Jan 18 2013 3:00pm

Gaming Roundup: No Easy Answers

As we return from a holiday full of catching up on the year’s best and revisiting Skyrim via Dragonborn (an excellent DLC, by the way), gaming finds itself once more a part of the discussion in a serious debate. The events of  Newtown set off age-old arguments on age-old issues—from the mouths of a defensive NRA, an outraged media, and a nation searching for answers. As video game violence once more became a hot-button issue, the industry responded this month with varying perspectives.

Gamasutra editor Kris Graft took the first swing, stating that gaming industry leaders agreeing to meet with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the impact of violent video games on crime and gun use is akin to the industry admitting guilt in the matter at hand, becoming “part of the problem.” Graft suggested the industry make a statement by refusing to meet with Biden, thus avoiding convicting itself.

IGN’s Casey Lynch quickly countered, claiming that without meeting Biden, the unversed would have free reign to paint gaming with any brush they so chose. Lynch drove home the point that a refusal to cooperate “makes [it] appear that [the gaming industry has] no defense to offer . . . accusers.”

In what some construed as an overly defensive maneuver, the Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA) released an open letter to Biden, citing studies that claim there is “no link between violent video games and real world violence like mass shooting, bullying or youth aggression.”

Veteran developer George Broussard termed the media onslaught “The Video Game Witch Trials of [2013].

Lost in the shuffle of all this (and this is where you come in, dear reader) is an unbiased perspective. Just as gamers scoff at the notion that digital polygons and plastic joysticks are the root of all societal evil, it is equally precarious to assume zero correlation between this specific form of mass entertainment and the culture of violence in which America resides. If any gamer can lay claim to not desiring to put a little extra weight on the gas pedal or avoid traffic by veering into the oncoming lane immediately after a marathon GTA session, let them speak now. As much as we would like to hope and even, in some cases, assume that basic common sense and intelligence will rule the day, there is, ultimately, still the potential of suggestibility. While the lens in which this should be viewed is often overly magnified, it is difficult to deny the existence of this issue entirely. With that said, any and all perspectives are welcome below.

In other gaming news this week, an intriguing Jurassic Park fan mod is in the works, Dead Island keeps it classy, and CD Projekt Red (of Witcher fame) debuts their next game.

  • A Jurassic Park video game, lovingly coded and crafted in the Half-Life 2 engine by gamers doing so for nothing more than love of the franchise? Sign me up. Coming When It’s Done, as 3D Realms would say.

  • One of the biggest pieces of buzz in the early New Year? Valve wants to compete with the console crowd.
  • WTF is this? No, seriously, who thinks up this stuff?
  • Irrational details specs for the PC version of Bioshock: Infinite, and it sounds like the developers are intent on providing a robust port for PC gamers.
  • Finally, fresh off the success of Witcher 2, CD Projekt Red has released a teaser trailer for their latest project, Cyberpunk 2077, which depicts a future in which humans embrace cybernetics and in turn, rebel against their natural flesh-and-blood state. Given the developer’s past work in world-building and their attention to detail in the Witcher universe... rest assured, there is great promise here.

If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

Andrew S. Balfour
1. Andrew S. Balfour
"If any gamer can lay claim to not desiring to put a little extra weight on the gas pedal or avoid traffic by veering into the oncoming lane immediately after a marathon GTA session, let them speak now."

Hi there. I'm a grownup, and capable of distinguishing between acceptable behaviour in a simulated environment and acceptable behaviour in the real world. Can we have a conversation without baseless speculation now?

If we're going to assume a correlation between the violence in video games (or other media), and the violent nature of Western culture, we must keep in mind one of the most important maxims of scientific inquiry: Correlation =/= Causation. There is no evidence to suggest that video games have a causal effect on real world violence. Unless the evidence changes, we're just repeating a question that was definitively answered years ago.

