Controversy is nothing new to videogames; 1976 brought the game Death Race to arcades, horrifying parents and programmers alike. As people realized the potential of virtual worlds to sublimate our desire for entertaining violence, the media exulted in it's new scapegoat and put us front-and-center as politicians built their careers on the backs of visionary industry talent. A few decades later, gaming is as ubiquitous as our social interactions. We encounter so many tales of tragedy touched by this seemless blend of say and play, that we have much more potential to create controversy where there is none and end up diverting a true discussion about the perpetrators of heinous acts.
In Oslo, the media gave us front row seats in the drama of a xenophobic fundamentalist using World of Warcraft as a cover, and Call of Duty to reinforce a violent Us vs. Them mentality. Gaming press quickly latched on to the mentions of these popular titles, only to find that the problem was socially endemic and that videogames were merely one lens to view the real tragedy of indiscriminate religious terrorism once again boiling over. However, on a much smaller scale, we hear of children wasting away as parents diligently tend to virtual pastures in a desperate escape from the pressing responsibilities of parenthood. If anything, it seems that the growing diversity in gaming styles and audiences has also given us a glimpse into a grander social malaise; one we cannot simply dispel with a tired thesis that violent videogames begets aggressive behaviour.
After the disturbing events in Norway, I was hard pressed to find a podcast, publication or post that didn't feature someone from the industry apologizing on behalf of virtual violence. While I was pleased by the show of support, I couldn't help but see game journalists as traumatized themselves. Games have been implicated and demonized on such a wide scale (joining Rock & Roll, Comic books and more), it's understandable that we might start looking inward as soon as someone even mentions the possibility. We seem eager to diffuse the blame, even if it means confusing the overall discussion. Unfortunately, this is bullshit.
No matter the news story, there is no shortage of 'experts' who will gleefully implicate the pernicious influence of gaming. Yet, the sad fact is that common threads of emotional and mental instability will cause people to seek most anything to validate their waxing psychosis. A person seeking to reinforce their worldview will find self-gratifying imagery anywhere and none of that really matters. Is it really okay to divert attention by absolving someone's guilt by proxy? The diversion of videogames in these instances disingenuously avoids a very real discussion about the dispositions and motivations that cut so many lives short.