes along in media, that is.

I think it is important to discuss violence in our media in an open forum. The problem is that both sides feel so strongly about their position that it turns into nonsensical bashing. And that’s where I think we are coming into conflict. The issue is not about violence in video games, but about violence in our country. No one seems to be discussing it, however.

Video games are available throughout the world. And yet the United States has one of the highest murder rates. When you look at the media consumption in Japan, England, Germany, Australia all have access to the same products as the U.S. Even in the case of Australia with their restriction of content, (or even China), they are able to access it in some form or another. Yet they maintain really low violent crime rates. How is the U.S. the exception?

Now it IS TRUE that our crime stats have been going down in the past decade (nearly 2 decades now). There is no mistake about that. But in comparison to other first world (and in some second and third world countries) we’re still pretty high for an industrialized society. And the thing is, it’s always been like that. Why?

The answer is, we don’t know. And because we are so focused on asking the wrong questions “why are violent video games making us aggressive?” we are unable to pour research into the correct outlet. How is it that the same media content is available all over the world, and yet our country seems to be the only one that still has one of the highest crime rates?

Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine is one of the only sources that actually dives into this subject. I understand, both as a film student and a perfectly sane person, that Moore tends to slant his point of view. I get it. This is one of his few works that gives a point of view of both sides of the story. Still slanted, but not oppressively so. Moore is a member of the NRA and supports our right to own guns. He is also aware that our country is violent and afraid of everyone and everything for some unknown reason. Jump across the pond to Canada and it’s like a completely different world! In fact, he did that. They don’t lock their doors in Canada. That’s how safe they feel about their surroundings. He even went into the “ghetto,” the poorest part of the country and it looked like a pretty average neighborhood.

This is the part that got to me about the movie: when he interviewed a father who’s child was murdered during the Columbine High School massacre. The father became an advocate for studying media, not because he felt that they were responsible, but so people could be better informed about their children’s lives. In the interview, the father brought up the fact that he didn’t understand why the U.S. was more violent and such tragedies happen when the same media is consumed everywhere else in the world. “How is it that we are the only ones that this seems to affect?” The best representation I remember reading went something like this: We know that almost everyone who has committed a crime was wearing shoes. So does that mean that everyone who wears shoes will eventually be a criminal? No. Of course not. They make up such a small fraction of society. And that logic is the same one being used with video games.

See when a parent of a Columbine victim gets it, as well as several of the students injured that day, we should probably listen.

So where do we start looking? History is a good place, but I think we need to also look at media. I’m not backpedaling, but I do think media contributes to how we in the U.S. perceive ourselves, our neighbors, and our world. Turn on the nightly news here in the states and have one from another country running at the same time. Use the internet people, you don’t have to give me these weird looks. And most cable and satellite companies air networks from other countries. But watch them side-by-side. You don’t have to know the language to be able to see the differences from the imagery. Our news is filled with stories about violence. Everywhere else, it’s extremely limited.

The last report that I have comes from a 2012 book about media studies for the news. I’ll update this post with the title as soon as I can dig it out of my box. A news station will typically report at least 90% of the time about crime and violence. As violent crimes have decreased in the U.S., we have seen a dramatic increase of stories about them in the news. Bowling for Columbine gave a 160% increase. I believe the book lists it now at 210%. It’s, for lack of a better word, insane. News outlets are reporting so much about violence that it has created a culture of fear. Fear can manifest into health conditions. Health conditions can affect the mind. And then we get people shooting at each other out of fear.

I’m not saying this is the case, but it seems pretty plausible. But again, we’re so busy discussing about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, no one wants to put any attention towards researching facts.

As Eric Cartman in the “Dances with Smurfs” episode once said, “I’m just asking questions!”

A discussion about violence in our media is important, as well as how it is portrayed, received, and reciprocated. But we also need to talk about why our society seems more intent on violence versus other countries that consume the same content. Why is it that we report so much on violence that doesn’t accurately portray crime stats? Maybe this can be a start to serious talks about violence, mental health, and the like. Banning violent video games isn't the answer when the rest of the world seems to have no trouble keeping their act together.


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