Instead of going after real guns, President Trump is going after fake ones. Last Week, Trump hosted video game company CEOs and representatives for a round-table discussion about possible links between violence in video games and violence in real life.
This is a debate that has cropped up often in the past. In the wake of the school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed, Trump reignited the issue, saying “We have to look at the internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
One can begin with the simple question: Are video games violent? And the answer is absolutely a yes. There is no doubt that they are violent. And not just violent but graphic, brutal and amazingly realistic.
One of the most popular online games, Call of Duty, involves competing as a military man with a full arsenal of realistic weapons as you attempt to kill your opponents. The killing involves automatic weapons, grenades and knives, and your targets are computer generated human beings.
Other games are even more violent, like Gears of War, a game in which your character has a chainsaw attached to his gun that he uses to slice his reptilian foes in half. However, the enemies that you brutally murder in that game are more alien/monster than human.
Probably the toughest game to grapple with, especially with regard to its blatant violence, is Grand Theft Auto. This is the game I had to hide from my parents when I was younger. Whenever I heard them coming up the stairs, I quickly changed the input on the TV back to the Disney Channel, and I kicked the game’s case under the couch. I didn’t want my parents to know I was playing a game that involved gang violence, cop-killing and drugs.
The fifth and most recent installment of GTA became one of the best-selling video games of all time with nearly 100 million copies sold worldwide.
So, is it just violence that makes these games so popular or is it something else? I think the violence is certainly a factor. You don’t know how satisfying it is to chainsaw a computer-generated alien until you’ve tried it. But, there’s a lot more involved in the cathartic ritual of video games than just violence for the sake of violence.
Online gamers play for a sense of personal achievement. Video games can be very difficult, and becoming a good player online (competing against everyone in the world with the same system and an internet connection) takes time and hard work.
But games aren’t just about beating your friends and feeling good about yourself, either. The game allows you to play a role, whether that role involves the player making personal complex moral decisions with real time consequences like the Walking Dead games or the gamer simply completes the objectives that their character must fulfill. Video games are a vehicle for storytelling.
Grand Theft Auto isn’t a game about rampaging and running over innocent civilians with your car. It’s a structured narrative with deep and well-developed characters. The characters you manipulate do bad things, but they live in a fictional world where everyone is bad. The narrative is a black comedy. It’s a satirical portrayal of modern American life where everyone’s crimes are magnified from corrupt government institutions to self-indulgent reality television stars to lazy kids who play video games all day.
The game’s characters — whose strings the gamer pulls — are sometimes vile and difficult to watch, but we root for them the same way we root for Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. He’s a total jerk, but we love the hilarious situations he gets himself into. We root for him because he’s entertaining, not because we want to be like him.
Violent video games are no worse than Tom and Jerry. At least the characters in the games have some sort of motivation. Tom and Jerry fight each other for no reason.
Games that are over-the-top violent (which Grand Theft Auto is) should not be played by children. That’s why games are rated, and kids under 17 can’t buy them without a parent. Adults understand it’s a game, where children might not.
Research says games don’t make people commit crimes. Bank robbers don’t warm up on Grand Theft Auto before robbing a real bank. The United States Marines don’t practice shooting their rifles with Call of Duty.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said, “Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media and Obama’s budget kill people.” The NRA is notorious for deflecting gun violence blame from guns themselves to media portrayals of guns. A new NRA campaign attacks the media and “Hollywood phonies,” telling them “time is running out” on their “abuses of power.”
Trump’s decision to reignite the video game debate is probably a conscious perpetuation of this idea. Whatever his motives, the fact is he’s using fictionalized games as a scapegoat for dealing with the real issues.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe