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The Newtown response, and why I won't play Battlefield on Friday...

This blog grew out of a reply I posted on a gaming forum, and is an attempt to fully write out my views on the subject at hand.

The shootings that took place in Newtown last week are a tragedy of the highest order. For the second time this year in the Unites States, innocent lives were lost when a crazed gunman decided to walk into a public place and open fire. For the families involved, and indeed for the entire community of Newtown, the sense of pain and suffering must be unimaginable.

I am sincere in writing this. And yet, at the same time, hundreds of other writers have expressed more clearly and succinctly than I ever could how senseless and overwhelming this tragedy is, for those directly involved, and for the United States at large. Instead of simply piling yet more words onto the internet expressing my sadness at the situation, sincere though it is, I instead want to focus on something else: the response to the massacre. To be exact, the response to the massacre in terms of gaming.

This may not be what you think. I'm not particularly fussed about how the media may try to link gaming with the shooting. They've done it before, and sadly they will probably try to do it again in future. I don't believe it, but there's nothing I can say on that subject that hasn't been said a thousand times before. Instead, my attention has been drawn by the response of gamers regarding the tragedy. Because, from what I can see, there has been a response. And it troubles me for the following reason:

The Newtown tragedy has inspired the very best in the gaming community. However, it has also inspired the very worst.

What am I talking about? Well, in the face of the tragedy, and amidst yet more un-sourced, badly reported claims by FOX that games are responsible for the shooting (depending on which story you follow, it's either Mass Effect or Starcraft II which led to the shooting. Possibly either, but definitely one of them), a man by the name of Antwand Pearman decided to try and get gamers to come together and show some communal respect and sympathy towards the families affected. He posted the following video, and started an effort to get gamers to unite and denounce the violence. The same violence which FOX and other trolling news sites want to pin on us.

The effort is called A Day Of Ceasefire, and its aims are to get games around the world to collectively put down their controllers and abstain from shooting each other online for 24 hours on the 21st December. The effort now has a Facebook page, and over 3000 gamers at the time of writing have joined in support. An effort has been made by the group to make clear that this is not about admitting guilt or partial guilt that video games were involved in the shooting. It is instead an effort to offer condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the shooting, by refusing to take part in any online shooting for a single day. Interviews with news stations have already resulted, as has coverage on mainstream gaming sites like Kotaku.

As far as I'm concerned, this represents the best of the gaming community. It has brought out the best of us in the way it has united so many of us, and inspired us all to make a collective act of goodwill, decency and respect. It doesn't matter whether this actually achieves anything or not. That's immaterial. Memorial silences achieve nothing, and affect no-one from WWI (as there are now no longer any survivors of that conflict). Yet we still hold remembrance for the dead, out of decency and a sense of humanity. The Ceasefire day gives gamers a chance to collectively do something decent, something that comes around all too rarely.

Some may call the logic of Antwand Pearman naive or misguided, but I think it is sound. America is currently recoiling from an act of obscene violence, the second mass shooting of the year. To promote one single day where gamers collectively choose peace rather than violence, even if only in a digita fashion, says nothing but good things about us. It shows that we are able to sympathise with others, and to collectively act in a way that shows dignity, respect and compassion. By deliberately making the choice not to play online shooters for one day, not only do we stand in solidarity with the victims and families of Newtown, we prove the right-wing media wrong by showing that there are things we care about more than guns and violence. We prove that we can place honest ideals like respect and goodness over our own desire to cause carnage and bloody mayhem. We refute every negative stereotype that has been bandied about, we show that we care about our fellow men, and that we deplore real world violence as much as anyone else. We prove that we are not the junkies for violence that FOX News wants to paint us as.

And then there have been the other responses. The ones made as a retort to the Day Of Ceasefire. Having been reported in many gaming sites like Kotaku, the Ceasefire has generated its own particular kind of sceptics. The following are quotes, taken in full, from posts made responding to the story. Anonymity has been retained, if only I hope to allow the posters to save some face:

"I don't really play shooters but maybe I will on general principle just to counter that Friday thing."

" I might just go boot up one of the Postal games in retaliation for gamers feeling they owe anyone anything or have guilt for playing a video-game."

"This Friday, I'll be playing the goriest game I can find, and then continuing my life as a perfectly well adjusted human being with no intent to murder."

"I am so going to plug in Bulletstorm just for this."

"Out of spite, I will be playing as many violent video games as I possibly can. This is one of the worst ideas that I have ever heard of and am completely baffled that anyone would possibly think that this is a good idea."

These are just a few quotes from one forum. There are plenty more. Whether or not they did so intentionally, gamers like the ones quoted have sunk to an incredible low. One that speaks to the worst of gaming culture, and every negative impression people have of us.

