Imagine the following: A new form of entertainment enters the market, which engages its players in intense competition, sometimes to the exclusion of their social lives, and which seems to many to be a waste of their energy when they could be accomplishing more useful things.
In fact, several argue the intense competition and warlike elements of this new form of entertainment make its participants prone to violence, and urge that it be removed from polite society in favor of the older, more respectable forms of social entertainment.
I am referring, of course, to chess, a game which is regarded today as an eminently respectable pastime requiring great reservoirs of strategic skill. Chess champions are international celebrities, and often take up (and bolster) political causes, as in the case of Garry Kasparov’s advocacy for the Magnitsky Act. Yet, as io9 documents, there was a time when statements like the following were written without irony about the game:
The great interest taken in this warlike game — the importance attached to a victory — and the disgrace attending defeat, are exemplified in numerous instances handed down to us by various writers, of which the most worthy of notice are the following….
Richlet, in his Dictionary, article Echec, writes, ” It is said, that the Devil, in order to make poor Job lose his patience, had only to engage him at a game at Chess.”
Would that we could look at similar accusations against video games with similar derision, especially given that the video game industry recently held its annual event showcasing the coming year in technology and games, known commonly as E3.
Unfortunately, it seems that every time the video game industry dares to show its face in public, a hyperventilating article is never far behind. This year’s E3 was no exception, as the New York Times‘ Nick Bilton fretted about the convention:
But it is hard to argue that there isn’t some level of desensitization after a day spent at E3. At the main entrance of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the conference was held, people lined up to play the new game Payday 2. In this game, you team up with friends to rob a bank. Killing police is a big part of succeeding.
As I watched people picking off cops and security guards with sniper rifles and handguns, news broke that a real-life shooting in Las Vegas had resulted in the death of two police officers and three civilians (including the two shooters).
I asked Almir Listo, manager of investor relations at Starbreeze Studios, which makes Payday 2, if he felt in any way uncomfortable about making a game that promotes shooting police.
“If you look hard enough, you can find an excuse for everything; I don’t think there is a correlation,” he said. “In Sweden, where I am from, you don’t see that stuff happen, and we play the same video games there.”
After the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut, when it became clear that Adam Lanza was a fan of first-person shooters, including the popular military game Call of Duty, President Obama said Congress should find out once and for all if there was a connection between games and gun violence.
“Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds,” he said. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science.” Yet more than a year later, we don’t conclusively know if there is a link.
In the event that Payday 2 is ever played competitively at the same level that Chess is (or, for that matter, that Starcraft is in South Korea), one can only hope that articles like Bilton’s will be held up to a similar level of ridicule.
Where to begin? Perhaps with the fact that Adam Lanza’s favorite game – the one that he was, in fact, said to be “obsessed with” in the Sandy Hook Crime Report – was the thoroughly non-violentDance Dance Revolution. Or that Bilton offers no evidence the shooters in Vegas had ever heard of video games, let alone Payday 2. Or perhaps the fact that, like so much of what President Obama suggests Congress fund, there is no need for research on the effects of violent video games on young minds. There have been scores of such studies already, and every one not either funded by anti-video game activists or so vague in conclusions as to be meaningless shows no significant effect that video games, violent or otherwise, have on young minds (or, for that matter, adult ones.)
That Bilton, whose coverage of the rest of E3 was relatively balanced, should fall for the chicanery that video games can cause violence – or, as the new and far less menacing cries of alarm would have it, “decrease empathy” – is sad, but not unexpected. Video games are a convenient bogeyman for a society that labels even the Western canon with “trigger warnings” and frets about whether even a single sexist joke could somehow lead to mass acceptance of rape.
Video games are unapologetic in their gore, their violence and their transgressiveness. Despite all that, they are and remain harmless. In this era of oversensitivity, the imperviousness of video games to the mindless censoriousness of our politically correct, morally panicky current culture is a refreshing checkmate in what often looks like a losing battle for free speech.
This post was authored by Mytheos Holt, an associate policy analyst at the R Street Institute.