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2009/03/16

Games and Violence

The real enemy…

There are a lot of naysayers out there that try to put down games nowadays. Some claim that they inspire violence in children and even adults. There have been several big stories in the news about killings at school, like Columbine where two kids killed several other children, or the Virginia Tech Massacre, where Seung-Hui Cho killed several of his classmates and then himself, or the German Counter-Strike player who did the same. Recently another school shooting in Germany, perpetrated by Tim Kretschmer has revived concerns and of course reawakened the old tradition of blaming the media and things that kids are exposed to nowadays electronically.

You might be thinking now that this post should be labeled ‘Games and the news’, but later on in this article I’ll be getting onto the good stuff, up until now I’m just trying to establish the fact that some terrible things have happened in recent years, and the media are always quick to blame…media. It’s always the TV, computer or music that the child has been listening to that is the supposed source of instigating violence in timid little children. With all the above actions, this may be the case, but due to the sensationalist perspective of the average reporter or editor, the whole truth is not focused on, but there are parts that are put under the microscope for analysis because the events share the same supposed ‘cause and effect’. In all of the cases above, it was discovered that the teenagers involved, had computers, played games, and watched TV, but then again, who doesn’t nowadays? I haven’t met any child, teenager, or adult in my life that didn’t have a TV, radio, or at least some sort of electronic contraption capable of entertaining them in some manner. Well, that’s not entirely true, there was a kid down the road who didn’t even have a phone, but the whole family had red hair, sort of like the movie Carrie, but that’s off topic now.

The papers, films, documentaries and countless other types of media that have tried to explain away the events talked about earlier, and throughout the world, have overlooked that fact that it was something in school that triggered the kids to be overcome with such viciousness and hatred; bullying. I’ve been there, so I would know. It was also a common event that was shared in at least all cases mentioned in this article.

The Question Mark kid, Seung-Hui Cho, was a quiet young Korean man that had come over to the states at nine years old. The other people in the same lecture hall or classroom made fun of the way he spoke, and taunted him with phrases like, “Go back to China”. He was diagnosed with autism and told to see a therapist, while the ‘other problem’, namely bullying, was ignored. He planned his revenge, even made a video detailing his last words before the event. He reportedly killed and injured several kids in the class, before killing himself.

The Counter-Strike killer in Germany entered the classroom one morning, armed with a submachine gun and a sidearm and sprayed the room with a hail of gunfire before taking his own life as well. He left a note behind saying. “All I learnt in school was that I was a loser. Those @$$holes ruined my life, and they deserve to die.” Those @$$holes were the kids in his class or possibly the entire grade.

As a lot of children will testify, bullying is a real problem in schools, and it can even occur with adults in the workplace. In fact, bullying is now keeping up with the times as nerds and geeks are being bullied over cell phones and the internet among other devices, where other people, called bystanders, even from other countries can join in the ‘fun’. So now you have cyber-bullying, which begs the question, aren’t the bullies also geeks and nerds because they are proficient with technology?

A common result of this latest craze is ‘bullycide’, where the victim commits suicide because of the intense situation they are in; they would rather die than face any more humiliation. Schools don’t do enough to curb the problem, and others just accept that it is a part of life and that it is character-building. Well, for God’s sake, that is a lop-sided argument, because the only person who could possibly ‘benefit’ from bullying is the perpetrator, who then learns that violence, intimidation and more violence is key to getting one’s way, and then goes on to become an even bigger bully- a self-centered, arrogant, narcissistic, chauvinistic idiot who is otherwise known as ‘the businessman’.
 
I have had the pleasure of reading other articles in some reputable magazines that happen to be supporters of gaming, written by journalists that are not blind or stupid, and can see the whole situation and not be fed the typical bullsh1t that every other Tom, Dick and Harry wants to try and shovel at you, perhaps in the hope of one day writing a novel, ‘Why gaming is bad’, with the subtitle, ‘Why I’m so great’.

