We Didn’t Start The Fire

I have stressed over this article for almost 3 weeks now. I started this blog so I could make mistakes and grow, so now release this in hopes I have properly conveyed my opinion on this subject.

I am no scientist. No journalist. No professor. I’m just a regular dude, that loves video games. If you want to read an article about the following issue with facts, evidence, or professional evaluations, then I encourage you to seek that elsewhere and read my thoughts with an open mind. This article shall be written, as all of my previous articles have been: From my observation, and my opinion. With that out of the way, here are my feelings.

Video games do NOT create violent behavior. Of course, my argument is that I have been playing video games, consistently, sometimes up to 2-3 hours a day, for the past 20 years, with no harm brought to anyone. The issue is not that simple, and many pieces comprise this puzzle. So please follow me, as I give you my perspective on this issue.

My earliest recollection of gaming, was back to the Atari 2600. We had a couple of games (probably bought for my older brother), but the one I vividly remember was a game about tanks. (video about gameplay) You would sluggishly maneuver around the field of battle, seeking to volley your pixel bullet towards the cold pixel shell of your opponent. Your mission was only to destroy your foes. Roughly around my 4th or 5th birthday, my parents bought us a Nintendo. To my delight, I was introduced to a new game world. Faster, brighter, larger. My younger brother has now joined the fray, although he does not have the dexterity necessary to guide Mario toward anything other than a fatal Goomba bite.

At one time, my older brother invited his friend to come play Nintendo in his room. A separate dormitory, free from the aggravation of “children” (even though he was roughly 9). Upon my unauthorized intrusion, I was met with a game drastically different from Super Mario Bros. Soldiers were fighting against an opposing army, in a chaotic hail of bullets, explosions, and death. Normally this breach of territory would be met with swift resolution, but my brother spared me this day. He wanted me to witness the fall of a military force that dared to oppose him. His prowess encouraged me to have this power, this skill, but this game did not belong to my older brother; therefore, I returned to the Mushroom Kingdom.

After countless deaths by beast, drowning, pitfall, lavafall, fire ball, fire ball pillar, hammer induced concussion, and time space anomaly (I was completely puzzled when I died from expired time) I found myself upset at the game; laying blame as if it were responsible for my failure (how American of me). At this point an argument could be made, from an ignorant dullard, that Super Mario Bros is responsible for shaping me into a vessel of rage. I cried, threw controllers, threw pillows, screamed, I regressed into savagery.

As time progressed, we were met with further evolution into this interactive medium of entertainment. Graphics became more defined, themes matured to meet the demands of new consumers, sound hardware expanded to allow more liberation of audio processing. Christmas was upon us. Santa has deemed us worthy of receiving the Super Nintendo. By now I have conquered the Mario, I battled the Adventure Island, I confronted the robot masters of Mega Man (and failed miserably, but whatever), and was now confronted with a new challenger. Street Fighter II.

I struggled, as Blanka, to understand this new type of game. I’m not continuously scrolling horizontally or vertically in one direction (didn’t play Metroid yet)? I’m only fighting one person? Am I fighting the boss now? Why am I so enormous?! In my philosophical despair, I was flawlessly defeated by Ryu. With green electric rage, I threw my controller to the floor, cursing my confusion. My mother responded as Zangief; her reprimand like a spinning pile driver. Banishing me to my room, and from the console until I regained composure.

Composure, my friends, is a skill. One that I STILL work hard to improve. As I grew older, certain scenarios provoked my wrath that had NOTHING to do with video games. If my parents were upset with me about failing a test, or if I failed at a task I wanted to complete, if I was reprimanded for being foolish, I reacted with severe sensitivity. I react adversely to disappointment, whether with myself, or if towards me. The only thing video games did, was bring this truth to light.

I never plotted to kill my parents, when they grounded me from games. I never had the sudden urge to kill my friends, or others, when they beat me at Mortal Kombat 2. I never wanted to shoot up a public place because my save file from Chrono Trigger accidentally got erased (just wanted to shoot myself). My anger was just directed at losing, which caused me to become disappointed. What did I do to help this? If I got angry, I just stopped playing that game and came back to it later…. WHAT?! THAT’S IT?! You didn’t need medication? Didn’t need therapy?! IT’S A MIRACLE!!

Video game development, compared to other forms of media, is pretty young. It has grown tremendously within the past couple of decades. With this evolution, it has also given birth to a new social microcosm: “gamers”. When I was growing up, the “nerd” connotation did not hold the affection it does today (which still isn’t too terribly much to the public). As an overweight gamer, I was ridiculed for my love of gaming. I was “lazy”, “undesirable”, a “shut-in”, even the lover of book knowledge nerd crowd viewed me as some neanderthal. Naturally, I fell in with fellow brethren of gaming, and grew close through our hobby. It was just nature, there was nothing significantly different about gaming then any other love for anything else. But it was new, and new is dangerous if you can’t spend massive amounts of your parent’s money to wear it at school.

