Recently the videogame industry’s top representatives traveled to Washington D.C. to appear in front of Vice President Joe Biden and his task force on the issue of gun violence. The result of that meeting led to President Obama asking for funding $10 million in researching the effects of violent games on youth violence. 23 other executive actions were also invoked which can be read on the White House website.
While some argued the industry showing up to the meeting automatically indicated an acknowledgement of the guilt for the Newtown shooting, it would seem the meeting was nothing of the sort. However, the fact the industry still needed to show up to the President’s house just to repeat the same defense and the same research data about the effects of violent games really does show how out-of-date the world outside of gaming is.
It’s kind of amazing how twisted the outside view of gaming is from a different perspective. As much as I want to call bullshit on all of this, what more can I do? I know about the untapped potential and artistry in games, but I recognize the misconceptions many non-gamers have of them are still present too. Those misconceptions also bleed through other mediums that use violence as a type of narrative or entertainment, and the funny thing is these misconceptions are always going to exist regardless of the amount of research that proves or disproves the connection to real life. Television, comic books, music, movies, and now videogames have all shared the scapegoat costume whenever a terrible event shed its ugly head in public, but it always ended with one of those medium’s head on the chopping block.
During the meeting in Washington, the Vice President urged the industry to “improve their image” when it came to public perception. How exactly does the videogame industry improve its image? Actually the better question is what image is the industry trying to change? The use of guns and violence in mainstream games? The non-proven belief that games have an effect on real life violence? The “male” tailored content – guns, killing, T&A, explosions, etc. – almost all games share to appeal to that demographic? Or how games are mindless entertainment and not viable in intellectual discourse, aka “art”? (Well, let’s skip that last one.) What image does the Vice President want the industry to portray itself as?
Violence in games can easily be curbed, but whether gaming devs want to go that route is a different story. Each gaming developer has found their success formula and may not want to change it since creating games can be very expensive. Gaming is after all a business, and a universal one at that. At the same time, gaming devs have just gotten used to the idea that this medium can express more than just action packed entertainment. Videogames in general are still viewed like summer movie blockbusters, but devs and gamers are slowly accepting the diverse nature games can approach especially after the success of downloadable titles like Journey, Fez, and The Walking Dead from 2012. Sadly, I doubt it will be enough to shake the bro-ho-ho image non-gamers have of the industry.
And then there is the gun issue. Guns in games can also be curbed, unless of course the game is a shooter. Now I know Portal is a popular example of a shooter that doesn’t involve killing, but it is also the only game I know of that became a hit with that game mechanic. Military shooters and adventure action games pretty much cannot live without their trusty pistol by their side, and I don’t see a near future where such shooters will forgo guns. Guns are pretty much part of the power fantasy dominate with the male demographic (or so I’ve been told). In America, the gun has cultural significances both historically and socially. When used in entertainment, it is a sign of power and danger and makes for a great weapon of choice. Although guns always equals violence both in games and in real life, one has a bigger impact on society while the other is a mere imitation – though sometimes a cartoonish one at that.
In the end, there is no go-to answer when it comes to improving the industry’s image. They unfortunately have been put in the position of teacher trying their best to education the way their industry operates in society. However, they are lucky to have other mediums to depend on since this isn’t only a fight against the gaming industry.