Germany has a long and storied tradition of opposition to violent entertainment, the result of massive and not entirely misplaced sensitivity over the perception that any presentation of violence may awaken dark memories of Nazism. It will be many decades before time “heals” that wound, and in the interim it could be argued that Germany’s doing the right thing to really crack down on anything it fears might encourage such behavior in its people.
Of course, Hitler did not play violent video games or laser tag, and to my knowledge the SS did not practice with paintball guns. Similarly, the German government’s aggressive restriction on content and gore in video games is really just hurting a creative industry.
To be truthful, I’m less bothered by the German decision (I think it’s dumb, but I can understand it in the context of collective Nazi memory) than I am by the knee-jerkery of it. Banning paintball and laser tag isn’t going to help prevent violence, and some experts might argue that by denying potentially violent individuals a safe and legal outlet, the ban might actually encourage those who are already a little unhinged to go for the real thing.
That last line is the key to the entire violence debate, and governments of the world should be smart enough to recognize that. The people who do these things are already broken. No game, no comic, no movie, no sport, no pastime of any kind can make a person shoot up a public place. That’s a decision that comes from a disordered and damaged mind in need of medical help. Banning things in the wake of a tragedy fails to take into account the root cause analysis that must be performed in any circumstance like this. You must ask why (there’s a whole formula for it). Why did 17-year old Tim Kretschmer open fire on his classmates? And you must keep asking why until you’re confident that you’ve identified the root cause, not just a symptom.
Paintball is not the root cause of Tim Kretschmer’s rampage. I don’t know what was, but I’d stake anything on my postulation that video games, laser tag, and paintball were not it.
“The games simulate killing,” said German MP Wolfgang Bosbach.
Yes they do.
Lots of things simulate killing. Killing for entertainment is as old as dirt, and we should consider ourselves lucky that we live now in an era when technology allows us to simulate killing rather than doing it for real. Simulations are inherently divorced from reality, and those who participate in them recognize that. Can simulations be used to train? Sure. In fact, paintball and laser tag would probably both be much, much better than a video game at “training” a person to shoot straight. But neither can provide the true ingredient that makes these things happen. Not paintball, not laser tag, not Call of Duty, none of them can produce rage in any measurable quantity.
You know the kind of rage of which I speak. The kind that would make someone walk into a school and start shooting. That’s more than just “being mad.” That kind of rage is a blown fuse in the mind, an honest-to-god, shit-you-not, Houston-we-have-a-problem short circuit that, thanks to millions of years of evolution, rarely happens. And taking away a country’s ability to shoot each other with paint balls isn’t going to help. Darwin’s in the driver’s seat, and in even the most complicated mechanisms, sometimes something fails catastrophically.
Changing gears a little, I feel a need to complain about the behavior of game apologists, self included, when we must talk about these incidents. We seem to suffer from some psychological impetus to call them horrific, or appalling, or unthinkable. I respect and admire Dennis McCauley of GamePolitics enormously. My only complaint about him is that he seems literally compelled to use the word “horrific” before any mention of a tragedy in which games are implicated – seriously, check it out.
Don’t get me wrong, school shootings (all shootings, I guess) are horrific. I’m not saying Dennis should start calling them “awesome” school shootings, or “unfortunate” school shootings, but the insistency of it gets to me. Why do we as games writers feel we must say “the horrific school shooting” every damn time? Shooting is horrific. It goes without saying. It’s like making a point to call RapeLay “disgusting” every time it’s mentioned (another tic of McCauley’s; and Dennis, I swear, I’m not calling you out specifically, it’s just that you write about this stuff more than most).
So why does Dennis do it? Why do all of us do it?
We do it because we think we have to.
We fear, and given today’s news about Germany maybe we’re right, that if even once, even accidentally, we fail to make a point to specifically categorize a tragedy as unspeakable, readers will automatically pounce on the omission as proof that games writers aren’t suitably shocked by the tragedy and, by extension, games are evil. We do it for the same reason some people always say “bless you” after someone sneezes – because it’s better safe than sorry.
I am sorry about what happened at Willenden. I am sorry for those who lost family and friends. I’ve never had to endure anything like that. I’ve never lost anyone to violence in my entire life. I don’t know how I would react if I did, but I know that my heart, to the degree it’s able given that I’ve never been through it myself, goes out to the families and friends of the victims… and even to the family of the shooter, though as usual I wonder how the family could have failed to note warning signs in advance of an enormity like this. The Willenden shooting was horrific. So was Columbine, Virginia Tech, that mall in Oklahoma, 9/11, Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, the Bush presidency, the Black Death, the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, the Asian tsunami, and a million billion other things that, like it or not, are part of existence. Existence is horrific.
Games weren’t responsible. In fact they do more than many other things to reduce the horrific-ness of existence. Maybe we should stop apologizing for them, because to me, that’s what most of our defenses sound like.