From the perception of the older generation, video games were somehow draining the cells from our brain, and slowly eating them. So if anything occurred at school (fights, disobeying the teacher, failing grades), it couldn’t be their parenting abilities! NO! It’s those BLASTED VIDEO GAMES!! So that’s always been the problem. We always need a way to make sense of the unknown, because we cannot attribute our shortsightedness to the problem. My peers needed to berate me, because they refused to understand the appeal of video games. Adults needed to fault video games, because even in the rapidly changing landscape of all entertainment, video games were the new neighbors on the street.

Here’s what I believe. Media in general has the ability to affect our mood and perception. Movies can make you laugh, documentaries can inform you, music can comfort you when upset, talk radio can make you irritated by hearing a contrasting opinion, books can inspire you, board games can frustrate you with the rules (sorry Brenda, just an example), card games can excite you with the right hand, visual art can stimulate your senses. Video games can make you feel any and all of these things.

This is the future of media. It is the evolution of different forms of entertainment, amassed into one viable product. The ability to interact with a plane that does not exist in reality, with a harmony of visual and audial sensory stimulation, holds unlimited potential. “Rock and Roll”, “Hip Hop”, “Metal”, these are forms of music that were bastardized because people did not understand their place or function. Again, the evolution of different elements of the past.

So…with this in mind, what is left to explore? If video games are just the children of movies, music, books, and board games…what can we blame? I guess we have to blame EVERYTHING! Movies and TV shows display violent graphic depictions of violence, sometimes outline detailed plans or events leading up to the act. Books do the same, but require more skill to involve the reader due to the lack of visuals. Sometimes the killer narrates, occupying your mind as you helplessly relive the memory of murder. Music may be composed with visceral sounds of percussion, string instrumentation, guttural vocals, and lyrics of anger that reverberate through your brain. Do I really have to continue? You should understand my point by now.

The key issue in this “argument”, is how our youth can interact with aggressive media. QUESTION TIME: How can children, under the age of 18, access “Adult” rated material? – The cable service in the home – The internet – From dad’s once “secret stash” – Their older siblings – Their older friends – Public dumpsters (I’m not sharing that story with you) – The cashier that will (hopefully) be fired for violating store policy. But despite all of these variables, there is one common denominator. Where is Jimmy/Sally going to place or consistently access their Adult rated media? HOME. If you are under 18, by law you are under the supervision of someone. That someone is responsible for your well-being. Your well-being will determine the paths you take in life. The paths in you take in life will have consequences. Do I really need to discuss what it means to be a parent? A guardian? Do I need to write an entire article on how to help monitor what your kids do? To restrict what they have no business engaging in, until they are OF AGE? If I have to do that, then we are beyond saving.

Video games are constantly designed to be one thing. Entertaining. But we have one chaotic variable that continuously changes in the equation. Humans.

Chaos holds a negative connotation, but it’s actually very neutral. Just as ignorant, which is “you do not have knowledge of the subject”, is perceived as “you are an idiot” (IRONYYYY). Chaos is merely a complete lack of organization for relatively anything, and is the key element of human composition. Not one person is made the same, therein we are chaos incarnate. Even after thousands of years, humans still work to bring order through understanding the “human condition”. A condition that is rapidly evolving along with technology, as humans adapt to surviving within those variables. “Video game violence” is merely a product of this, as have others ideas, as will other ideas. I fear that because the collection of human data is being accumulated by other human beings with personal biases, we will never have a clear answer. At least one that is satisfactory to everyone. This has become political, and you know momma said we keep that sort of thing to ourselves.

I really don’t know how to close this, because there is no answer. Yes, I stated my opinion, but we could talk about all of the possibilities forever. The argument rests with the proverb: “Guns do not kill people, people kill people.” It is our choice to become what we are. It is our choice to make the decisions we make. It is our choice to examine the consequences and react accordingly. Video games cannot make anyone engage in aggressive actions, anymore than “Supersize Me” can curb our voracious appetites from fast food.

The issue is, humans have been prone to aggression since the dawn of time, and video games are just the new excuse for triggering our genetic destiny. We are the problem, and hopefully will continue to work on being the solution.

© 2012-2013 Brett Wooley. All rights reserved. This article can be shared, as long as credit to the author is given. You cannot re-publish this article as your own.