OPINION: The Express blames Dynasty Warriors for Connecticut shooting, but do games have a case to answer?

Ben Parfitt
OPINION: The Express blames Dynasty Warriors for Connecticut shooting, but do games have a case to answer?

There is no-one and nothing to blame for the dreadful events in Connecticut other than the man who pulled the trigger.

End of.

So today’s Express headline, “Killer Adam Lanza ‘obsessed’ with violent video games”, absolutely sickens me. That the paper then goes on to blame “a shockingly violent fantasy war game called Dynasty Warriors which is thought to have given him inspiration to act on his darkest thoughts” would be utterly laughable under other circumstances.

Allow me, if you will, to remove my MCV hat for a moment. And put on a beanie or something.

Dynasty Warriors? DYNASTY WARRIORS? Fuck you, Express. Fuck. You.

This kind of ill-informed headline-grabbing bandwagon-jumping headline is an utter disgrace and you should be deeply ashamed of yourselves.

But there is an issue to address here.

I was in CEX in Enfield recently buying a Disney movie for my daughter for Christmas. There were two lads in there. One white, one black, maybe 13 or 14 years old. They were rummaging through the PS3 shelves discussing the games they liked, nearly all of which were 15 or 18 rated shooters.

There was something about the casualness with which they discussed their favourites, which ones had the best guns, which ones they were best at and which ones were the goriest that really bothered me.

These kids were idiots, clearly. But that’s (sadly) not a crime. I was an idiot when I was 13. But then Call of Duty wasn’t around when I was 13. And thank god for that, as it would have done me no good whatsoever to have access to games like that at that age. Arguably it doesn’t do me much good now.

Let’s just be honest for a moment – all the PEGI ratings and age restrictions in the world are not stopping kids playing these games. Most parents either don’t understand or don’t care. And even those who do are effectively rendered powerless as kids can just go to a mate’s house whose parents don’t.

I’m not going to argue that games are a special case, either. “Yes, but in what other media do you actually pull the trigger?” I hear that a lot. Equally though you could argue that other forms of media are uniquely damaging.

Films allow you to experience gory gun crime and violence in a way that other media can’t. Actual real people covered in completely life-like blood carrying real guns reacting in (relatively) real ways to very realistic violence.

And what medium could rival books’ ability to get inside the head of a shooter, to understand the motivations behind murder and experience the psychological impact of killing?

But games don’t escape blame. Far from it. What other media allows you to employ tactics in hunting your victim, to look them in eye as you pull the trigger and see their body crumple to the floor as a direct consequence of your actions?

No, media itself is not responsible for the actions of mentalists. Violence was around before the media, before movies and before games and it will outlive all of them. People are violent.

But can the media – can GAMING – completely absolve itself of responsibility for contributing to a violent society when year after year it spends millions marketing games in which the only physical embodiment of the player in the game is the weapon that they are carrying?

There’s a world of possibilities out there. Ideas are limitless and the possibilities offered by games without boundaries. Yet we, the industry, choose to sell violence time and time and time again.

Of course, there is a valid way to absolve ourselves of responsibility. The industry is the servant of the consumer. Publishers release games that they think will sell. In a capitalist society a publisher CEO is irresponsible if he/she chooses to fund and release an innovative and non-violent flop instead of a successful and ultra-violent shooter.

As long as we function within a capitalist world this is unavoidable. It’s simply not feasible to ask publishers to act according to “moral” values when their job description stretches no further than to serve shareholders.

So where do we go from there? Is a socialist uprising really the only answer to the question of violent games content?

No. At least I hope not. Ultimately, the power has to rest with the consumer. And there are signs that things are changing, albeit slowly. 2012 has been a year of great innovation in gaming, particularly in digital and on PC and smartphones. Tastes are broadening, and that’s a great start.

Ultimately, it is the consumer that must decide it wants more from gaming. Because time and time again we reach the same conclusion: vote with your wallet. If the death of 20 kids at a primary school in America means as much to you as you say it does then maybe the time has come to shop a bit more responsibly. Then publishers will have no choice but to listen.

Merry Christmas.

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