The narrative that follows your typical mass killing tends to go one of two ways, either the perpetrator is discovered to have Muslim tendencies and people suddenly rally around flaccid symbols of freedom and democracy, or a copy of Call of Duty / Battlefield / Doom is found at the guy’s flat and a sinister love for pixelated violence becomes the favoured cause of his murderous frenzy. The speculation over the Navy Yard killings a couple of days ago, during which 12 people were tragically killed, is currently following the latter.
I only tuned into the news yesterday and the one and only report I saw focused on the killer’s like for first-person shooters. By happy coincidence crime spree simulator Grand Theft Auto V was released that very same day, which made the connection between guns and gaming even easier to make. ‘Here we go again’, I sighed. ‘Tomorrow the newspapers will be gunning for games and John Walker will be forced into making an entirely reasonable call for sanity’. And lo it has come to pass.
Unlike Mr. Walker I long ago gave up on challenging the lazy assumption that journalists make in trying to blame the ills of the world on violence in games. I remember in the wake of 9/11 when a news reporter called up the PC Zone office so that we might help substantiate a rumour about how Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 had apparently been used to tutor the hijackers on the fundamentals of flying aircraft into buildings. What he wanted from us was a screenshot of the World Trade Center looming large in the digital cockpit. He was politely told to go away, not because his story lacked merit, but because the assumption was being explicitly made that had MS Flight Sim not been widely available, the hijackers would have been less able to carry out their terrible deed. To borrow Mr. Walker’s phrase, correlation was being reported as causation, as a subsequent headline linking in the 7/7 London bombers made abundantly clear.
That was 12 years ago and little has changed in the way games are often wheeled out as the bogeyman for all manner of societal distress. I don’t doubt that games can be a very literal guilty pleasure – riddled with misogyny as many are – but by accepting the blanket vilification of games as part of the process of the reporting of mass murder, those of us that do little more than mock laziness and incompetence are perhaps as much a part of the problem as those commissioning it. Then again, when the choice is between playing one of the most highly anticipated games in recent years and trying to fight stupidity, I know what I would rather be doing.