An ‘Actual’ Post

30 Jan

I keep waiting for the furor around the supposed link between violence and videogames to dissipate, like most of our society’s other bizarre fantasies and fads, but for some reason, this one seems to be clinging more tenaciously than most. It’s not that I expect everyone to come to the sudden realization that games are not responsible for mass shootings, but, rather, that I expect the media and public figures to stop talking about it – thus allowing it to slip back into the subconscious of the nation.

But it isn’t. Instead, senators who have never in their lives played a game – or, in some cases, probably even sent an email without an assistant doing the typing and sending – continue to speak out publicly about how videogames are dangerous to society. Today, Kotaku posted a story whose title struck me as both sad and funny: “Video Games Are ‘A Bigger Problem Than Guns,’ Says Actual U.S. Senator.”

The title, in particular, makes me think that Kotaku’s writing staff is just as surprised as I am that people are still harping on this topic. The fact that the title contains the word “Actual” says a couple things to me. First, that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier is getting annoyed at the ignorance being displayed by the people discussing this issue. Second, that up until this point, Schreier had some small modicum of respect left for the US Senate. And that’s really where this story becomes sad.

As a nation, we look to the US Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch to make reasonable, logical decisions about our laws for the good of the nation. And when members of those esteemed bodies start behaving like idiots, they undermine not only our opinions of them personally, but of the entirety of the institution.Schreier says, “Once again, this is an actual U.S. senator. An actual senator from the United States. That was elected to an office. This is a person who has a significant amount of power in this country, and he believes that video games are a bigger problem than guns.”

In this case, it’s bad enough that Joe Biden is “playing along” (pun intended) with calls from the NRA to investigate the ostensible link between violence and videogames (because I’ve killed SO many actual people with an Xbox controller… as opposed to an actual firearm…). But at least he’s willing to forestall his conclusions, saying that he wants to find out the facts first. Sure, the implication is that the entertainment/videogame industry are concealing those facts, but at least he’s willing to talk about facts instead of scaremongering… if we put aside the fact (as Schreier points out) that there are twenty-five years of facts already.

But Lamar Alexander is a completely different story. Alexander claims that videogames are… sorry, “video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”

I don’t even… First, “games” is a plural, not a singular, and my not-so-inner grammarian is having fits because a US Senator apparently can’t use proper verb forms. But more importantly, videogames are not problematic because they “affect people.” Yes, videogames “affect people.” So do novels, films, television shows, radio programs, and public speeches. So does art. In fact, art is designed to “affect people.” So are videogames. And they’re designed to “affect people” because they are a commentary on and product of the society out of which they arise. They demonstrate and seek to “affect” our value systems and our understandings of ourselves and others. And at their best, they want to “affect” us to become better people, a stronger society, a more cohesive and yet diverse community. At their worst, they are entertainment – color and sound on a screen that responds to the press of a button or key that temporarily makes us feel happy or sad, frustration or fiero.

Guns “affect people,” too. With bullets that move at speeds around 1,400 feet per second and with the capacity (in a small handgun) to cause internal bleeding, cardiac arrest, extreme pain, and death. They can be used to protect our lives and those of our loved ones, our nations, and our ideologies, yes, but they can also be used to steal our wallets, our dignity, our innocence, and our lives.

Tell me, senator, do you really think that games “affect” those who play them more than guns “affect” the people who are shot by them?