Just two days ago I became aware of the controversy over a new version of the very popular video game “Active Shooter.” The game’s designers have included a module/section/world–whatever that permits the player to select a school shooter experience. As predictable, instant outrage has erupted everywhere in the media. My reaction was typical I suppose, thinking things like this is not appropriate, this is the height of bad taste, how could anyone be so heartless/clueless etc. My second line of reactions centered on anyone who has suffered trauma from school shootings lost someone to such incidents etc.
Then I realized that my son and I have this game and have played for a few years. He is my last “yearling” as I sometimes call him, near graduation, avid video game player since his youngest days with a Nintendo DS etc. I also realized that this kind of game and this game itself is one of the few I can master. I can shoot bad guys and terrorists through the rifle’s sights. I can hold my own in car racing games, Donkey Kong, and older generation games. All these have the forgiving characteristic that the controls are very simple; anything more complicated and I cannot keep up or play at all. After a few years of trying and occasional exasperated tutoring from my son, it has been clear to him for a long time, I have maxed out my hand-eye, and hand finger coordination and dexterity and I will never ever get beyond a certain level. So when he buys a new game, he will say, “Dad this is too hard for you (too, like all the others).” When we peruse the new games highlighted in his various game magazines, he will point to some fluff or “baby” game and tease me that this is one I can handle.
So this is my confession, the one person shooter, sniper type games are ones I can handle in my gaming dotage, and this game I enjoy and like. Gets out my aggression harmlessly etc. I also take goofy solace in thinking that if all kids are as skilled as my son and ALL his friends are on this type game, the Taliban do not stand a chance if they invade here. First, their gun-owning fathers will wipe them out and the sons will take care of the second wave as all dads would look on with pride. I am safe here and video games probably help to make it so…
But this issue of treating school shootings so cavalierly has ‘crossed the line’ for almost all of us. It was inevitable this would happen in our take any opportunity to make money society I suppose. I do not think that somehow trivializing school shooting into a widely loved video game will subtly train teens to not do such horrific acts. So no, I do not see some noble methodology of prevention at work here.
I decided to take my own social science poll around this issue. My apologies to University of Michigan’s Institue for Social Research, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Institute and all the other world-beating trend measuring experts. My efforts are teeny small, not very significant I suppose and have a very slanted, select sample size. My subjects are my son and his circle of “vidiots,” (video idiots). This is a silly commandeering of the Israeli-European old term for teens that always carried around boomboxes mimicking the American craze-trend of the 1970’s. Hence the international term “radiots.” So I have long called kids who live so much in the world of video games, “vidiots.” They have hated it for the three waves of kids we have had in my and my wife’s long marriage. But they grin and gripe when I call them this and they have all trumpeted the term at their schools: “Do Y’all know what his Dad calls us!?”
This is a lead into the history that I have followed video games since the era of Pong, Centipede, Starship, and all the other primitive early games. Back then I was playing them for several years before my first crop of kids could. I recall the waves of ridiculous hysteria concerning how “evil” games were. Games destroyed reading, concentration, had secret satanic messages in them (like various Beetle songs played backward and all that drivel), promoted wild sex, perversions, sociopathy, dishonesty, loosening morals in our young people and well, you know the drill.
One of the most recent and recognizable focal points for social concerns arising from video games’ content has been GTA or Grand Theft Auto version 5. I have played GTA and watched all the boys go at it with great energy and abandon now for over two years. None of them have stolen a car or anything.
The psychiatrist in me continues to hew to my long held view that like all play therapy, they know the difference between fantasy and reality. “It is just a game,” still holds true as it did nearly 40 years ago when Dungeons and Dragons hit, took over, and parental America wrung its hands for years, fretting over kids playing in the sewers of big cities on D&D quests, playing for days at a time etc. Nowadays G&D is still popular. When we go to various comic book stores in our region (we will drive 100 miles if we have to, bad boys….) we will see on the weekends, groups playing D&D in the back. And there are more than a few Dads in there too. It is great fun and good for the imagination. And nothing bizarre or weird or life threatening happens.
Back to my social poll. This being a major work holiday, the boys were over for one of our two conflabs. We work on our Raspberry Pi’s, on our makehip network between two old IBM AS 400’s, linux boxes, servers for pix and stored games and more. We have every game console and eternal verybal battles still are fought over which is best. PlayStation devotees are waiting for the PlayStation 5 even if it comes out when they are in college. My sample group is therefore well versed in the computing and gaming worlds. And they are so comfortable with me that they will talk to me openly about all kinds of things, even embarrassisng boy things…
I put to my son first, using him as my opening foil to be polled for his views, the controversy about the shool shooter issue. As usual, they were all CLUELESS! They had not heard of it at all. Their reaction to a guy was along the lines of: “Really? Are you kidding? Why did they (the game designers) do that?”
They thought it was 1. dumb, stupid etc. They also had very good social sensitivities, opining that it is in supremely bad taste “right now.” So I asked if we had had no school shootings, would it be in bad taste then? (A difficult hypothetical to say the least). They were momentarily stumped by that and finally came to the consensus that it “still wasn’t a good idea.”
Then their curiousity was piqued. They looked at each other and then decided to load up the game and see what all the fuss was about. And to their investigative social junior social scientist dismay, it was discovered that our version did not have such a component. That puzzled them and then two of them jumped on computers and started fishing for inormation through standard search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Then through game boards, Reddit and other sites. It was their consensus that maybe one had to subscribe to get this new version downloaded, or that one had to buy the new version that likely was being sold in the stores. Then they entertained the notion of loading themsevles up into a two jalopy teen male caravan to drive off the nearest good video game stores which is around 50 miles away and investigae this issue firsthand and look at the game “in hand,” as one lad put it expertly. Then they saw how much it would cost to buy this supposed new version. And an argument broke out why my son did not have the latest, greatest version, then why one of them had not brought with him this version and several other games and the slim argument dissolved into talking about another single shooter game that was more miliatry in character and better than this game anyway. Tracking all this was like trying to herd goats. Everybody had a different idea and taste.
It took a while for me to get them back on my original wish, to assess what their views were on the harm of this game’s school based component. Universally they held that it was crasss and ill advised. That led to the sudden idea they should start or join some kind of national boycott of the game. They thought “that would teach them” (the game company and designers). Then they got the bright idea that “everybody should steal the game and break the company.” Then they realized “that’s no good, we”ll just get in trouble.” Then they elevated their “game” and social consciousness and offered the idea that somehow the company should decide or be forced to donate profits to “some kind of fund to help the families.” Then they thought, “but that means people will still have to buy the game” to provide profits for distribution. On that complex note, they sort of fizzled out with ideas and lapsed into momentary silence and group perplexed-ness.
When I pressed them on the issue of whether the controversial game’s school based component could cause anyone to act out and become a school shooter, they hemmed and hawed, obviously daunted by this possibility. Within a short period of reflection, the near unanimous conclusion was that only someone who unbalanced might be adversely affected in this manner. They offered the unaware insight that only someone who did not “know it was just a game,” or “who got too wrapped up int it,” could be influenced in that manner. And then one lad anxiously remarked, “that’s the kind of stuff YOU deal with.” And on that note, they were all done with this interlude. Back to games and computing, then their stomachs.
Then they all decided their money they might have spent on buying a “test version” of the game, was better spent on pizza, burgers and shakes and off they went for eats at the local 1950’s imitation diner. As they trooped out, one of the boys with a keenly honed sense of humor, admonished me not to play any of them games while they were away. They all snickered.