Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Changing Tactics in the Violence Debate

Robert Rath | 7 Mar 2013 16:00
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Talk To Your Family About Gaming's Big Ideas

A lot of these suggestions are about what the industry can do, or what people can do collectively, but there's one thing you can personally do to help this situation: Have a reasoned discussion with your family about what games mean to you. Talk about the power of the medium and what you gain from it in a way they can understand. Let them know a little about your favorite games, but instead of telling them what those games let you do, tell them how they make you feel. Open up discussions about the big ideas behind BioShock, or the argument between centralized and distributed power in Assassin's Creed, maybe even talk about the historical events you learned about through Call of Duty or Rome: Total War. These are unifying ideas that anyone can understand, and avoid the physical act of gameplay serving as a divider between player and non-player. In my private life, I found that a deeper discussion of games can turn skeptics into converts even if they never pick up a controller. My parents, my fiancée and my co-workers may not be populating servers, but they've all come to understand that games can carry emotional and intellectual heft. People who see games in a more complex light are less likely to head for the torches and pitchforks when a pundit cries wolf.

We Need to Start Acting Like a Special Interest Group

"Special interest group" has taken on a dirty connotation recently, but at its heart the term means nothing more than a group of people who encourage or oppose public policy. That's what we are - we're a group that's opposed to censoring games or blaming them for violence without scientific evidence proving causation. We need to run with that and not be afraid of it. While videogames do have their lobby groups in Washington, including the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA), those groups have limited influence in comparison to better-funded groups like the NRA. And it should be noted that sometimes these groups find themselves in opposition to average gamers while advocating industry policies - the ESA, for instance, spent over a million dollars supporting PIPA.

However, putting past differences behind us, a united front between industry and consumers could put a lot of targeted pressure on individual legislators. Picture a one-two punch of lobbyists arguing for a billion-dollar industry and a grassroots campaign organized via the internet. Calls to anti-game legislators from voters in their district. Questions at town hall meetings. Recasting games not only as entertainment and art but as an economic force that creates jobs in the tech sector. After all, do you think Nancy Pelosi defends games because she plays SimCity? She represents San Francisco and her voters work in technology industries, meaning she's accountable to her constituents -- just like your elected leaders are accountable to you. However, our greatest power would be to deploy as a voting bloc. Gamers are overwhelmingly young, and the youth vote is powerful but unpredictable swing demographic that helped decide the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. Attempts to censor media and the internet tend to galvanize young voters - meaning if we got organized enough, we could wreck the poll numbers in congressional races and make legislators rethink using games as a scapegoat. Establishing such a voting bloc would be difficult, but there's only one thing politicians fear as much as offending reliable groups like the elderly - and that's turning off unpredictable swing voters through minor policies like game censorship.

Remember That This Is Temporary

Recently, the world got its first world leader who's a confirmed gamer - Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea. He's not the only political figure who games either. Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads the anti-coalition bloc in the Council of Representatives of Iraq, as well as heading the paramilitary Mahdi Army, played so many videogames in seminary he earned the nickname "Mullah Atari" and essentially dropped out after falling behind in his studies. What these two have in common is that they grew up with games and are in political organizations - one a dictatorship, the other an insurgency - that allow relatively young men to take leadership positions. In a decade, it's likely that democratic governments in countries around the world (whose politicians tend to be older and more experienced) will have a number of legislators who are gamers, much like Colorado Representative Jared Polis, an active League of Legends player who helped rally opposition to SOPA and PIPA on League forums. As today's thirty-something gamers become tomorrow's highly electable forty-something candidates, we'll hear less and less about videogame violence as it's stored into the closet of faded and abandoned boogeymen - alongside gangsta rap, slasher films and metal.

Then, maybe we can have a real conversation about the causes of violence.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Austin, Texas. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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