These gamers seem to be convinced by the idea that by refusing to play online shooters for a day, we as a community would admit guilt in the cause of the event. And yet, if they had taken the time to actually watch the video which started this idea, or to read a little about the subject, they would see that this assumption is tackled head on by Pearman himself. The Ceasefire movement is emphatically not about games being responsible for violence. Pearman stated as much in his video, and the group says it clearly at the top of their Facebook page. It is about spreading the idea that gamers can value peace over violence, just like anyone else. That we, as a community, deplore violence enough that we can take a stand and make a collective statement to that effect. A statement which shows that we are capable of sympathy, sadness and grief... everything that FOX News says we are not. I know that violent videogames had nothing to do with Newtown. However, I'm still going to refuse to play any online shooters on Friday, because I want to send the message that I prefer peace over violence. And if one day without shooting someone online is all it takes for gamers to collectively spread that message, I think it's more than fair. In fact, I think it's a downright bargain.

Games who criticise the idea in the manner above use the argument that FOX News and similar professional trolling companies/news stations are going to run with this and use it to show how culpable we are. And you know what? They might. It's entirely possible that FOX News could try and spin the Ceasefire Day itself into some anti-games thing. But you know what else? That doesn't matter one bit. Not an iota. There is more to life than simply trying to avoid the ire of FOX News. Sometimes in life you are given the option to do something good and decent, and if FOX News want to try and turn that around on us, fuck 'em. What is right and wrong is more important than what FOX News thinks. FOX also thinks that gay marriage should be illegal, and that muslims are trying to take over the world. What they think doesn't matter one bit. They are dirt, and their opinion is worth shit. It is incumbent on us to do what is right as a community, not what we think will cause FOX News to slag us off the least.

Lastly, the thing that really turns my stomach is the sheer pettiness which has become prevalent in criticism of the idea. Quotes like

This Friday, I'll be playing the goriest game I can find, and then continuing my life as a perfectly well adjusted human being with no intent to murder

This need to spite a perfectly decent movement with nothing but good intentions. The need to rub your shit in the faces of sympathetic gamers by saying "I'm going to play more COD/Manhunt/GTA just to show 'em"... it's despicable. If you don't particularly care for the Ceasefire idea, that's fine. I don't agree with every single awareness campaign I come across. But to deliberately try to undermine a movement which is doing nothing but promoting the idea than gamers can be non-violent, by going out and enjoying more digital violence... can you not see what a spectacular own fucking goal you've just scored.

You've just reinforced the idea that your own pleasure derived from online violence is much more important to you than empathy for your fellow man. That you are completely unwilling, even if it means that gamers for once collectively come together to achieve something good, to forego one day's worth of online multiplayer. That one day of cheap pleasure is far more important to you than the entire gaming community perhaps making a collective statement that brings a message of positivity and goodwill.

You're reinforcing every negative stereotype that FOX News could ever throw out there about gamers: that you cannot overcome your desire for violence to show community with your fellow man. You've booted the ball, and it's now flying past the goalie's fingers into your own net.

Which do you, the honest reader, think shows more decency? Responding to a terrible act of violence by refusing to take part in violence for a day? Or deliberately choosing to engage in online violence, for no reason than to spite the former? If you were to judge, which group do you think is the one showing the most maturity and tact, and which one is acting like a bunch of thoughtless, crass brats?

If you're one of those people thinking of deliberately spiting the campaign, ask yourself this: How important is it, in the grand scheme of things, that you play COD, or Battlefield, or Team Fortress tomorrow? Is there nothing, nothing at all, that you could do instead with your time, not one productive thing which you could instead focus your energies on? Because if you can honestly sit there and tell me 'No', then all that says is how empty your life must be. Here's an idea from me to you: It's the Christmas season, right? We all know what Christmas is supposed to be about, right? Spending time with family and loved ones. How about, instead of spending tomorrow shooting people online, we all spend some quality time with our parents, partners, siblings, extended family, friends? Because if the Sandy Hook shooting has shown us anything, it's that families can be torn apart in the blink of an eye, and we should never take them for granted. Why don't we enjoy being with our families a little bit, getting into the communal Christmas spirit, and save the online shooters for a period that is less focused on the idea of bringing families together?

And lastly, to those who want to spite the campaign tomorrow, why not ask yourself this: The gaming community has shown that it is able to unite over the most trivial, pointless things. The Mass Effect 3 debacle inspired such a sense of community in gamers that they managed to raise $80,000 for charity (subsequently refused), and organise an entire bakery's worth of cakes to be sent to the Bioware offices. All over an ending we didn't like.

What the fuck do you think it says about gamers if we can unite over the ending to one disappointing role-playing game, something which at the end of the day is entirely trivial and utterly pointless, yet we cannot come together in the wake of an act of brutal violence and show unity in our respect? What do you think that says about our priorities? Because I kind of think that would prove that some of the terrible things FOX News says are perhaps on the money. That gamers are not able to distinguish violence in games from real life. That gamers are not able to prioritise basic human empathy, kindness and sympathy over the need to see something's blood. That gamers are fixated on the pointless trivia of the games they play, but are unable to connect with the real, massive issues that affect us in the current world.

If we want to talk about messages being sent, perhaps we should look at that particular one. Because from where I'm sitting, it's a pretty fucking heartless message. One that says only bad things about the gaming community.

Merry Christmas to everyone who read this, and let's see if we can't get into the seasonal spirit, and send out a message of love and warmth to those who are suffering at this time of year, rather than a message of pettiness and spite.
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About TitusGroanone of us since 8:55 AM on 11.03.2012