Editorial: Taking a seat at the table on gun violence

Some gamers reacted harshly to Vice President Biden's offer to meet with the game industry, and more so at the game industry accepting. But taking a seat at the table was the right thing to do, both politically and ethically.


Following the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America was hungry for answers. Politicians began seeking ways to stem the violence in our country, and President Obama charged Vice President Biden to head up the effort. Biden promptly organized meetings with various industries and interest groups, including prominent figures from the video game industry.

Some corners of the gaming community, most notably Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft, felt it was a mistake to participate in such a discussion. A tacit admission of guilt. "Make a statement by refusing to meet," he suggested. He wasn't alone, as comments indicated agreement, or even taking offense at being asked to participate. And while some reservations were understandable, fear of misunderstanding cannot keep us from engaging in the discussion.

Such a meeting may seem redundant to us, because we're in the thick of it. We've played out these arguments in our minds dozens of times. We all know the answers the game industry should and probably would give: every study that has shown a connection between game violence and real life aggression has been correlative, not causal; we already have a system by which we rate games; the FCC, a government body, has praised that system as more effective and informative than comparable systems in other entertainment industries; the first amendment.

These aren't poor arguments. They're very good ones, actually. But the fact that they're so obvious to us doesn't mean we shouldn't make them. We can't let the fact that we're asked to the table become a personal affront and sit it out entirely. For years, we've wanted the game industry to be treated with the same respect given to other entertainment media. We've gotten it, and part of that means being responsible stewards and taking part in the national conversation.

Granted, the NRA pointing the finger was poor form. But Biden's invitation didn't indicate any particular blame towards the industry, especially given that it was just one of many such meetings. Instead, it allowed both the politicians and game publishers to come out looking better for having talked. In terms of political strategy, neither group can now be accused of abdicating their due diligence.

There does exist a contingent of people who believe violent games have an adverse impact on your nation's young people, and that consequently those games need to be restricted. Laws like the one in California thrived on that idea before being subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court. But the mindset is already out of the ether and part of the dialogue, and that means we need to respond to it. It's not going to suddenly propagate further simply because our industry acted responsible, and it wouldn't go away simply because we refused to. If anything, being the adults in the room might force some to reconsider.

The fact is that some games are extremely violent, and that violence might even desensitize us to fictional depictions of violence. But even if we are desensitized to fantasy, we are not desensitized to tragedy. Everyone I know, gamer or not, was horrified and saddened by the events of December 14. Sheer human empathy should require that we be open to talking about all avenues, leaving no stone unturned, even if it means the national dialogue briefly turns toward our own past-time. We can take it.

Biden's opening comments in the meeting were heartening. Further comments from the Vice President have indicated that he's unconvinced by any causal connection between game violence and real-life violence. It appears this wasn't a witch hunt, or seeking a scapegoat. Shame on us for ever believing it was, and letting that fear tempt us toward abandoning the conversation altogether.

Last week, the game industry was given an opportunity to traverse the minefield of modern politics. Based on his discussions, Biden has turned in his proposals to the president, and we're likely to hear more about this in the coming days. Whatever suggestions are put on the table, we can say that our industry helped shape the conversation. The industry was offered a seat at the table, and taking it was not a mistake or admission of guilt. It was the smart thing to do, and more importantly, the right thing to do.

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  • reply
    January 16, 2013 7:30 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Editorial: Taking a seat at the table on gun violence.

    Some gamers reacted harshly to Vice President Biden's offer to meet with the game industry, and more so at the game industry accepting. But taking a seat at the table was the right thing to do, both politically and ethically.

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      January 16, 2013 9:18 AM

      I haven't followed this much, but if they don't include the music industry and hollywood, then they're guilty of discrimination. Remember that whole Cop Killer song a bunch of years back? What about the last Rambo movie that was proud of the kills/minute number that was being tossed around in the scene where he gets his hands on the 50 cal? Sure, movies aren't as interactive, but music can sure stick in your head and influence people. Lots of studies done on the influence of music from back in the 70's and 80's.

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        January 16, 2013 10:15 AM

        Gamasutra had a great article a few weeks back saying that the problem with video games isn't the violence, it's the sense of power. When people play games, they are able to control every aspect of that reality, everything has predictable results according to ground rules laid out within the games.

        Everyday reality doesn't work like that, shit happens, people lie, and there are no retrys. So basically, someone that is schizophrenic and already has a loose grip on reality can have that grip loosened further by games, among many other things of course, like social networking 24/7 or watching too much TV.

        So yeah, I see the gaming addiction within many of these killers as more of a symptom than a cause. They can't deal with reality so they seek other place where they're more comfortable, which can lead to a vicious cycle.

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          January 16, 2013 11:14 AM

          Psychological treatment in general in the US is broken. All those years of closing down mental hospitals, of counseling becoming taboo, of certain disorders being misunderstood to the point of demonization.

