Every so often, a gaming-related death makes the news and there is a public outcry vs. gamers defending their hobby. There were two in the news this week.
A 22-year-old woman from Jacksonville, Florida, recently pleaded guilty to killing her baby because its crying interrupted Farmville. She shook baby Dylan to death. Read more on Kotaku or Jacksonville.com. Be warned, the comments are (as you might expect), offensive. They range from classist jokes suggesting mandatory birth control to blaming the woman, Alexandra Tobias, for being an unwed mother. On Kotaku, readers know better than to blame the videogame, but they are quick to blame Tobias for failing to confirm to the ideals of middle class white motherhood. Certainly Tobias ultimately responsible for murdering a baby, but I am sure that being stigmatized for her lifestyle choices did not help manage her stress levels.
What’s worst is that 114,972 people and counting “like” this story on Facebook. You can share stuff on FB without clicking “like,” so why would people “like” that this woman killed her child?
Then yesterday, CTV reports that two teenage boys in Vancouver, BC, admitted to raping and murdering 18-year-old Kimberly Proctor in March. Apparently they planned her murder online, and then one of the boys admitted it in World of Warcraft. CTV reports that “experts say it’s likely the line between fantasy and reality became blurred” and quote University of British Columbia psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater: “You don’t know which aggressive kid is going to take the fantasies of video games and try them out in reality. You just can’t predict those very rare occurrences.”
My initial reaction is to scoff and say these experts don’t know anything about videogames, but on the other hand, I do believe that fantasy worlds have an impact on reality. Take the phenomenon of gold farming, for example, which is a multimillion dollar economy, making what happens in a virtual world have a material impact on people’s real lives. Is it so farfetched that violence enacted in a virtual world would inform real world violence? The rationale “it’s just a game” doesn’t fly for me.
While I agree with most gamers who know videogames are not to blame for violence, videogames are not innocent toys, either. Games exist in the same culture that demonizes single moms or treats women as rapable objects. I’m not going to quit violent games anytime soon because I can’t divorce myself from every problematic piece of media that represents the fucked up values of my culture at large. But I will continue to game with diligence, denounce offensive portrayals of women and other marginalized people, and confront rape culture online and off.