Guns and Video Games: Blurring the Lines of Reality and Make Believe

There has always been a debate about whether violent video games and films are to blame for the influence it has over people’s own violent behavior and their desire to reenact what they play or see.

wiki_WarfighterAn interesting New York Times article talks about one gun manufacturer’s relationship with an Electronic Arts game called Medal of Honor Warfighter. As part of the marketing for Medal of Honor back in October, EA created a website that promoted the manufacturer’s arsenal of weapons found in the game. According to the article, visitors were able to click on the links of real weapons they can potentially buy from the manufacturer. It was only until EA received criticism from a number of gaming enthusiasts, including contributing writer Ryan Smith of Gameological Society, calling the site, “a virtual showroom for guns,” did EA disable the link and released a statement claiming, “it had been unaware of them.”

With the disturbing amount of gun related violence occurring in the United States, the most recent one being the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut, the connection between violent games and violent behavior has been brought back into the debate.

The correlation between gun violence and violent video games isn’t new. When something as tragic as the school shooting in Sandy Hook occurs in today’s society, the public and the media are grasping at why someone would do such a terrible thing. It seems like the easy scapegoat is to blame it on video games and violent media for why someone would go on a violent rampage. Of course, I am part of the camp who doesn’t buy into blaming all entertainment media on a person’s behavior. There are other factors to consider, such as a person’s mental history, how they were raised, and if they have been victims of bullying. Not everyone who plays violent video games or watches films with violent imagery will prompt them to pick up a gun and start shooting people. I know I don’t feel the compulsion to do so.

There is no question when it comes to game developers wanting to give players as much of an organic game experience as they possibly can within the limitations of their made up worlds. Whether it’s making a character so real that you can see yourself becoming friends with this person to basing a place on a real life city, there are efforts being made to want to have players connect to a game on a deeper level. But how far is too far when it comes to putting actual copies of guns that can be purchased in real life into a fictional, make believe medium like video games? BO2_RP_Boxart_Wiki

It is quite disturbing to think about being in control of a character who is using a gun or weapon I can actually search for on my computer, find it in an online store, and click purchase within seconds. I rather have weapons like the ones used in Mass Effect, which are really cool to have but not likely to be found in real life. There’s something about blurring the lines between imagination and reality that doesn’t sit well with me. Video games are escapist entertainment just like reading fictional books. We enjoy these things because we can travel to a different world and wear the skin of a different character for a few hours and right in our own rooms or living rooms. We don’t want something that is too much like our own lives because at times real life can be boring or stressful. When we play games or read a book, we can save the world like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect or be a skilled marksman with a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.

I am not certain if muddying the lines of real vs. imagined will have an adverse affect on our psyche to the point that we can’t distinguish the difference between the two anymore, but I rather be as far away from say shooting a virtual gun that is an exact copy of what can be purchased in real life as much as possible. Maybe there is such a thing as making something too real in an imaginary medium that makes it too close for comfort. I know I would be visibly disturbed if the gun I was using in a game is the same one a mass murderer purchased and used to commit a heinous crime.

Ryan Smith’s closing comment in the New York Times article wraps up the same feelings I have about real guns in a virtual reality setting really well:

“I personally think they should not have real weapons in the games in the first place,” he said. “It’s just bad to link things you can do in a game with tools of death you can use in real life.”

What are your thoughts on the matter? Does it bother you to play games that uses exact copies of weapons used in games with real life weapons you can find in a gun store? Are game developers going too far to make a game experience close to real life as possible in these instances?

For more articles on the topic of gun violence and video games, refer to this other New York Times article and this one found on Kotaku. They are good reads and it gives you more insight on this issue.

