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How to (not) talk about a massacre

It's days like December 14 that make me happy I cover the games industry, and not the real world. Some might say the work I do is trivial, that it's not in keeping with the journalistic maxim of telling the stories that matter. But for me, an emergency is dealing with a from-nowhere announcement of a new gaming handheld, at 8 p.m., on a Sunday, and then rustling up follow-on stories to satisfy reader interest (which makes money for Future PLC). What it doesn't entail is writing about dead kids. Perhaps avoiding that type of reporting reflects poorly on me, exposes a weakness of character or some such. But at the end of the day, I haven't made money off a massacre and I'm pretty OK with that.

Still, I find it amusing, in that unmoored-and-grasping-for-meaning sense of the word, to think about how GamesRadar might have reported last month's Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. "The Top 7... Defensive maneuvers taken by Sandy Hook Elementary teachers," "Sandy Hook Elementary - 9 reasons we're excited for tomorrow's coroner report," "Sandy Hook Elementary memes - The best images and eulogies we've seen." I can actually do this all day; it's following the formula of how entertainment websites like GamesRadar report the news that doesn't matter.

In the weeks since, a number of valid opportunities to talk about gun violence and video games have popped up--ones outside the already-occurring conversation. Topical current events like when the National Rifle Association threw games--which is to say, that old "callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry"--under the bus to divert the conversation away from gun control. Or when SouthingtonSOS announced (and then canceled) its video game buyback-and-burning program, also as a way to divert the conversation away from gun control. But again, me writing about dead kids? Yeah, no thanks.

I'd probably have kept out of it altogether, had I not gone with Coop, Lucas, and Lorenzo to Phillies Authentic Cheesesteaks on Tuesday. I'll spare you all the Yelp treatment and just say that we were there eating, you know, cheesesteaks, and sort of watching this outsized plasma screen Phillies has mounted to the wall. On it comes a replay of Piers Morgan's CNN show from Monday.

He's talking to Alex Jones, a buffoon who, from what I can tell, earns his bones by advocating socially conservative positions. In some circles, the encounter was apparently a big deal, and I must admit, the theatrics on that guy are pretty impressive. For instance, when asked whether he knew "which weapon was used in the Oregon shopping mall mass shooting recently?" He responded:

"I understand that all the people who are mentally ill on all the serotonin reuptake inhibitors who play these shoot-'em-up games want to go out and do this. Because there's criminals, I don't lose my rights, Pierce. Because there's criminals, I don't lose my rights."

Alright, so the easy thing to do here would be to take Jones' bait, and in that regard, I'm pretty qualified to do so, on both the mental health and the digital bang-bang fronts. I could have a good time making various points that would really stick it to the NRA and its surrogates, and I'd feel really good about myself, rabble would be roused, etc. etc.

But if I did that, all it would really do is continue a conversation that shouldn't have been put forth as a serious topic of debate in the first place. It's that point, and not so much gun violence, that's worth having a public discussion about. It's a bit complicated, but here's how I mean:

When this shooting took place, one of the immediate and obvious reactions from the public was, "How could this have happened, yet again?" One popular answer: Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, like many other mass murderers, had access to and used a semi-automatic rifle, which despite having no redeeming social value, are still readily available. The public then takes up arms (figuratively, of course), politicians hear about it, and before you know it, legislation is being passed to restrict the sale of semi-automatic weapons. And that's totally bad news bears for the NRA, which represents the business interests of gun manufacturers.

Now, the NRA can't just argue hunting rights or whatever for a weapon that's just been used to murder 20 kids, because that's not actually a fight you can win, so the next best strategy is to obfuscate the issue. In that, video games make the perfect target. See, the NRA knows that the future of the consumer weapons industry is uncertain because like many other socially conservative issues, gun supporters are dying off without being replaced by a new generation. Why? Because instead of purchasing BB guns and bows-and-arrows for their kids, parents are increasingly turning to, and kids are increasingly asking for, video games.

In that light, the NRA's attempt to shift the conversation away from the immediate threat of gun control and onto the long-term threat of video games is absolutely rational, and actually pretty smart. What's more, the NRA knows that America fetishizes the idea that every voice should be heard, irrespective of whether what's being said is constructive or destructive, pernicious or valid. It also knows that objectivity is defined by whichever subjective voice shouts the loudest, and we all know how much the press loves their objectivity.