At this point, it would be much more worthwhile to look at the opposite question: are violent media simply a byproduct of an already violent culture? If so, will the violence in media decrease as our culture becomes less violent (despite the human bloodlust on display in media and reality, modern first world cultures are among the least violent in human history)?
Andrew S. Balfour
2. Megpie71
Another perspective on the gaming/violence equation: US-created video games (just like most other US-created cultural products) aren't just sold in the USA. They're sold in Canada, in the UK, in Europe, in Australia, all around the world. If there were a clear link between violence in games and violence in the streets, it should also be visible in places other than the USA where US-created games are sold. As far as I'm aware, such a link can't clearly be made, and such a cross-cultural effect isn't visible (if someone else has evidence which contradicts this, please, let me know).

Incidentally, does anyone have any idea whether there's been any research done into why people don't automatically emulate the behaviours they see portrayed in games? I mean, computer and video games have been around for the better part of a generation now, so if they were as influential as they're supposed to be, surely we'd see generational-level changes in behaviour showing up by now?
Andrew S. Balfour
3. Russ Allbery
Hi. I'm another gamer who hasn't felt inspired to drive like a maniac by playing GTA.

I do believe there is a correlation between the games we play and the nature of our surrounding society. What I question is the attempt to draw the causal direction of that correlation from games to society, which, if you think about it for a moment, seems kind of absurd. Isn't it much more likely that the games that we make are heavily influenced by our societal beliefs, values, and focus, as are the books we write, the movies we make, the politics we hold, and the stories we tell each other?

US culture puts a high value on individualism, on self-sufficiency, and on never having to rely on anyone else to solve problems. Some positive things come from that, and some negative things come from that. I suspect that individualism has something to do with a tendency to see more solutions that involve individual violence (such as, to provide a possibly less obvious example, the heroic armed teacher who shoots the armed crazy...) and fewer solutions that involve societal compromise, peaceful collaboration, and going along with a broader community ideal. It probably also has something to do with various other things that we find more unambiguously positive.

Yes, video games are part of reinforcing that culture, but so are books, movies, civic organizations, legends, myths, religions, blogs, politics, and the conversations we have over the water-cooler. Culture: you're soaking in it.

I think the idea that by changing only one input to our vast cultural stew, in a superficial and heavy-handed way, would do anything substantial about violence betrays a desire for shortcuts, cheap solutions, and magic wands. Mass shootings don't come from video games. They come from us. Our whole society. You, and me, and everyone around us. The books we read, the stories we tell, the ideals we hold. There isn't some magic psycopath button that video games are pressing. There's a complex mix of implications and weaknesses that are tied to things we value and hold dear.

There are no simple answers to reducing violence.
Andrew S. Balfour
4. stoopmasterF
really? the "media, searching for answers"? yes, no, 5, jamaica. those are answers. the media is NOT searching for answers. they exist to promote argument or to incite it. nothing wrong with showmanship (which is all mod-news seems to want to be)... but that was too pre-weighted for my internet-silence.
Andrew S. Balfour
5. a1ay
"My generation grew up playing Pac Man. If video games affected kids behaviour, we'd all have spent the 1990s eating pills and listening to repetitive electronic music in darkened rooms."
Andrew S. Balfour
6. AndrewV
I think the first three posts hit all the points I wanted to.

I've played most of the violent games out there, including the entire GTA franchise, and have never let the fantasy bleed into the reality. There hasn’t been a single instance where 5 or 10 hours of GTA has enticed me into any kind of disorderly behavior.

What we honestly need are parents with backbone enough to teach their kids right and wrong. That will stop this behavior faster than any action-- including executive order or law from Congress-- ever could. Parents have the single greatest impact on any one individual’s life, and need to step in before things get out of control.
Andrew S. Balfour
7. S.M. Stirling
Since violence has declined dramatically in America over the past 25 years (murder rates have fallen by more than half), obviously violent video games -reduce- lethal behaviors.

This whole non-debate is an example of displacement activity. Since we do not know, and probably never will know, how to predict when someone will go nutter, and since we can do absolutely nothing about it except hope we're not in the wrong place at the wrong time, we displace our anxieties into grotesqueries of this sort.
Andrew S. Balfour
My theory is that we don't have enough vacation days and holidays in America. People are overworked throughout American society. This leads to more dysfunctional families and individuals. More Vacation = happier people...

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