If you’ve already heard our latest episode of the GameDev Breakdown podcast, you’ll already be familiar with this topic. This article will serve to provide links and structure our case about why this article was poorly handled and perhaps even a little irresponsible, outside the casual conversational setting we maintain on the show. If you haven’t heard the show, please do, but we’ll take a moment to catch you up.
On October 3rd, two short days after Stephen Paddock killed nearly 60 people, seriously injuring hundreds more in Las Vegas, The Daily Wire published an opinion piece by Paul Bois titled “The Kids Aren’t Alright: These ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Rampage Videos Are Disturbing.”
In the article, Bois opens with a disclaimer ensuring what he says “in no way implies that violent video games leads [sic] people to commit violent acts, that violent video games are to blame for the mass shooting in Las Vegas, that governments must ban violent video games, or that violent video games are the worst moral issue facing us.” He then recounts playing Grand Theft Auto with friends during his teen years, describing the simulation using sketchy details we’ll review momentarily. Finally, he projects his distressed introspection on the the reader, which of course, you can accept or dismiss at your leisure.
First, Come Correct
Let’s start with some minor claims and details in the article that reached the light of day without any foundation in reality–the big picture stuff Bois got wrong will read a lot better in the conclusion.
We already have problems in the headline. “The Kids Aren’t Alright: These ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Rampage Videos Are Disturbing” creates imagery that’s never addressed in the article, namely, young children playing Grand Theft Auto, or at least watching videos of the game being played. Not only does the author make no claim about this possibility anywhere in the piece, he acknowledges the game holds a “Mature” ESRB rating, meaning only kids 17 and older can purchase the game, and that GTA is by far most popular among adults, with an unusual popularity among 55 to 64-year-olds, according to Daily Mail. He opted not to make the case that he played the series during his teen years, so surely many kids must as well, perhaps to avoid shifting the discussion over to parental responsibility.
The next issue is the timeline, which pokes several holes in the post’s credibility. The article shows a feature image and an embedded video from Grand Theft Auto V, a game Bois could never have played, if he presented accurate dates in the text. “Nearly a decade has passed since I last played Grand Theft Auto,” tells me he may have played Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) or an earlier installment someone still had lying around. This creates more issues when the article makes repeated use of the word “rampage,” a concept that doesn’t exist in the series as it’s described here. If the author was up to date on the series he might have made a compelling point about rampage side missions in GTA V–a plot device just as likely to be a hallucination on the part of one of the game’s weirder characters–but dying in a prolonged shootout with civilians and police is not something this series has ever asked players to do. What Bois seems to repeatedly refer to are a series of choices on his part, the part of his friends, and the part of YouTube creators to boot up this city simulator and behave poorly.
In this light, the complaints about a simulated world with no consequences still just doesn’t hold up. If you are a murderer in the game, the police will catch up with you. If your actions get you hurt or killed, your player is hurt or killed. The argument that you “live to kill another day” is a complaint with the inherent nature of video games–this is a bit like complaining that Jason never stops killing camp counselors if you restart a Friday the 13th DVD often enough. In reality, each and every mode in modern Grand Theft Auto has both short and long-term consequences for random, indiscriminate violence.
Even the simple claim that Grand Theft Auto is the most depraved video game on the market (we’ll assume Bois means as a series) has never been true. It isn’t even the worst of Rockstar’s offerings. Manhunt was probably around five years old when he last picked up the controller to play GTA, and if he’d brought that up instead, I would have had much harder work to do on this rebuttal. The fact remains, gaming is the newest medium with which we tell stories and communicate ideas. A senseless game sits next to your senseless movies, senseless seasons of TV shows, and all your senseless albums on the shelf. If you want to talk about a cultural thirst for violence, expect to discover that gaming is little more than a sponge–it has the potential to pick up all of our pre-existing grime, but we could also use it to help wipe us clean.
So, Who Cares?
We decided to talk about this article on the podcast for a few reasons. First, the Daily Wire has done some sensible work for conservative-leaning readers. This sudden jump to a gaming topic, executed the way it was, was surprising and disappointing. Gaming journalism is absolutely flooded with unapologetically liberal voices and ideas, and the majority of gamers, more centrist or conservative, have few places to turn. If Daily Wire wanted to pull in new interest, taking gaming seriously would be an easy, effective step.
Second, it’s hard to take an objective look at the article without thinking it was written in an effort to draw a subtle connection to the Vegas shooting. Bois goes ahead and suggests he’s “NOT SAYING” they’re connected, but why bring it up? And why now? All of his real questions had very obvious answers. I believe there was still some intent to make our thoughts drift in that direction. I don’t appreciate this as a game developer, even one working almost exclusively in the education space, but I also don’t appreciate it as someone who left Vegas mere hours before the shooting occurred. I had several friends still in the area, and efforts to politicize the event from all sides have left me unimpressed.
Finally, video games have too much potential for good. Games have revolutionized many aspects of how we learn, how we train, and even how we communicate. When you attack an industry more useful to our development than film and music combined, you hurt the potential for the positive applications of this activity by turning people with less expertise against it. If you find yourself questioning what you play, watch, or listen to, you’re completing one of the most basic and responsible check-ups on your own well-being. Coming away from this exercise with disappointment means it’s time to recalibrate, not start a crusade.