The following is a guest post from Dakin “Chilly” Lecakes:
Chilly has been playing videogames since their beginning as a commercial product. He has a longtime perspective on gaming and tries to add a voice of sanity to the diverse issues surrounding the modern gaming culture. He has been participating in various gaming communities and forums for over a decade trying to be a light shining in the darkness when all others fail.
On Friday, December 14, 2012, I sat at my computer, horrified, reading the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut.
On Monday, December 17, I found out that I knew someone very well that was immediately impacted by the tragedy. Someone whose sister was a victim of the incident, a teacher at the school.
I remember when I was told that it took more than a brief moment to process the information. It was incomprehensible to me. Suddenly I knew someone who was directly affected by this horrific event and the surrounding mass media frenzy. It was a subtle change, but I found myself now evaluating each related story that appeared in a slightly different way, having a bit more empathy for the point of view of the surviving family members. It is a heightened sensitivity that I had never experienced following one of these events.
I include the foregoing only to explain how my thoughts on this particular event have caused me to want to write about the issue. To offer, in what way I can, my own plea for sanity, a loaded word.
The first mention after this occurrence that I saw questioning whether video games had any involvement was a piece discussing the reaction of some Facebook members. Still under the media mistaken impression that the older brother had committed this atrocity, some Facebook vigilantes took to blasting BioWare on its Mass Effect facebook page. The reason? Because someone, possibly the older brother (who was initially reported by some outlets to be the gunman), possibly someone that just shares the older brother’s name, had offered a Facebook “like” on the Mass Effect page. A powerful warning of how the rush into the new era of social media can sometimes have unpredictable consequences.
The next mention was Stephen Totilo’s piece on Kotaku mentioning the emails he received from two people regarding the tragedy. The first from a gamer calling for a day of remembrance, respect and sensitivity by asking gamers to put aside violent video games for a single day in a show of solidarity with the victims and their families. The second from former attorney and virulent video game antagonist Jack Thompson, blasting Totilo, Kotaku and gaming media in general, for contributing to the cause.
Thereafter, there was a United States senator calling for a study on the effects of violent video games on young children, the NRA’s extraordinarily bizarre and wholly inappropriately insensitive response to the mass shooting of first grade children and their caretakers, and a call from one of the surviving school children to other children to throw away their violent video games.
As to any study, if done responsibly and with the appropriate scientific process and peer review attached, I absolutely welcome it and hope that it can be extended to include all violence in media. More knowledge regarding the topic of how, and if, children’s exposure to violence in all forms of media produces any effect is welcome. Scientific knowledge and understanding is a good thing. Having such knowledge can allow society to produce appropriately tailored policies that are informed while helping society avoid dubious, knee-jerk, reactionary policies that are grounded in emotion rather than fact, ultimately providing no value to society beyond making some people feel good about having prescribed an otherwise irrelevant thing.
As to the call for children to discard violent video games, all I can say is that I understand where this particular child is coming from and I wish him and all the families involved peace and love to replace the terror they have recently experienced. I do believe that parents should be informed and that they should take seriously the ESRB, or other, labeling on all video games. They should not rely solely on a letter code or single word description, but should investigate why the label was selected to be put on that individual product. In this age of internet ubiquity, there are very few valid excuses for not researching the information necessary to insure that parents are making appropriate choices for their children, choices that align with their own parenting values and beliefs.
As to the NRA, in my opinion they should have demonstrated restraint and exercised their right to remain silent. If they chose to speak at all, then they should have hired whatever public relations people are advising the beer and alcohol companies that have pushed the various “Drink Responsibly” campaigns. Acknowledging that a product has flaws that can lead in some cases to devastating and unacceptable consequences, but that might otherwise be handled in a responsible manner by appropriate individuals, is not a weakness. Denying that very fact by some sleight of hand attempt at misdirecting blame on other sources is truly a case of the emperor has no clothes. Even to that type of public relations campaign, I would argue that the devastating reality is that an inappropriate person having easy access to the kinds of weapons used in Newtown can create unprecedented levels of violence in an unacceptably short amount of time.
So now you know where I personally stand on these issues, but here is the thing, I am not entirely sure from where these particular conversations got started. Unless I missed it, which is entirely possible, discussion about the role of any video game or gaming whatsoever in relation to the Newtown tragedy is tangential, at most, to any evidence or even speculation regarding the motive or impetus of the shooter. I have not read any media report establishing any video game or other media connection at all. I can make the same statement about the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, as well as the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tuscon, Arizona.
Rather, there is one fairly solid thread connecting these three fairly recent shooting incidents, as well as a number of other serious shootings and crimes, the subject of mental illness. And, yet, despite that connecting thread, no one in politics, media or otherwise seems to be making any pronouncements about the need for research and funding into mental illness as a result, nor does anyone seem to be calling for an in-depth look at social policy regarding mental illness. To me, it is an inexplicable omission.
Well perhaps it is not so inexplicable. The common thread connecting the discussion centering on guns, or video games, or violent movies and television shows, or even media sensationalism and the like, is that they are either inanimate objects or non-sentient concepts. The moment one starts talking of mental illness is the moment the discussion focuses on a living being, one accorded rights by law and nature, if not betrayed by both. It is by far the hardest discussion to have, but it is certainly the most important one. To not have that discussion may not by inexplicable, but it is absolutely inexcusable.
In closing, I note that the Glenn R. Atkinson Memorial Scholarship Fund, is accepting donations to help the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. One hundred percent of all donations will go directly to the Newtown community and the Sandy Hook victims. As with any charity, please do whatever due diligence you feel is necessary to assure yourself that the proceeds will be used as indicated. Send to: The Glenn R. Atkinson Memorial Scholarship Fund Inc., P.O. Box 3322, Newtown, CT USA 06470. http://bennyatkinsongolf.com/home