These people, the ones that are awake, know that bullying isn’t just another problem, and isn’t going to go away if you ignore it long enough; quite the reverse. They, like I, also know that gaming, television, music and virtually any other ‘virtual’ entertainment is a form of escapism, when life just gets on your nerves and you need to get out for a while. True, you could take a walk and do the same thing, but if you grew up in a typical suburban neighbourhood and were bullied by other children who lived there, you’d be too scared to go out the front door, wouldn’t you?

Not all games are violent, and not all violent people play games. Why? They are the ones that have better things to do, like making others’ lives miserable any way they can.

If you think about it, it was revealed that the terrorists that hijacked the planes on 9/11 played Microsoft Flight Simulator in order to train for the big day, to become familiar with the locations that were digitally represented, like knowing where the twin towers were. Other than that, what is violent about that game? It’s a flight simulator- are you going to request that all flight simulators are shut down, including the ones used by the military and others? Yeah, good luck with that.

I have been a player of games, a listener of music, and a watcher of TV for many years and I can tell you, it takes the edge off dramatically. Some have drink and drugs; I like to play my music and write. I will listen to Megadeth because the music comforts me, lets me know that at least others know that there are things seriously wrong with the world we inhabit. I will play Fallout 3 because it’s fun and beats the hell out of actually having to beat and kill people in real life, because it’s too much effort, and illegal, at that. I will watch Dexter, not because it teaches you how to become a successful serial killer, but because frankly, I’ve never seen a movie where a cop leads a double life as a killer, or at least not any memorable ones. And it’s better than most of the cr@p on TV nowadays.

There is the argument that art imitates life imitates art, but that depends on whether you know right from wrong and assuming you haven’t been raised in the wild. Going into detail on what makes a killer is something different to what I’m trying to say in this article, but bullying or other sorts of social problems could be issues, since it’s a provocation of sorts; an action that can force a reaction. I’m not saying it’s a good one, but you think the other kids would’ve learnt their lesson by now?

So, to recap, problems arise at school or at the hangout with the kids involved. They come home and want to escape by playing games, watching TV, listening to music, going on the internet. Then, when the tormentors he’s been trying to get away from start entering his own private space through the chat-rooms or e-mail, he no longer has that safe haven to retreat to any more. The pressure becomes so great that he might kill himself, or kill others and then himself, known as homicide-suicide, in doing so, knowing that if he goes to hell he’ll take them with him.

Arguing that playing games is a good trainer for real-life situations; I’d say that a lot of activities that involve extreme violence are far different from simulations. True, the military use training simulators that are essentially videogames, but shooting a gun in reality is different than in games. Driving a car is very different from that portrayed in Gran Turismo, as Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear and Clarkson’s Car Years will confirm. Even in more domestic games like The Sims, running a household and going to work is harder than just typing in a few cheat codes to get $ 1000 instantaneously.

It’s not the games that caused the feelings of those children involved; it was events in real-life. If you look further back in history at some killings that happened before computers, mp3 players and even TV were invented, brutal killings still happened. In the 1920s, what spurred two rich teenagers on to abduct a young boy, murder him in the car they were driving in, then dump his body in a canal, his face covered with acid to burn his indentifying facial features? That wasn’t technology’s fault, obviously. What was the argument then? What did they have to blame back then like today? Nothing.

Nowadays in the UK, and perhaps other countries too, with the spreading phenomenon of feral kids, they are rampaging all over the place, taking out their anger on innocent folk without remorse. It’s not technology, but once again, real-life situations like growing up in a dysfunctional family, in a broken home, or as an orphan raised in a home or by several foster parents.

Some argue that killers that commit these school shootings are mentally ill, and suffer from depression, stress, and a disorganized mind- who doesn’t nowadays, right? And who can blame them?

Different situations I hear you say? There’s that one common thing that all these examples share: real life, reality; not necessarily virtual reality.

* Let me just say that I in no way endorse the actions of the shooters, nor am I trying to shift the blame on anyone else in particular. My main aim here is to get rid of this stereotype that gamers are killers in training, and get the focus shifted on to real issues and motivators that lead to these actions.
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