11 thoughts on “Guns and Video Games: Blurring the Lines of Reality and Make Believe

  1. I’d never considered the weapons in games being actual weapons for purchase in real life. It’s an interesting topic, though, and I agree that it would be disturbing to play with an in-game weapon that had been used in real life by a murderer, etc. Also, I like video games as escapism, so I tend to gravitate toward fantasy and science fiction that is very far removed from real life anyway. Games like the Grand Theft Auto series have never appealed to me too much, in part because it’s just too realistic — the violence along with everything else. But that’s just me.

    Besides that, I’m always more interested in games that utilize futuristic technology or weapons that are just plain made-up… like lightsabers! It’s a more fun type of worldbuilding to me personally, and it separates the in-game world from the real world in a way that makes the violence feel more fictional.

    • I agree. I never thought some of the weapons used in a game are exact copies of real ones until I read the Times article. It made me uncomfortable just thinking about it. Like you, I always liked futuristic weapons that a designer has come up with for a game. To me, it goes along with the idea of escaping into a world that isn’t like our own. Therefore, the weapons should be different and only found in that specific world. Why play a game when it’s close to real life?

  2. I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot recently (which, considering all the press it’s getting isn’t a big surprise). It’s a difficult issue. On the one hand, I can understand why some people would be concerned with games like Manhunt that, as far as I know, focus entirely on realistic violence inflicted on people as the game play. I can’t help but question where the fun is in that. However, when critics start throwing around the idea that video games are the source of these violent acts in reality, I just have to shake my head. Yes, there may be violence in some, but as you said, there are other factors involved in the minds of these people besides violent video games. Also, it’s not fair to generalize and say “video games” since the content varies as much as other medias of fiction. Anyway, perhaps a good solution would be to cut out things like realistic weapons from videos so that no one gets confused.

    • I actually never heard of Manhunt until I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently, that game caused a huge controversy over the graphic nature of the violence and because it was a game that actually showed players how to kill someone in the most sadistic ways possible. Even the developers later admitted that there really wasn’t much of a story in the game at all. The focus is really the violence, and the staff was divided on actually releasing this game.

      Going back to what you were saying, I really wouldn’t want to play a game like Manhunt either. If it lacks story and has no real purpose for the violence in the game, I can’t see how it’s entertaining. Add in a virtual gun that is an actual gun found in real life, then I start to feel as if the game is subconsciously trying to teach the player how to shoot and kill for real. As if it’s a training exercise or something.

      I definitely agree that there are more to video games than just the violence. You can’t have people proclaim we should ban all games when there are other games out there that aren’t violent at all. Those games do what they are meant to do which is provide a fun and entertaining escape for a few hours.

  3. This is an excellent post, Simpleek. You are right. It’s disconcerting to know that real guns , and excactly the ones being used in the video , are being advertised. It’s like telling the gamers if you want to kill that way, click here and buy the products. Maybe this is Tom Clancy’s? This man is soo……. I used to like his novels, but not anymore.

    That is entirely a different banana. I love God of war for example, but the main character uses his strength, and intelligence ( solving puzzles), though it an be violent too. I like Fantasy games, not something like GAT. It’s too realistic, and can actually influence vulnerable gamers to act out what they have just played.

    • Yeah, that’s what is really unsettling about forming a relationship with a gun manufacturer and video games. It’s almost as if forming a partnership like that one is trying to say, “Hey, you like the guns you just used in the game? Well, now you can buy it here and you can go out and shoot one just like your favorite, badass character!” It really spells trouble if you link those two together.

  4. I always find the discussion between violent video games (and movies) and actual violence to be interesting. Mainly because the discussion totally side steps an important issue: why are FPS and gun violence so popular in our [American] media? It’s not that society reflects the media like everyone trying to blame video games for the shootings is trying to suggest, but that our media reflects our society and this society is obsessed with shooters and violence. If you look at it that way, it is not so strange that all these shootings are happening, especially since it’s a tough time for America overall. But to admit to something like that means there has to come real change. Blaming video games is just so much easier because you don’t need to change how everyone thinks about guns and violence.