All the NRA needs to do is grab the press' ear and out-talk organizations like the Entertainment Software Association (which, having been roped into the issue, is shouting its own message as loudly as its comparatively paltry budget allows) or the National Alliance on Mental Health (which... well, who actually listens to their shrink, anyway?). That done, the topic of gun violence becomes dominated by everything but the guns themselves. It's an opportunistic gambit, plain and simple.

Here's the thing. The press actually really wants to take the NRA's bait. Why? To give folks like Alex Jones a platform to deliver his on-message rhetoric--irrespective of whether that message is constructive or destructive, pernicious or valid--that's just a quick-and-dirty follow-up story. Occasionally, it even blows up and spreads across the Internet, bringing in millions of pageviews. That's great for business.

So you can think of it this way. When Nvidia announced Project Shield earlier this week, we scrambled to dissect the circuitry and pass on any old piece of gossip that had a tinge of plausibility. It's what we do, because our business is entertainment, and if we screw up, the worst that happens is Project Shield becomes a fully functional piece of technology on store shelves. Which is to say, we can do what we do in the way we do it because, ultimately, it just doesn't matter.

However, when the press does the same thing for a massacre, the worst that happens is we end up with more people like Adam Lanza murdering people on a massive scale. You can't talk about a massacre as if it doesn't matter.

The good news is that the conversation that should be happening does appear to be happening, largely (and safely) tucked away from public discourse. This week, representatives from the games and film industries are testifying before the governmental Gun Violence Task Force, led by Vice President Joe Biden. The NRA will also have a turn. Each of these industries will invariably speak from a defensive position, putting forth reasons why they aren't to blame. Perhaps they'll also realize that no one is actually shooting at them.

142 comments

  • winner2 - January 15, 2013 12:38 p.m.

    This article and these comments really bore me, I'm not sure why I read them. I do know however that I'm pissed at the shooter because now everyone has to talk politics and law (2 things rooted in subjectivity IMO). I just want someone irrefutable to come down and say "you're all wrong fools!"
  • Moondoggie1157 - January 16, 2013 9:12 a.m.

    You're all wrong, fools! Done. You're welcome.
  • TheDCSniper - January 14, 2013 3:29 p.m.

    It's funny how the media view the term "objective" to mean that all sides of an argument are presented. In terms of semantics, it means the exact opposite. It means the one definitive, empirically true answer. It's the media's dogmatic adherence to so-called "objectivity" that got Americans convinced that Iraq had nuclear weapons. The media need to learn that the old journalistic maxim that "there's two sides to every story and the truth lies in the middle" sometimes isn't true. Sometimes one side is demonstrably right and the other side is just wrong.
  • profile0000 - January 14, 2013 12:54 p.m.

    I grew up in an upper-middle class white family in downtown Detroit (No, I don't know why). My dad had a cousin who was killed by accident because he passed by a drug deal gone wrong, so after that my dad always carried with him when he went into uglier parts of town. He never used it. Hell, I remember he never even kept ammunition in the magazine. However, I can remember him pulling it out many times to scare away the occasional shady character that would try to pull something. Most of these instances were probably just incessant hobos, but I remember a few instances where the person had a knife and one where he had a machete. When we moved out of Detroit into the Metro, he stopped carrying outright. Now, he uses the guns for target shooting and plinking. I got into sport shooting because he did, and now I own guns as well. As a gun-owner whose family literally purchased firearms for protection, I can confirm that having a gun can help in dangerous situations. Obviously, if you live in, say, San Francisco, having a gun is pointless. Where I grew up, it was almost a necesscity, especially if you wore a suit outside. I, as a gun collector and frequent sport shooter, can support tighter policy if it has a non-extreme effect on me and my hobby. Meaning a more extensive purchasing requirement, more thorough background checks, or perhaps an additional tax are all totally fine. But outright denying or strictly limiting me and other law-abiding owners is where policy becomes unconstitutional, in my opinion. I do support the prohibition of sound suppressors and fully automatic weaponry, however, because that shit is just too cool for one person to own. Just thought I would give my opinion and insight. Videogames aren't ever the problem. Guns can enable a problem, but ultimately people are the problem. On another note, I currently live in Detroit. And I still am not quite sure why.
  • Boonehams - January 14, 2013 9:48 a.m.

    "America fetishizes the idea that every voice should be heard, irrespective of whether what's being said is constructive or destructive, pernicious or valid. It also knows that objectivity is defined by whichever subjective voice shouts the loudest, and we all know how much the press loves their objectivity." Truer words have not been spoken.
  • SilentDark - January 14, 2013 6:18 a.m.

