Something Old, Nothing New
On April 4th, 2013, Senator Dianne Feinstein addressed a gathering of 500 in San Fransisco, speaking on the abuse of Congress by the NRA and violence in video games. She went on to comment that video games play "a very negative role for young people, and the industry should take note of that. If Sandy Hook doesn't do it, if the knowledge of these video games this young man played doesn't, then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future."
The future she is speaking of would involve the government taking a much more active role in determining what content makes it to the public.
Let me say first that I get it. As an American citizen, I understand looking at the faces of innocent lives lost in school shootings and yearning for an answer as to why these things had to happen. I understand the natural urge to pull those closest to you under the umbrella of your courage and righteous indignation. I understand the immediate need to seek out those responsible and bring them to justice. I understand all of this and I sympathize with those who feel these feverish emotions.
We are a people of immediate action. Long forgotten are the drawn out discussions on proper action and responsibility to the truth. We trust our instincts in matters of the heart, such as the death of innocent children. We grieve publicly so that our leaders may see our pain and take measures to ensure that we never feel like this again. Forget public opinion polls and hefty legislative ideals, let our pain speak for the retribution that lies within.
I get it, but I can not agree with it.
Something Old, Nothing New
Turn the clock back a little over a century and we begin to see the emergence of ragtime, jazz, and blues music. To many, these new musical genres were the product of an entity with a less than reputable origin story. With lyrical content laden with sadness at life's ever evolving ways to keep you under foot, and music that caused provocative gyrations in its listeners, the burgeoning culture was scary and threatening to the established ruling class. The controlling body of that time took charge and banned the music in all forms, and the purveyors of said music. This wasn't much of a stretch for them, seeing as how a vast majority of these musicians were seen as slaves in the very near past.
Despite this earnest fear in which the ruling class approached this new style of music, I still fell in love with Miles Davis and played the trumpet for many of my formative years. Scandalous, I know, but indicative of the staying power that innovative art forms can have despite the backlash at their supposed effect on the masses.
Fast forward to the 1920's and film is now on the chopping block. Those moving images and provocative story lines are causing serious civil unrest (never mind the economic collapse, look here good people!). Amidst on and off screen nastiness, the film industry reaches for a man by the name of Hays, a Presbyterian preacher man at that. Hays goes on to put down some guidelines on what is "acceptable" for the silver screen, known as the Hays Code. It is important to note that the film industry chose this man to create regulation for them, they did not capitulate to government rule.
Add another few decades to the clock and we come back around to music. The 1960's and 1970's were a time of massive musical creativity, free love, and epic, mind expanding drugs. Social change was thick in the air, evoking, once again, fear in the ruling class. They scream of moral responsibility, of obligation to deity and country, of what it means to "grow up" and get a haircut. They did what they could at the time, banning in certain places, prohibiting live performances in others, culminating in pointed fingers and little stickers to advise parents. Kudos, wise and all-powerful moral majority.
In that same time period we find novels like The Catcher in the Rye being denied to youth and teachers being viciously raked across the coals for even mentioning it in lesson plans. A champion of the counter-culture, John Lennon, was killed by a man carrying the novel with the words, "Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement" inscribed upon an inside cover. Death always has a way of driving these points home, no?
Now, bravely we push into the nineties for the next in our generations of social change (late adopters, please take note of the distinct pattern emerging). The video game industry is flying high on the wings of console sales and major publisher dealings. Games like Mortal Kombat are taking full advantage of newly developed graphics and the ruling class once again needs a scapegoat for the civil unrest of "their" youth. Grunge rock bears much of this burden as they were less than shy in hiding their disdain for authority or their wanton disregard for drug restriction. Tsk, Tsk free thinkers.
As you may recall from the film industry segment, an industry under duress can avoid "direct" government involvement by proving that they can police themselves effectively. Enter the ESRB for the gaming industry. The Entertainment Software Rating Board acts as hand holder for all consumers in the purchasing process. They hand out a rating and detail, in very clear terms, how that rating came about. VERY CLEAR TERMS (looking at you parental units). They also handle privacy terms and marketing material for the U.S. and Canada.
The ESRB is a must for any game developer that wants to break into the mainstream. Both the stores and the consoles reject most games that don't have the label. If they don't, then it is bye, bye business.
Again...VERY, VERY, VERY CLEAR TERMS.
Circular Lack of Logic
Here we are again, on the cusp of social change, civil unrest in all corners of the civilized world, violence prevalent in our communities, economic failures imminent, education systems in shambles, individuality near death, and again we look to point the finger.
The video game industry is no longer the underground champion it once was, but now is the largest entertainment industry in the world. I have to admit, it doesn't get much easier than pointing at the gigantic elephant in every room. But, that is the point is it not? For centuries our "civilized" society has heaped the blame upon the popular artistic industry alive at the time because it is much easier than coming to terms with who we are as a species.
As soon as the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, gun manufacturers and video game developers looked to the gallows in anticipation, knowing the tiny minds of the ruling class would manipulate the ignorance of the masses into yet another flash mob. It was let slip that the Sandy Hook shooter played Call of Duty, and this fact MAY have influenced his choice to end innocent lives (please pay attention to that MAY, for it is the linchpin used to excite the masses; the illusion of fact as an opiate). Well, this little tidbit of information peaked my interest.
You see, I play Call of Duty. I play a prodigious amount of Call of Duty. On any given night I find myself in the company of 500,000 to 650,000 players. Taking into consideration work schedules, hemispheres, and random acts of kindness on the part of mother nature, this number remains relatively constant throughout the day. This means millions of people log into this ONE game. Add to that the millions of Blizzard users playing World of Warcraft and Starcraft, the EA masses, and so much more, the number becomes rather large.
Out of this large number comes a shadowy few with death and destruction on the mind. Out of this large number comes the few that would put some of the world's most talented artists at risk. Out of this large number come a select few who are subject to the exact same stimulus as the rest of us on a daily basis, yet we seem to be able to handle it just fine (debatable, but you get my point).
Perhaps it is time we start looking within for the choices made by these select few. Instead of pursuing the largest entity we can find, maybe we should take some accountability for the death toll. Instead of latching on to the the closest mob with an opinion, maybe we should be conscious of what we personally think and feel.
On an evolutionary scale, we are very young and our animal minds are still attempting to come to terms with conscious thought. Our instinct for survival regulates these attacks on massive entities, our fear of the unknown encourages entry into even the most ridiculous of clubs. As Nietzsche said, "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."
What kind of example are we setting for future generations if, when a tragedy occurs, we mindlessly point at the first entity we come across? What kind of example is set when we replace intelligent discourse and understanding with fear-filled bickering and name calling?
It is time for a change. It is time for intellect. It is time for "I" to mean as much as "we."