    Anyway, I don’t know how I feel about EA advertising guns. I mean it’s definitely tasteless, but I don’t think they have crossed the line yet. If they were selling DLC codes with said guns, well then they would have definitely be crossing the moral horizon. As it stands now, I do think it was a very bad call to make that sort of advertisement partnership. It shows a lack of sensitivity about issues with gun violence and pretty much sends the message that EA doesn’t care that glorifying guns is a subtle nod to gun violence. Is it morally wrong? No, I can’t say putting links up to real guns is wrong since they aren’t compelling anyone to really buy them (DLC codes would be the compulsion and they would definitely be in the wrong then). In fact, I think the bigger problem is that guns can be bought so easily in the first place. Coming from a society that has stricter gun regulation, I’ve always found it strange that the ability to have a gun is so important to certain people. Canadians consume pretty much the same media as Americans, but we have a lot less gun violence. Maybe this is just correlation, but I do think there is good reason to believe our stricter gun laws are at least, in part, the cause of our lower gun violence.

    • The issue with gun ownership is already a sticky subject in general. Those who are pro-gun ownership are only seeing any regulation on them as an infringement on their rights as a citizen. The fact that some gun owners’ solution to the whole Sandy Hook shooting is to train and arm teachers with guns rather than restrict who can gain access to the guns makes no sense at all. I highly doubt it would create less school shootings, much less solve a growing problem in American society.

      Like you said, maybe EA hasn’t crossed any line or maybe they have with the gun link on their website, but they are sending a very confusing message. It’s one where it almost encourages a person to purchase weapons you find in their games. At the end of the day, a game should just be a game. There shouldn’t be any real link to reality at all.

      • Yeah agreed. And that’s pretty crazy. D:

        I know what you mean, but still think it would be a neat idea to actually link a game to reality like alternate reality games do. I do agree with you that certain things should not be linked to reality because it would be morally wrong or just tasteless to do so and EA promoting real world guns is definitely one of those things. I’m actually surprised someone approved of this marketing deal, especially since games have been under attack for violence lately. : /

  5. Great article! I think this has been an issue in most gamers’ consciousness as of late.
    The truth is that gun-related crimes are not as big an issue in many places where video games are extremely popular, sometimes even more so in the US (like some parts of Southeast Asia). Sure other social problems have arisen as a result of video games, such as anti-social behaviour and addiction (a very real problem among gamers in Korea for instance), but violence? Not really. As soaringwings said above, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many countries with a low rate of gun crime or even violent crime in general have stricter regulations on the possession and use of firearms. Of course that’s not the only reason and I’m sure the issue is more complicated than that, but personally I am very doubtful that video games comes into that equation too much.
    Also, I think what EA did was unethical, I wouldn’t go so far to say it was immoral, but in my eyes certainly unethical. However, I don’t think that by creating real links between weapons you can get in-game and those you can get in real life could really push someone towards violence unless they had serious pre-existing mental issues. I believe if someone wants to kill someone else, you don’t need a gun to do it. When I hear about these tragedies there often seem to be such blinding warning signs in hindsight, but it’s also rarely any one person’s fault. I think it’s more a problem of a lack of understanding and knowledge of mental issues and how to spot/address them rather than the influences on the disturbed person’s mind. That’s just my humble opinion!

    • Thank you, and your opinion is very welcome! The U.S. has always had a big gun culture in general. Like you and others have pointed out, other countries where video games are popular don’t get too much gun violence in the news compared to here in the U.S. So obviously the argument about video games and violent media in general being the cause for someone to go on a bloody rampage is extremely flawed.

      And yes, if someone wants to go out and seriously hurt someone they will. Doesn’t matter if they have a gun or not. They will find a way. A lot of the arguments now over gun violence also takes someone’s mental state into consideration. If we take a look at all the mass murderers who were responsible for a terrible tragedy, it almost always points to the fact that they were unhinged to a certain degree. These people needed serious help, but unfortunately no one noticed what was wrong with them until it was too late.

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