Video games is a bigger problem than guns.”
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Wackyland)
Come and see the violence inherent in the system!”
— Dennis the peasant, while being attacked by Arthur, King of the Britons
I’m playing Hello Kitty Island Adventure.”
— Leopold Butters” Stotch
Video games are to blame for shooting sprees. No, no ““ ignore the fact that mental health care is almost non-existent in the United States, set aside the highest guns-per-capita ratio in the world, and pay no attention to that culture glorifying guns behind the curtain. Games are to blame, we’re told. Video games will (as a George Carlin album cover warns) infect your mind, curve your spine, and lose the war for the Allies.” Indeed, many games were coded by Satan himself. All of this comes as quite a shock to me, since I grew up with video games.
So what?” you may ask, before reminding me that millions have done the same. Well, let me put it this way: when I’m in an online discussion about first game consoles, I sneer with contempt at anybody getting all misty-eyed and nostalgic about anything that came out after the NES, and snort at the NES itself. Atari Video Computer System all the way, bitches. (Also known as the Atari VCS, later known as the Atari 2600.) I’m part of the first generation that grew up with video games.
Atari was founded almost exactly one year before my birth. I remember when Pac-Man was new, when Mario didn’t have a name, and when one of the earliest games featuring a voice synthesizer kept telling people to inzurt goin”. I played (and beat) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I know the name of the guy who programmed Adventure without looking it up. I’ve had the song from the Megamania commercial stuck in my head more than once. I remember when the input from our single-button controllers had to travel uphill through four feet of snow to get to the console. I’m old, is what I’m saying. And clearly I’ve been doing something wrong.
I say this because in all of my decades of gaming, not once have I killed anyone in the real world. Wait, it gets worse! No attempted murders, no assaults, no rapes, no grand theft (auto or otherwise), no nothin’. Unless you count a moving violation from about 15 years back, I’m so squeaky-clean it’s boring. What the hell am I missing?
I can imagine what you’re thinking: Well, Rob, you’re probably just playing the wrong games.” You’ll point out that playing Tetris doesn’t lead to psychotic violence, that they never found a link between Frogger and the Columbine High School shootings, and that a rampage inspired by Domino Man would be impractical at best.
Then you’ll pull out a list of first-person shooters that you’ve cleverly written on a parchment scroll to emphasize how long it is by pretending the bottom got away from you and started rolling on the floor by accident. These, you tell me with absolute certainty, are the games that drive players to utter lunacy.
I laugh at this. I laugh like Chris Sarandon in the role of vampire Jerry Dandrige; someone tried to ward him off with a cross but didn’t have any faith backing it, and it was just so damn funny that he couldn’t even laugh with dignity. Of course I’ve played FPS games; who hasn’t? (Mowing down Nazis is good for you. Thanks, Wolfenstein 3-D!) But you know what? They don’t do it for me. When I want some virtual violence, when I’m feeling bits-‘n’-bytes bloodthirsty, the killing in FPS games is too damn slow.
Sometimes, in my role as owner and manager of an amusement park, I decide to block off the paths to the exit so I can engineer the mass murder of the hundreds of people in the park. (I don’t know what it’s like with RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, but in RCT 2, none of the guests or staff members are able to swim.) I’ve done this more than once. It’s funny.
Thanks to near-legendary game designer Sid Meier, I’ve spent a great deal of time as a privateer sailing the waters of the Caribbean. I usually kill for gold, but sometimes I kill when there isn’t enough food in the hold for my crew. I’ve killed to get better ships, I’ve killed because the other captain’s king is at war with my king, and I’ve slaughtered entire crews for having the audacity to be Spaniards. Crew sizes range from a few dozen to 200 or more per ship, so it’s safe to say my body count for each game is in the thousands.
Still not enough? Fine, how about this? If the MCP ever puts me on the Game Grid, I’ll likely be put on trial for war crimes. In Master of Orion, you build your holdings from a homeworld, to a few colonies, to an interstellar empire. Other races in the star cluster are doing the same thing, and as you might imagine, war frequently breaks out. Troop combat to conquer a world is deadly enough, but sometimes the planet doesn’t have enough resources to be worth it, or I’m trying to cripple the enemy’s production, or I want to be vicious enough to get the war over with quickly; that’s when it’s time to bomb the population into oblivion. If some alien race really pisses me off, I won’t hesitate to commit genocide. A brand new, fresh-off-the-ship colony has a population of 2 million, and planetary populations in the game are capped at 300 million. The game came out in 1993, and I still play it sometimes these days. I have the digital blood of virtual billions on my hands.
If there really is a link between video games and violence in the real world, wouldn’t you think that all of that ““ combined with everything else in my 30+ years of gaming ““ would make me an ideal candidate to snap and start hunting my fellow humans? Shouldn’t I be personally responsible for the deaths of dozens, scores, hundreds of people? Shouldn’t I be on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list? I haven’t even been in a real fight in my life, not even as a boy in school. Why doesn’t this add up?
I suppose someone could always argue that I’m a statistical anomaly, if not for the fact that I know lots and lots of people in that same first generation” group, and not one of them has killed anybody. I think it’s a safe bet that they’ve all had similar gaming experiences to mine (although it’s possible that none of them have annihilated quite as many computer-generated innocents as I have). Several of them are friends who don’t even have parking tickets in their past, so the idea of them committing violent crimes is just ridiculous.
Maybe, just maybe ““ and I realize this is a wild idea, but try to stay with me if you can ““ MAYBE there’s no relationship at all between virtual violence and being violent in the real world.
P.S. I also listen to rock and roll music, and I started playing Dungeons & Dragons as a pre-teen. Your move, douches.