In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting the media once again pounced on video games, an easy target and frequent scapegoat. As usual, gamers were not very thrilled. Many gaming sites wrote scathing condemnations of the obvious idiocy of Jack Thompson, Dr. Phil, and company. Joystiq, however, chose to do something positive.
The site posted a declaration titled “What I know about violent video games” that partially reads:
– I know the difference between right and wrong.
– I know the difference between fantasy and reality.
– I know where the game ends and real life begins.
The declaration has a spot for a signature and is meant to be given to loved ones who may be concerned about your gaming habits. It’s nice to see an attempt to counter the negative media attention given to games that doesn’t resort to calling Jack Thompson an ignorant fascist, which he is. But in the preamble to the declaration there is a problem.
“We think it’s a given by this point that most regular Joystiq readers know that playing violent video games will not suddenly turn you into a violent killer, or even make you any more likely to commit a violent act ever in your life.”
What Joystiq claims to know is not actually fact. Unfortunately, it seems like the evidence is to the contrary. In a recent Slate article, three studies linking games to hostility were analyzed and the conclusion seems unavoidable — games affect us.
This scenario reminds me of arguments I once had with a girlfriend. She believed that science should not seek to understand the physiological difference between men and women. Her position was that it’s one thing if brain dead religious conservatives believed women should be home all day cooking, but if real science supported sexism it would be seized upon and used to subjugate women.
It’s a valid fear, but in the name of knowledge science must be free to understand everything, political and social consequences be damned. We as a society have the responsibility to not allow our understanding of nature to lead to sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, what is is not necessarily what ought to be.
Back to video game violence. Gamers fear the implications of games being tied to hostile behavior because they do not want to face the social consequences. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us, reality and what people choose to do in light of reality are separate things. We cannot assume games do not affect us because we don’t want them to. We can’t argue they have no impact when we don’t actually know this to be scientifically true.
I am not saying games have a huge impact on how we behave or advocating any specific social or governmental mechanism for dealing with violent games. Still, gamers should shift their focus away from arguing something they are unequipped to argue. We are trailer park creationists with fifth grade educations arguing against evolutionary theory. We don’t practice science and what we want to be true is not necessarily true.
Instead, let us focus on how to deal with the implications that games may make us violent. All media seem to have some affect on people; games are not unique in this regard. Luckily, America was founded on the principle of freedom of speech. Why not place our efforts on rallying behind the Bill of Rights instead of scientific assumptions? You don’t need to be a Constitutional scholar to understand the First Amendment.