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Why gamers are right to demand evidence for claims that games are ‘harmful’

This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.


Call of Duty: Black Ops

I have a friend who is a huge pothead. He smokes all day every day — his life revolves around the stuff. At the same time, he’s one of the most responsible people I know. He’s worked at the same job for the last 13 years, where he’s moved up to run his own store.

He’s also been to jail several times on pot-related charges. He doesn’t deal. He doesn’t grow. The cops in my suburban hometown just love to treat every instance of possession as a federal crime.

Now, I’m not gonna bore you with some research paper about weed because I assume you are aware of the talking points. For example, everyone has heard that pot is far less dangerous to your health than alcohol. Tons of evidence supports that. Very little evidence suggests pot is anything but a gateway drug. Of course, the only reason pot is a gateway drug is because you have to go to a drug dealer to get it and they would rather move you on to drugs with higher profit margins. If I could only get burritos from a drug dealer, I would consider burritos a gateway drug.

But I digress.

This is all my way of pointing out that humans tend to overreact. In response to pot and narcotics, America has run a decades-long drug war that has filled our jails with non-violent offenders while simultaneously costing us billions and not solving the problem.

The government did all of this without evidence that its policies would work or that the thing they were criminalizing was even dangerous.

This leads me, somewhat embarrassingly, to video games. I’m not going to compare any threat facing video games to the Drug War, which is truly evil. That is an extreme example, but it’s one most people can latch onto as a point of comparison.

bioshockinfiniteThese days, a growing number of gaming personalities are vocalizing their distaste for violent video games. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, God of War, Mortal Kombat, BioShock, Far Cry, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, Dishonored, Dead Space, Resident Evil, Crysis — on and on it goes .

We have a monsoon of blood and guns and some gamers are sick of it. I don’t blame them. This embarrassment of violence is especially noticeable since gaming is so homogenized and targeted nearly entirely at males 18 to 34 males who respond well to violence.

For many gamer-critics (critics from within the gaming community), the answer is to burn it all down.  Burn it all to the ground. They hate violent games. They hate who violent games are for. They want games that are different.

To me, it’s fine that you hate violent games and me for loving them. Gamers like me get everything they want while people with differing tastes must walk a gaming desert. That’s not fair.

But for me, those critics cross a line when they begin to insist that violent video games are dangerous or harmful. For that, I’m gonna need to see some evidence, otherwise I’ll assume that these people — noted for their hatred of violent games — are simply seeing something they hate personally and projecting a negativity onto them that doesn’t exist.

Yesterday, Braid creator Jonathan Blow suggested that twitch games, and especially violent ones, are bad for your body:

When asked to present evidence for this, however, he told someone that “it’s obvious.”

It isn’t obvious. Not to me anyhow. Renown critic of gaming and gamer culture Leigh Alexander sympathized with Blow and his suggestion that the harmfulness of violent games is obvious. At least that’s how it appeared to me.

“If we can reject the potential for harm because of absence of evidence, then why are we so righteous in the absence of evidence, y’know?” Alexander wrote in a tweet to Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker.

From Alexander and Blow:

I’ve since spoken to both Alexander and Blow.

Alexander wanted to clarify that she doesn’t believe that it is obvious that games cause harm. She was hoping to expand the definition to include the way the endless parade of FPSers make games look stupid to other people.

I agree with that.

Blow also clarified his position:

“I think violent games are emotionally stunting,” he said. “I do think they cause guys to be socially ill-adapted man children.”

But again, as I pointed out, he does not believe they turn gamers into murderers.

Humans tend to overreact, and those overreactions don’t wait for evidence.

Why are we righteous? Well, we could probably tone it down a bit, but I think it’s because demanding evidence is the best defense against people who want to take stuff away from other people simply because they don’t like it.

Until Blow or anyone else provides evidence that games are bad for my body (or that they turn me into a murderer, which Blow doesn’t believe is true), I’ll keep assuming they are just wildly charging games with something because they don’t like violent games on a personal level.

Again, it’s OK to not like violent video games but labeling them as harmful without proof is something that makes me super uncomfortable.

We know that outside of gaming, congress is waiting for any opportunity to regulate this form of expression. I don’t think that Blow or Alexander support government regulation, but their vague claims that “violent games are bad for us in some undefinable way” is all some Representative from Nowhere Dakota would need to overreact.

It’s especially frustrating because both Blow and Alexander (and others before them) are ignoring the solution, because they want to cause damage to those that they perceive are keeping them down. They’re looking for equality through subtraction. These critics believe they can take away violent games from dudebros and suddenly we will have more games for lesser-served minorities.

It doesn’t work like that.

The answer, as always, is more speech. More art. You don’t need to take Call of Duty 27 from me in order for Blow’s next game, The Witness, to exist.

We need 50 more The Witnesses. We need an industry that is so saturated with indie think-first games that dudebros can’t even stand it.

When everyone can find inclusion somewhere, no one will have time to worry about the stuff they hate.

I don’t blame anyone for resenting 20-year-old gamer dudes. Publishers do everything they can to serve them. That’s gross but not because 20-year-old gamer dudes don’t deserve it. It’s gross because everyone deserves it and only 20-year-old gamer dudes actually get it.