          I have Asperger's Syndrome. That was rumored to be what Adam Lanza had, but was not confirmed. Trouble is, Asperger's and Lanza are being associated by paranoid media, when that's a very tiny piece of the puzzle. Does that mean legislators are going to label my condition as "dangerous", as disqualifying a person from applying for a license to carry? That's not clear yet.

          I went to a target shooting range once, and found out that I was a pretty good shot. I'd like to try it again sometime. I don't necessarily want to own a firearm, but between state legal restrictions and the expense of rental fees, I may have to apply for a permit to even try. Has that been locked out from me, all because of fear of a named condition, combined with a blatant misunderstanding of the conditions of mental health that lead to violent situations?

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            January 16, 2013 12:51 PM

            Your mention of Asperger's Syndrome is pretty insightful. Having known, worked with and socialized with people over the range of the autism spectrum, I completely agree that the association in the media is due to paranoia and knee-jerk reactionary reflexes. I'd hazard a guess that Lanza's Asperger's (if that was even a condition that he had) did nothing more than dull the sociological tools those without the condition may use to recognize a mental health issue within themselves. Basically, he had problems that he didn't recognize, and may have even hidden from others for having Asperger's.

            Anecdotaly, your mention of being a good shot is not surprising. The only person that I known personally who owned a gun for target shooting and not killing (human or otherwise) was a high-functioning autistic man. What he lacked in interpersonal awareness he made up for with an insatiable curiosity of mechanical systems and rapid understanding of how to interact with them. I asked him once if he had a conceal-and-carry permit, and he said no, because his difficulty with understanding human social cues made him uncomfortable with the thought of deciding if somebody should be shot. But he loved the interaction of pulling a trigger and hitting a target 30 meters away.

            I'm not trying to say anything about your mind, and I hope I don't sound patronizing or anything like that. I'm just trying to say that autism spectrum disorders is not something to be scared of in people. It was something else in Lanza's mind that was off, and at the most his supposed Asperger's may have hidden it (or his family simply ignored it.)

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              January 16, 2013 3:55 PM

              Heh, yeah, the obsession with mechanical systems sounds very familiar. The system of kinect control and response is something that's always interested me, and is part of why I got into video games in general, but also why I'm into driving cars, and electronics (especially the idea of mentally mapping computer systems and electronic systems to the logical actions being carried out, such as voltage rises and data transmission).

              The other pieces of Adam Lanza's life are what concern me, especially in how the US and state government legislators are missing those pieces. His mother was divorced from a wealthy executive, and she took Adam out of the public school district, and home-schooled him, resulting in him getting his GED. That's a tiny part of the picture, but from what I read, Adam thought that was control-freakery, and felt trapped. People who feel hopelessly trapped, and don't have any help, sometimes get pushed over the edge, and end up doing something bad. That's regardless of mental condition, but if Adam did have Asperger's, that would amplify the withdrawal.

              Someone on CNN iReport with Asperger's wrote a really good summary here: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-898151 :

              People on the Autism spectrum do not want to be pointed out and be special. We want to make a difference. We want to belong, and we want to be normal. We want to blend in, because all too often our social interactions do not allow us to live a normal life. We are told we should be medicated or talk to someone rather than having someone just be our friend and tell us how much we're loved. We want what anyone in their right mind wants: We want to be loved. And we are stubborn people. If we want something, and we have a good reason for wanting it, we will not stop until we either get it or are dissuaded to the point of giving up on other things we desire as well.

              For many of us, we don't talk so good. We write or type very, very well and pick up on details and this makes us very good at academics. But we don't talk so good. We stumble over our words and we feel really awkward. You can do something about this.

              Do the world a favor in this time of grieving, mourning, and discussing: Reach out to someone that seems awkward. Be their friend. Love them and tell them that you care about their life and what they're going through. Tell them that they can be themselves around you. You can make a difference and prevent the sort of tragedy that unfolded in Newton. You can be a hero to someone in need. And all you have to do is be a friend.

              That's a major thing that we, as a nation, need to do. Help people who are trapped in this state, and don't let them remain as outcasts forever.

              One other key item I think about: what kind of physical security did Nancy Lanza have for her gun collection? I haven't had a chance to have a conversation with gun owners on how they lock up, but even with a safe, it always sounds like it would be too easy for a family member to get access. For me, if I was going to take up target shooting, I would personally prefer to not keep ammo, period, and have some way to get it at the target range, or have it separately secured. And then, throw in trigger locks, slider locks, chamber locks, whatever.

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                January 16, 2013 3:56 PM

                ugh, "kinetic control and response"; damn you, Microsoft!

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      January 16, 2013 12:58 PM

      Thank you for the article. I agree with your point of view. I feel we should be responsible for the industry we helped to create.

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      January 16, 2013 4:17 PM

      Holy shit, you mean when people actually sit and talk about something without spouting off a bunch of "You're wrong, I'm right" bullshit things actually get done and you can have a meaningful conversation?

      Well I never!

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      January 17, 2013 6:00 AM

      fuck these facists