Their Call of Duty – Their Cold, Dead Hands

A chart produced by Max Fisher at the Washington Post and re-produced in other media shows no apparent correlation between gun murders and video game consumption:


So, violent video games do not seem by themselves to be causes of gun violence, but who is arguing that they are? Some of us, like David Axelrod tweeting about TV ads, might question “marketing murder as a game,” but that video games are the problem or even a major part of the problem is not the argument coming from those who discern a link between virtual and real world violence – or in any event it should not be.

Defenders of the society of the first-person shooter ridicule those who note the prevalence of gaming in the background of mass murderers, since everyone else plays those games, too, but the psychological literature backs up the common sense supposition about exposure to violent media. Reviewing relevant studies on “Violent Video Games” in 2006, Iowa State researchers Dr. Douglas A. Gentile and Dr. Craig A. Anderson declared the question settled: “As the medical, public health, and psychological scientific communities have repeatedly stated, the scientific debate about whether there are harmful effects of media violence is over.”

Gentile and Anderson urged a careful consideration of policy responses, not an outright ban on games, and we should note that the linkages described are not to gun violence, but rather to broader indices of aggressive or anti-social orientation and conduct. The two researchers as well as the rest of us understand that video games are not the problem. We understand that it takes a disturbed village to raise a disturbed child and provide him weapons.

It’s just that our village clearly seems to be more disturbed than others. In this context, the fact that the growth in America’s stunningly high numbers of gun deaths seems to result from suicides by gun may also be telling us something – and not just that the truly realistic shoot-’em-up video game would be playable only once. The correlation that tells us something is the exceedingly strong one between production of violent video games and death rates.

First-person shooters were an American invention (I’ll happily confess that I’ve at times found them to be an enjoyable one). The top sellers all-time and currently are American-produced. The country of mutually supportive consumerism and militarism is the country that sells (or did sell until last week) Bushmaster rifles at Wal-Mart for the gun-loving consumer. That country is the same country that spends and makes billions producing and promoting the eternal arsenal of democracy; is the same country that is called upon or calls upon itself to provide globe-spanning security for itself and imitators; is the country that via nuclear weapons held the entire world hostage on behalf of its “way of life”; and is the same country that also invests and returns billions producing and promoting the likes of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed – and two, three, many more sequels each. Maybe it is all coincidence, or maybe we Americans kill with guns at obscenely high rates because, for complex reasons, we have become or remain highly proficient killers, possibly the world’s  experts on killing or at least on certain means and methods.

Even in a universe where first-person shooters of both types – real and virtual – were regulated out of existence, the violent potential of an omnicidal culture might simply be displaced and transferred, socialized via oppressive policing and escalated warfare. Yet precisely because gun violence must be understood within a total social, cultural, political, and economic system, it remains difficult to imagine Americans finally becoming revolted enough by gun violence to do something about it, and not also turning away from first-person shooter games and other luridly violent media.

Put in antiseptic public policy terms, if we care about gun violence, then, in addition to working on gun safety and gun control in our at this point very well-armed and violence-addicted society, we would be well-advised to reduce other risk factors to which, say, Japanese or Italian fans of American first-person shooters are not as abundantly exposed. Put somewhat more philosophically, violent interactive media as well as guns themselves are already ways of relating to other people, an aggressively anti-social social orientation; though it is quite possible for any given individual to embrace contradictory orientations, a fuller and more effective embrace of alternative, non-reductive, pro-social, and empathetic modes of interaction implies a proportionate displacement of their diametrical opposites. Put more simply: If you don’t want a sociopathic culture, stop being such sociopaths.

Video games, their evolution, and the way that we promote, market, and defend them are all leading symptoms of a syndrome. When 20 children are killed at an elementary school, we find that the syndrome says something disturbing about us. Maybe the feeling will go away, or be set aside. We may even, once emotions over the latest outrage have settled, confront the death culture – i.e., our culture – and decide that we simply cannot and in the final analysis do not want to change it. Not really, not yet.

If so, then we can answer the President’s two key questions from last Sunday. They were:

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

Yep. You got it. Now leave us alone, we’re busy…


Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins


Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins