Redbrick Alumni/Eurogamer Guides Editor Matthew Reynolds stopped by the office to chat with Jack Cooper, Emma Kent and Roshni Patel about all things gamingWritten by Jack Cooper on 14th July 2018
Dear Donald Trump: Please Don’t Make Multimedia the Scapegoat of Your Errors
Tom Martin provides his response to the recent controversy surrounding Donald Trump, gun violence and video games
Last Thursday, the 8th of March 2018, President Donald Trump held a private meeting with members of congress, dubious video game sceptics, and industry executives to discuss the place of violence in video games. The meeting was pegged as a meaningful response to the recent shooting which took place at a Florida school in February. Those in attendance were shown a one-and-a-half-minute clip of video game violence from popular titles. A meeting that could perhaps just be seen as another battle in Trumps war against the media. A distraction priming multimedia to be the scapegoat of America’s problem with shootings and violence.
Amongst those in attendance was Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who commented on the meeting: “Discussions should not be limited to just video games and guns. The President’s approach of leaving no stone unturned is prudent and similar meetings with the movie industry pertaining to gun violence on film should also be conducted” (From Twitter: @RepHartzler).
It does seem, however, that the President will leave some stones ‘unturned’ so long as they fund his campaigns. CNN reported on March 1st, “Just a few hours before the meeting [Trump held a one-hour televised meeting with lawmakers on guns], any concrete plans for a Senate gun debate or amendment votes had officially fallen apart, according to multiple sources. There was brief optimism on Tuesday something on guns could occur next week. That is very clearly no longer on the table.” The ‘something on guns’ that did occur, a discussion of video gaming, was not quite what was hoped for; this frustrating dance around facing the true issue which ‘7 in 10’ (CNN) Americans want discussed could only grown more mind-numbing if Rep. Hartzler is correct in assessing ‘gun violence on film.’
This focus on the entertainment industry is frustrating enough in the face of the common-sense claim ‘video games don’t make you violent,’ even more so in the face of hard evidence. A (2017) University of York study found no evidence linking video games to violence. Dr David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science said of the studies results: ‘The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.’
As far as the video game ‘violence reel’ shown by Trump, how can a one-and-a-half-minute video be thought to be an acceptable way of justifying a discussion into the roles video games – above actually, physically owning a gun - play on the making of a violent killer such as Nicolas Cruz? The reel – described by Newsweek as an ‘awesome [..] 88-second tribute to why people love video games’ – contains completely clips completely absent of context from games such as Call of Duty (Activision), Wolfenstein (Machine Games) and Fallout 4 (Bethesda Softworks). After showing the reel, Rep. Hartzler quotes the President as commenting, “This is violent, isn’t it?” – How inciteful.
I was however, un-surprised to find one particular scene in the video game violence montage: footage from Modern Warfare’s infamous “No Russian” mission. In this mission the protagonist is urged to take part in the mass slaughter of civilians as part of the infiltration of a Russian terrorist group. The mission was swamped with controversy from its launch, critics used it to shove the idea of what video games should show under the spotlight. However, what often went unspoken was the option within the level not to partake (the player was even afforded the opportunity to skip the level at no penalty). “No Russian” sparked a discussion in gaming morality which, as a community, most gamers treated with respect and the level is perhaps one of the most famous in the series as a result.
But what about kids seeing such violent scenes? Dr. Zendle of UoY even acknowledges the study was done on adults and that further study would be required on the effects on children. In this case, it’s definitely worth mentioning that the games chosen by the White House for their reel were all R-rated in the US, and ‘18’ in the UK – kids aren’t meant to see this content. This brings in the ever-grumbling argument of parental supervision: provided parents are actively aware of what their kids are playing, and are vigilant and smart about the way games may affect their child there should be no issue in this respect.
Further, what this debate fails to address is that these video games are released world-wide – and thus ,if the case was that such things turned kids into violent adults, then would this not be the case all over the world. Honestly, this argument brings to mind the headline of an article from the Onion news: “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” It might also be worth bearing in mind that this fake article was created in 2014 in the wake of a different shooting, after which congress danced around the subject of gun control – it seems they’re doing the same now, with Multimedia in their sights.
For a final point: amongst the clips shown by Trump was a demonstration of the V.A.T.S. aiming system from Fallout – in the reel it is specifically Fallout 4, a personal favourite of mine. V.A.T.S. is a system which allows the player to target a specific section of an enemy target – dangerous indeed. Whilst I cannot confirm whether Nicolas Cruz had access to the V.A.T.S. aiming system or not on the day he murdered 17 in a Florida school, I can confirm that he had a AR-15 rifle, something not available in Fallout, but readily available in most sporting goods stores across America. So perhaps it’s about time the so called ‘Leader of the Free World’ started a discussion on the one thing we know allows the continuous death of his people.