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The Plastic Trigger: “Violence, the interactive medium and the goal to stay objective”

Staff Writer

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December stands as one of the worst tragedies of this young decade. Despite all certainties and absolutes concerning the matter, I remain perplexed by a factor that seems to not only linger but endure. My qualms lay with the emotional reaction to the tragedy, particularly how it has affected both individuals and larger collectives. Of course this event was traumatizing. We as a nation, and as human beings, have every right to our various emotional responses, be they sobering fear or paralyzing grief. The emotional response I take issue with, however, is anger, more specifically the vehicle and target of said anger. Anger as an emotion isn’t unjust, yet I worry it is misdirected.

In light of this terrible incident people have begun pointing fingers and casting blame, looking to find a potential source for the pain and suffering that has been caused. In tragedies past, the usual suspect would most certainly be gun violence and the discourse that would follow would most certainly surround that hot topic.

In an impressive display of blame passing, the National Rifle Association has opted to reshape the narrative, shifting the blame from guns to our entertainment. In a statement issued shortly after the shooting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre insisted that “video games kill people,” believing fully that “there exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’” Of course it is also worth noting that shortly after LaPierre’s statements the NRA released a shooter-style mobile game on the iTunes apps store, allowing individuals who play the game to use up to nine different guns, including the M9 or the AK-47. Don’t worry, though; the appropriate age the NRA suggests is four and up.

It isn’t just the NRA that is attempting to directly link video games to violence, as Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) demonstrated recently when discussing the matter on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Elaborating on her stance, she expressed that video games exist as some kind of “simulator” which one uses to “practice” on, stating that “It enables the individual to become much more familiar with that depiction of death and blood” thus adding to a kind of desensitization. The senator from California is not the only elected official to take a similar stance. In fact, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) had introduced a bill into Congress that would study violent video games and the impact that they have on children. Interestingly enough, Vice President Joe Biden was tasked with leading an initiative that looked at both causes and effects of gun violence, and one of his responsibilities had him meeting with representatives from the video game industry.

Given the nature of things, I must be completely honest. Experiences this medium offers can be very violent. The truth of the matter is violence is popular. The greatest selling annual title is Activision’s “Call of Duty;” a series that witnessed its last entry selling 7.4 million units in its first month. Likewise, on average the most prominent and successful genre is the First Person Shooter, a genre that fixes the the viewpoint of the camera behind the barrel of the weapon equipped. Regardless of how “intense” such a genre might sound, let’s not ignore the fact that “The Hunger Games,” a film that centers on children killing other children, was one of the biggest hits of the year. Personally, I do not feel the need to defend violence in the interactive medium because frankly it isn’t exclusive to just the interactive medium. In this regard, only the greatest of hypocrites will castigate one for the sins of all.

Perhaps one of the largest issues still lies with how the medium is perceived by the masses. While I don’t want to play the “They don’t understand because they’re old” card, I can’t but help acknowledge a difference in understanding among individuals who are largely detached from the world of interactive entertainment. Existing still is a misconception that “video games” are very much toys. Opinion of the medium aside, one thing that we should all agree on is the fact that such content requires a level of respect that the masses have yet to put upon it. Diversity in content and context is something that this medium continues to do rather well, ranging from classic experiences that still allow us to play a plumber hopping on turtle shells to fourth wall breaking, third-person shooters that question why we even play such games. Things have changed. And although I would admit the violence is at times great, I would not forfeit that it is mindless.

For every study I could reference that has disproven a link between violence and entertainment I am sure someone could counter with a study that finds a correlation. Ultimately, both sides of the argument can utilize their respected numbers. But when dealing with the human psyche one simply can’t throw numbers up as absolutes. No other motivation or influence has been actively pursued as the cause more than the interactive medium. No one seems to place much significance in the fact that Adam Lanza’s mother was the one who reportedly took him to gun ranges in the first place or the fact that he exhibited odd personality characteristics long before that day in December. Answers aren’t always easy to come by. But we must start by asking the right questions.

Largely blame has shifted. The NRA finds itself desperately trying to preserve real guns at the expense of the digital ones. I can’t but help wonder, however, in the quest to uphold the Second Amendent, can one really justify the sacrifice of the First? Developers are storytellers. And the discs used to store their work come to life on television and film screens across the world. Digital gun or no, it is still art. In a world so eager to point fingers, perhaps we need to step back and pay more attention to who is pointing the fingers and why people find themselves so eager to blame an artist’s creation on a screen, rather than the person actually holding the gun.