The Sandy Hook school shootings may have triggered a storm of political fervor for gun control laws, but there are those who are determined to distract us with tried-and-true diversions – most notably, blaming everything except for the ability to take human life.
It began, once again, with NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s by-now infamous statement last month: “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people. Through vicious violent video games, with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: It’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all yours couldn’t, or didn’t want anyone to know you’ve found it?”
The next salvo came in a CNN interview with Tennesee representative Marsha Blackburn claiming to be “shocked” by the level of violence in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. And last week, Vice President Joe Biden held a meeting with representatives and researchers of the video game industry as part of his ongoing campaign to reduce gun violence in the United States. Even the representatives of the International Game Developers Association admitted responsibilities to help curb gun violence, though they persistently (and rightfully so, given the contradictory evidence) refuse to acknowledge fault.
Fortunately, Biden’s meeting was apparently focused on topics of publicity and a proactive role in social action against gun violence, rather than ascribing fault or blame. And like any other corporate citizens, artists, or human beings, the developers who make games arguably have a responsibility to use their power for social good rather than harm.
But it is critical we not be distracted from the topic at hand (that being “how to deal with gun violence?”), and that’s all this is: distraction, a smokescreen. Those whose business is to produce and encourage gun ownership, usage, and culture have sensed the tide turning against them and are turning to the decades-old strategy of blaming violent media.
Yes, gun control is a nuanced topic. Yes, guns sometimes feed families; defend against tyranny or criminal assault. But the gun is just a weapon, designed to take human life quickly and efficiently. The only time most people are likely to see it used in anger is while committing murder – there’s no real constructive use for a gun in most people’s daily lives.
Despite this, opponents of gun control continue to cling to the myth of heroic bloodshed. This isn’t a practical attachment, since very few violent crimes are stopped by a concealed gun in the hands of a civilian, but one of ideology and worldview.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said, and in one form or another, it’s technically true. The problem is: that “good guy” is not usually a private citizen – not in the United States, a powerful and stable nation-state with functional legal institutions and perhaps the world’s strongest military. Were we living during wartime, on a lawless frontier, or within a failed state, the argument might hold some weight, but as it stands, we are more likely to call for the cops when in danger than to go for our pistols.
Yet LaPierre and his ilk seem quite seriously to inhabit a Wild West world of vigilante justice, where being ever-ready to take life is not only a fundamental right (even responsibility, as shown by their newly-released game to teach gun safety to small children) but a moral necessity. Evildoers and the threat of tyranny seem ever-present, and protections of law nonexistent. The sword trumps the pen.
In other words, they seem to inhabit the exact sort of worldview as the fictional narratives they decry as the source of gun violence in modern society. They claim that fictional representations of violence are more deadly than the very real tools (which they have rallied about with almost cultlike zeal) used to kill others, yet their own worldview relies entirely upon the same assumptions.
The difference, of course, is that sensible people are able to divorce the fantasies of heroic narratives from their own life experience. They are, after all, just stories – deliberately engineered to evoke emotional response, no different than age-old narratives of violent heroism such as Beowulf, the Illiad, or the Bhagavad Gita or even more recent films like the popular cowboy films of the mid-20th century. Violence in games is nothing new, in either its viscerally violent content (passages in the Illiad and even the King James Bible include lurid descriptions of horrific gore) or the glorification of a heroic (or monstrous!) protagonist struggling against wicked, unsympathetic monsters.
Enjoying a violent narrative, after all, doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to experience that narrative I sincerely doubt most of us would want to live in the universe of a typical AAA shooter title, no matter how exciting it is to visit. (After all, we’re more likely to be one of the nameless victims than the unnaturally lucky hero).
And no matter how compelling these are as stories, we certainly don’t style our political agendas off them.
A discussion about the place of firearms in our society is long overdue. And whatever decision is ultimately reached, it can only take place if it is open, honest, and free of hysterical assertions or disingenuous finger-pointing. So long as games (and movies, and comics, and the media, and everyone other than American gun culture) are employed as smokescreens, that discussion is delayed – and as long as it’s delayed, real people are going to bleed unnecessarily because of it.
Well, and lots of fictional people, but they get respawns.