As we come to the end of 2012, we find our hobby in the midst of another controversy; the claim that playing violent video games leads to violent behavior in real life. This topic has been argued ever since Mortal Kombat hit arcades in 1992. The argument has been exhausted for the most part. What interests me more is how the gaming community has changed in those 20 years, how we collectively react to controversy today versus then, and how most seem to be blind to the hypocrisy they now advocate for.
If the gaming media almost unanimously agrees that sexism is a problem in gaming, then why is violence dismissed so quickly by the media?
2012 saw controversies about sexism elevated to a new level, primarily because of widespread media endorsement. Women in skimpy nun outfits, the Dead or Alive series, Crystal Dynamics developers daring to use the word "protect" in a sentence; these things dominated our cultural conversations for the better part of a year. The argument from the outraged, which was often not even stated clearly, is that these games contain sexist imagery and content, that they lead to sexist behavior and consequences in real life, and they should be eradicated through shaming and PR pressure that impacts sales.
But if anyone suggests that violence is a problem in gaming, for the most part the media quickly denounces it, and even goes so far as to shame the people suggesting it. Why? If you took even a passing glance at gaming over the last few years, you probably would have found several more troubling elements in gaming related to violence than to sexism. Let's just glance at a few of the more notable ones.
New Splinter Cell: Blacklist video shows off controversial torture scene, moral choices
"We've arrived in a strange emotional clime when our popular entertainment frequently depicts torture as briskly effective rather than literally the worst thing one human being can do to another - yea verily, worse even than killing."
"I spent a couple days feeling ashamed of being a gamer, of playing or liking military games, of being interested in any of this disgusting bulls*** at all," he added."
Norway mass killer trained for mass killing playing 'Call of Duty'
"In his testimony, the 33-year-old Norwegian said he prepared for a firefight with police in Oslo by playing computer games, focusing on situations where he would be flanked by two commando teams. He said he played “Modern Warfare,” several hours a week, for 16 months starting in January 2010, primarily to get a feel for how to use rifle sights."
Military uses video games for training troops
"“The military was actually responsible for the funding that created video games,” said Corey Mead, an assistant professor of English at Baruch College."
"Video games stem from early preparation for nuclear war and the technologies that were developed came out of either academic research centers or corporate research centers or actual military research centers where the funding was to develop the technology for advanced thermal nuclear war.”
When “Doom,” one of the first blockbuster video games, arrived in 1993 the army started to use modified versions of these games as part of their training.
Today, the army has incorporated video games into their training to the point that every single soldier interacts with them at some point during their training."
'The ultraviolence has to stop' - Warren Spector:
Epic Mickey producer says he left Eidos in 2004 because of proliferation of violent titles at publisher, believes industry is "fetishizing violence."
"We have to stop loving it," he said. "I just don't believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately, I think it will cause us trouble."
Urban Tool in Recruiting by the Army: An Arcade
"In recent years the Army has tried a number of ways to increase enlistment, including home video games"
"In recent years, the Army has had great success with using video games like America’s Army to attract recruits."
"He added that the center did not recruit anyone under 17."
Wikileaks reveals video showing US air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians
"The behaviour of the pilots is like a computer game. When Saeed is crawling, clearly unable to do anything, their response is: come on buddy, we want to kill you, just pick up a weapon ... It appears to be a desire to get a higher score, or a higher number of kills."
CIA chiefs face arrest over horrific evidence of bloody 'video-game' sorties by drone pilots
"The Mail on Sunday today reveals shocking new evidence of the full horrific impact of US drone attacks in Pakistan."
"A damning dossier assembled from exhaustive research into the strikes’ targets sets out in heartbreaking detail the deaths of teachers, students and Pakistani policemen. It also describes how bereaved relatives are forced to gather their loved ones’ dismembered body parts in the aftermath of strikes."
Conditioning? Xbox Poll Shows Overwhelming Gamer Support for “More” Drone Strikes
"Notice the question asks, “Do you support more use,” in regards to sending unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with missiles to bomb suspected terrorists in other countries, not just continuing business as usual killing people at the current pace."
How Do Video Games and Modern Military Influence Each Other?
"White gets to learn about numerous military technology advances long before the public does. But White was quite shocked to see a Humvee equipped with a .50 caliber gun turret that was controlled by what looked like a suspiciously familiar device: an Xbox 360 controller."
"I pointed that out to them and they said ‘Well, of course. We’re not going to reinvent a new way because we get all these kids into the military, they already know how to use a 360 controller, they’re already familiar with it. So we’re just going to use that in how we’re building the technology,’"
“When it was done, it was amazingly powerful because what we did was create a transition from the real world of photographs and reports into the virtual world’s polygons and there was a feeling of ‘now we get it.’ Now we can see what the bad guys are doing and what their point of view was, what the trigger man’s aim point was.”
US Army Creating Their Own Gaming Gun Peripherals
"now the Army is taking a new step forward to even further prepare young cadets for their future life off the couch and in the military. They’ve partnered with CTA Digital for a line of gaming accessories. There are a few headsets, but the eye catching devices are the plastic Playstation Move controller holders shaped like variants of various real life assault weapons."
The Designer of Call of Duty’s ‘No Russian’ Massacre Wanted You to Feel Something
"In a stellar piece about interactive atrocity, game designer Matthew Burns gets Alavi to explain the intent behind that level, a level in which the player is put in a position as an undercover agent to assist or simply watch a terrorist cell of Russians massacre Russian civilians in an airport. The level wasn't designed to create controversy. It wasn't to sell more copies. It was to further the plot, Alavi tells Burns, saying he wanted to: "sell why Russia would attack the U.S., make the player have an emotional connection to the bad guy Makarov, and do that in a memorable and engaging way." He didn't want it to be a movie. He wanted you to feel involved"
That was just off the top of my head.
DESPITE ALL OF THIS, gamers and the gaming media more or less stand united. They do not want to sacrifice the freedom to enjoy whatever violent content they want, even on the eve of the death of 20 kids in another teenage shooting. They don't want to have their gaming dictated by moral outrage and mostly unscientific claims, they don't elevate and endorse gaming critics like Jack Thompson, and rally around him until publishers have to bow to his pressure for informal censorship, or endorse Kickstarter campaigns for him to create video series about violence in gaming.
But if someone uses the word "protect" in a sentence, all bets are off. If a nun wears bondage gear, all bets are off. If you have a fighting game with ninjas in bikinis, ban this sick filth.
Again, why the difference?
If you support the right for games to exist, free from the constraints of moral outrage, unscientific claims, and informal censorship, at least be consistent about it. Otherwise, it's complete hypocrisy
to support one and not the other.
Another interesting fact is that both Anita Sarkeesian and Jack Thompson have had flash video games created that allow you to beat them up. Can you spot any difference in how gamers and the gaming media reacted to those two games?