Dec 15, 2012 06:48 AM EST | By Luke Caulfield
When an event of the magnitude such as the one caused by yesterday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the effects are far reaching, especially in media, and in particular, video games.
In the early 90's, videogames like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap spurned Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl to lead a hearing on violence in videogames. The end result was the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self governing body that assigns age restrictive ratings on "violent" videogames.
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Since then, any number of horriffic events have given rise to the debate over and over: Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now, the Sandy Hook shooting.
In the case of this most recent event, the rush to get the story out as quickly as possible, coupled with the lack of details, opened a particularly nasty case of worms.
During the early rush when several news agencies were reporting on the massacre, the Associated Press, apparently going on information from a policeman, mis-identified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, the older brother of the actual shooter, Adam Lanza. Once that solitary, individual, incorrect detail made its way out into the world, audience and reporters flocked to Ryan's facebook page, eager to get a look at the mind of the supposed mass murderer. Dissecting the profile, it was found that one of his "likes" was Mass Effect.
Evidently, that was enough evidence for mob mentality to kick down the door to crowd psyche, and take over completely. In a knee jerk reaction shortly thereafter, a swarm of Facebook users converged on EA's Mass Effect Facebook page, littering it with comments insulting the company and the team behind the game, calling for it to be banned, the page to be taken down, and overall blaming EA and BioWare for the entire situation.
At this moment, it's not clear how many of them were also upset with Mass Effect 3's original ending.
Despite the fact that the entire basis that led so many to the Facebook page in the first place was erroneous, the debate over a causal link between media violence and violence in the real world rose like Cthulhu from the depths of R'lyeh.
The "new" media has long since been the scapegoat for whatever ails society, often labeled as "subversive." Once upon a time, the enemy was comic books, then rock n' roll, risqué dancing, and so on and so forth. Today, the scapegoat are videogames, and media violence overall.
Adding more fuel to the fire was an interview conducted by Fox News' Megyn Kelly with psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, a corespondent who regularly featured on the network. When asked why these sort of events are becoming more commonplace, Ablow was quick to blame media consumption, declaring "our level empathy just as a culture, as a society, is being diminished by things like reality TV and like Facebook that seem to take people to a kind of fictional realm. I guess you could add gaming to that, computer games."
With EA and BioWare being on the brunt end of a virtual beatdown, Ablow's conclusion is obviously one that many, many people seem to agree with. But it's important to consider that while Ablow no doubt earned his degree and license to practice, he has a history of making inflammatory comments. He's also no longer associated with American Psychiatric Association, the nation's governing body of the field.
There are as many studies suggesting that playing violent games or watching violent movies leads to actual violence, as there are that say the same subject matter has no bearing on a player's decision to act out in any such manner, let alone one so destructive.
The sad truth of the matter is that no side has it exactly right. But we continue to invest in unsubstantiated claims because our society craves a boogeyman, a target allowing us to vent our anger and warrant our frustration over something we can't even begin to wrap out heads around. Naming the problem gives us the illusion of control, that if we can identify it, we can solve it. But we can't seem to agree on what, or who, is right.
Studies can be cited until your eyeballs bleed out, but chances are, if you're reading these words, you've already made up your mind. And since this is a video game site, my own personal opinions should be abundantly obvious. But, I do have something of a bias, as the current scapegoat is how I pay my bills.
With no side willing to relent and admit the other is correct, the debate is set to continue long into the future for as long as our technology allows us to entertain ourselves in whatever "graphic" or "immoral" way we see fit.
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