About a week ago the White House published an unlisted video on Youtube which is a supercut of violence in video games. This video became available at around the same time that the White House was scheduling a meeting with prominent game industry insiders about the link between violence as it's portrayed in games and as it occurs in real life.
The recent school shooting in Parkland is tragic, but I'm certain that this is barking up the wrong tree. I vividly remember this exact same debate from the 1990's, in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. Parents, educators and bystanders want to feel like they're doing something, and in their desperate search for answers, violent video games are an easy target. In the 1990's the most common targets were games like Mortal Kombat and Carmageddon. Today they are first person shooter games like Call of Duty and Wolfenstein which give players the perspective of the killer.
The White House clip, which is embedded below, doesn't even tell half of the story. I've played many of the games featured in the video, so I know that without any context they appear to be not much more than gratuitous violence. It's not hard to take many things out of context and present them in a way that suits your agenda, manipulating the viewer. That is exactly what is happening in this video, which provides zero context. Currently, this video has 2k upvotes and 89k downvotes on Youtube. Warning: it's violent.
To be clear, I believe this debate is about restricting children access to violent video games. Not about preventing adults from playing violent games, which is what nanny-state countries like Germany do today and have done for years. But in the United States, we have been down this road several times before. In 2011 it led to a Supreme Court case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n, where court made the determination that video games are protected under the first amendment of the constitution. Scalia wrote the majority opinion in 7-2 ruling:
Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player's interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.Justice Antonin Scalia
Were the Supreme Court to revisit this case, which I don't think it will, I think it would end with the same conclusion. The game industry has fought vigorously for their right to free expression, and many organizations that have long advocated for games to be acknowledged as the powerful agents of social change that we in the industry know that they are. Music and movies can change people's lives, and games can too.
One video stands out in particular, made by Games for Change, a non-profit founded in 2004 to advocate for games as a vehicle for positive social change. This video, which is 88 seconds in length, is a glimpse at some of the most encouraging and inspiring games from recent years. To those knowledgeable about what's happening in the game industry, this is a brilliant collection of some of the best that the medium has to offer.
Games are growing into the potential to deeply affect society through vivid experiences all across the emotional spectrum. They must be protected and understood to be what they are: a reflection of the human spirit, in all of its glory and ugliness.