What's with that grammatical death trap of a quote up above, you're likely wondering by now. Well, that's word from no less a figure than Senator Lamar Alexander, who delivered that rather fateful line earlier today. But we're not here to play grammar cops and robbers...oh no, we're here to look at what this means for the game industry as a whole.
Now, first off, we must give Alexander due credit. Because while he apparently thinks that images on a television screen somehow have the potential to turn poor innocent children into slavering savages--though if he's seen some of the "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" videos featuring children shrieking racial epithets, he might well think he has a case--he also acknowledges that games have protection under a very important part of the Constitution: the First Amendment.
That's great. But it's the other part of his remarks that might have game makers worried, the part that gave rise to that horrendous quote up in the headline: "I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns."
Thankfully, he appears to have at least set down the proper baseline. Interference with the game industry is, and indeed must be, limited. But his next part, about how games "affect people" is somewhat nebulous, and there's always room for concern when people in power get nebulous in their phrasing. In Alexander's case, there's room enough to drive Sweet Tooth's giant robot form through those loopholes.
Indeed, anyone can be "affected" by video games. Though if that effect goes so far as to launch tragedies is generally accepted as false--there are simply too many gamers out there regularly enjoying their games of choice and not committing horrific acts--there is certainly an effect. Adrenaline rushes, tempers get short, cheers of exultation are unloosed and a feeling of well-being and accomplishment floods the neurons. Some games relax. Others incite. Have you ever played Boomshine? Seriously, give that one a try and see how violent you're feeling after that. It's hard to get violent after committing genocide against a horde of colored dots against a soundtrack of new age-style.
I do understand where he's coming from. It seems like more and more in this country, there are kids who are playing violent video games and then going out and running amok. But what simply isn't considered very often, and needs to be, is the rest of the equation.
1. Where are the violent incidents that happened JUST because of violent video games? When I say "just" in all caps, I mean just as in "solely". There can be no other measure. No family or personal history of mental illness. No medications. No illegal drugs. No bad home life. No being bullied. Just someone who played a violent video game and then went out and shot someone. There are precious few such incidents, and frankly, off the top of my head, I can't cite a one. That brings us to the second point.
2. The numbers simply don't support it. We've run the math on this one a few times now, folks, and the plain and simple is that there are reportedly four gun deaths per 100,000 people in the United States, on average, every year. That would put total gun deaths somewhere around 12,000. By way of comparison, some reports put the total number of attendees for one day of PAX Prime--the Penny Arcade Expo--at about 25,000. Is there a clear discrepancy here? Yes. Yes, there certainly is.
We're not talking about a one-to-one parity here. We're not even talking about parity with a healthy margin for error. We're talking about vanishingly small correlations. We're talking about numbers that aren't just not in the same ballpark, they're not in the same sport. This is the difference between batting averages for the MLB All-Star team and the batting averages for the World Series of Poker.
It's disingenuous to compare video games to guns in terms of problem, because neither of them actually are the problem. School shootings, theater shootings, workplace shootings...they don't happen because someone bought an AR-15 with all the bells and whistles. That's like saying drunk driving incidents happen because someone bought a truck. Video games don't make for school shootings either; that's like saying drunk driving incidents happen because there are bars.
What we must do is not look for scapegoats here--leave the guns and video games out of the equation--but instead look more at the real causes. The mental illnesses. The psychotropic medications. The poor parenting. The abuse at school. These are the real problems. These are what we need to address.
The rest of us, meanwhile, have games to play. And not get violent about later.