    Countries with tight gun control laws, in general have lower instances of gun crime, sure if a person wants to find a gun they still can but they aren't readily available. The UK has gun crime but massacres like this are a very rare thing. Owning a gun should not be a right, it should be a privilege you have to earn, like driving a car.
  • ParagonT - January 14, 2013 8:55 a.m.

    If I must have "privilege" to do what I wish to do, then it's no better than slavery.
  • ThatFanInThePeacoat - January 14, 2013 9:56 a.m.

    That statement is outrageously overstated. Do you really believe that earning a privilege is comparable to the horrors of slavery that existed on this land for over 150 years? Maybe you're just trolling, but either way it's revealing of your ignorance of the vast difference between regulation and slavery.
  • Arobadope - January 14, 2013 10:33 a.m.

    Slavery technically just was the hyper-regulation of the black populace. So you can equate regulation to slavery if you want to get into technicalities. Of course, you can only really regulate commodities and blacks were considered property during the slave era, so once more drawing the comparison.
  • ckb1980 - January 14, 2013 10:24 p.m.

    As a black man, fuck you. It was inhumane treatment of PEOPLE, period. We are not even close to GOODS that were regulated. When I sleep with your mom and sisters, sell your daddy for a few dollars, and whip you cause I feel like it maybe you'll understand just how stupid your comment was.
  • ParagonT - January 15, 2013 5:45 a.m.

    As another minority, please adjust the height of your horse next time. Maybe in about a couple of years through puberty when you won't take offense to something that has long happened in the past and we can talk civilly about it, then perhaps people will give us respect. When you have to resort to foul language to "get your point across", your apart of the problem of why there is still racism in this world.
  • Arobadope - January 15, 2013 9:51 p.m.

    You sir, a lighthouse in the storm.
  • gadjo - January 16, 2013 11:28 a.m.

    Dude, are you honestly trying to be the "reasonable" guy when you just compared the subjugation of an entire race to unpaid manual labor and rape to not allowing people to own assault rifles for fear they might be crazy and use them to shoot a bunch of kids?
  • ParagonT - January 16, 2013 2:18 p.m.

    I compared the instance of slavery to the idea of little to no rights, but if you want to throw in the rape and unpaid labor (since it doesn't have to be manual), then that's of your own accord. It was obvious what I was comparing, so please read the whole string of comments to understand what I was inferring. Also, slavery was not just a "one race thing", please understand what the general term of slavery meant and read a bit more on it. So I must ask the same. Are you trying to be the "reasonable" guy by not understanding the connotation of the conversation, while thinking slavery was all about one race, and assuming the worst?
  • Arobadope - January 15, 2013 9:48 p.m.

    Just so you know...I am black to, so no you can't fuck me.
  • Arobadope - January 15, 2013 9:49 p.m.

    Also, yes that's essentially what you do to goods, whatever you please. Also none of that happened to you, so like Paragon said, adjust your horse lest you come off like more of a moron.
  • ParagonT - January 14, 2013 10:49 a.m.

    I wasn't even mentioning African slavery, I was talking about slavery in a general term. But I suppose African slavery would be included in slavery. Still, it equates with the idea that you have little rights, if at any. I'm overstating? Please, I'm stating facts here. It's only a snowball effect waiting to happen. It may not be in 20 years, but the time will come when people who like to give up their freedom to "feel safe" are going to start something that none of us can change back. Then tell us oh wise one, where would you say the line is drawn? Because other than name call, you did little else but to refute the matter.
  • ventanger - January 14, 2013 8:59 a.m.

    Many of those countries with tighter gun control laws, also have lower indexes of personal freedom. The Soviet Union had 100% literacy, that alone didn't make it an inherently better society. If you think owning a gun should not be a right, then surely you're in favor of repealing the 2nd amendment, or ratifying a 28th that radically redefines it. If that's the case, if you want to fundamentally transform the Constitution, then why don't you just say so?
  • BigDannyH - January 14, 2013 3:54 p.m.

    You do realise that, in the UK at least, we don't want to own guns. Partly because they're not fetishised over here, but mostly because we don't want the nutters to have them. We don't even let our coppers have them! It's not a violation of our freedom, it's our choice and it's a sensible, rational one. And regarding freedom, isn't the rich-poor divide in Amerca huge, with most of the population working ridiculous hours for not a lot of money? Doesn't sound particularly free to me (unless of course you're one of the lucky few born into privilege).
  • ParagonT - January 14, 2013 8:01 p.m.

    It's not right neither, and I'm a strong advocate for better wages, but that doesn't make this issue a good one to have just because there are other problems that need addressing.

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