The Why of Violence: Asking The Right Questions About Violent Games

Disclaimer: - The following article does not reflect the opinions of everyone involved with Saturday Morning Arcade. 

Spoiler Alert: - This article also has spoilers from The Walking Dead
On December 14th 2012, a 20-year-old male, Adam Lanza, was responsible for the deaths of 20 students from the 1st grade, along with six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School located in Newtown, Connecticut.

By 6 P.M. on that day, Newtown and the events within were the most talked about topics on Twitter. While some mourned the loss with silence, others wrongfully blamed the shooter’s brother, Ryan Lanza, as the culprit. In a fit of emotions, many people jumped to conclusions based on hearsay and incomplete evidence.

Concurrently, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was also trending on Twitter. After being silent for a week, they came out with a statement on the Newtown shootings:

“Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, GrandTheft Auto,  
Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here's one: it's called Kindergarten Killers. 
It's been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and 
all of yours either couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?”

The NRA implied that this ‘shadow industry’ that sells video games have a negative impression on young kids. This may have just been a near perfect misdirection tactic which led the conversation from gun control to video game violence, but it has sparked quite the reaction from several video game bloggers and journalists.

Jim Sterling, Reviews Editor on Destructoid, said, “The malingering attempts to drag videogames into the debate [are] intellectually offensive.”

Isaiah-TriForce Johnson, in an interview with Kotaku, claimed he would fight the NRA’s accusations by using media as well. 

Gamers, we're good at winning every single battle, whether it's in first-person shooters, RPGs, action-adventure games, puzzles, races, you name it."

Johnson did say that it’s not a video game issue, but about a sick individual. 

All of this happened two weeks after I last played the Walking Dead. Why is this important? Because I shot a kid in that game. 

(Via GamePressure)
He just sat there, back against a tree. He was breathing heavily, almost as if an invisible hand were the wringing the air out of his throat. A few feet away, his father had just seen his wife take her life. His son was bitten by a zombie, so I knew what needed to be done. But no father should have to see their own son die, let alone take that life himself. 

I couldn’t let Kenny, the father, do it, and so I decided to shoot Duck myself. 

“This was just a video-game,” I thought to myself. How hard could it be?

Once I made my choice a new, first-person view of Duck popped up, with an aiming reticule which I, the player, controlled. After what seemed like minutes — I’m still not sure how much time had passed while I hesitated — I finally clicked the left mouse button.

I killed a kid.

The timing of the events in Newtown, coinciding with the timing of my play-through, have got me wondering; do games really not affect us negatively at all? 

Not a few days before The Walking Dead, I was gleefully throwing rope darts at British soldiers in Assassins Creed 3 without a second thought. A few months before that, I was playing an insanely fun, over-the-top action game called Sleeping Dogs.

(via Medal of Honor: Warfighter IMFDB)
Millions of people, kids and adults alike apparently, are currently playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II, or Medal of Honor: Warfighter.  The entire purpose of those games, brought to a self-admittedly shameful basic description, is to kill people. 

What kinds of weapons are used? Just check out the Wiki page for either of those games, and take a pick. 

Violence exists in video games, just as it does in movies. In that sense, the NRA is right. But are they also right in calling video games and movies vicious? 

There are several games which have no shooting at all. Journey, a digital release on the PSN, is a game without any enemies to kill. It is simply an experience that incorporates beautiful designs, beautiful sound and minimal story, made whole only by the players’ interpretations. 

There’s also Frog Fractions, a game I heard about days prior to writing this. What’s it about? I’m still not quite sure, but killing people is certainly not the main focus of this game. 

One of the most popular video-games in history, Super Mario Brothers, doesn’t deal with guns at all. Neither does another popular Nintendo franchise, Legend of Zelda

Some of my favourite games revolve around stealth. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you have the option to simply sneak past most enemies—boss battles being an exception—rather than killing them. You can also knock them out if sneaking past them is not an option. 
(Via GameSpy)
In fairness to Assassins Creed 3 as well, you can go the non-lethal, stealth based route in certain missions. 

Maybe the gaming community (for arguments sake, I’ll involve everyone who has ever played a game), has become desensitized to the killing that occurs in video games. Maybe it’s that shooting someone in games has become more a natural instinct than a decision made after careful deliberation. 

I did decide to kill Duck in the first place because I thought it was just another video game. It was when I started thinking about what I was about to do that I realized it’s not as easy to kill him.

Our culture will not allow for violence to be completely wiped away from any medium of entertainment. Instead of banning violence, we should, as a gaming community, have a conversation about how to change the thought processes behind that violence. Gamers need to ask why we killed the enemy, beyond the reasons of a high score. We need to ask why we are at war, beyond the reasons that we need a map. We need to ask why a game has as much blood, beyond the need to meet some minimum requirements of gore. 

These are the conversations required to make our communities smarter, and not just gamers. And I, as someone who wants to have this conversation, can only hope that Isaiah-TriForce Johnson does as much, instead of name calling if he does indeed go to “war” with the NRA.