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.
An 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?
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.