Video games aren’t breeding murderers (just hate-fueled bigots)

Video games aren’t breeding murderers (just hate-fueled bigots)

Another swastika. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve spotted adorning the playercards of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 gamers, but I report each and every one I see. Even after murdering countless virtual soldiers in wars of the past, present, and future, my lapsed Jewish blood still freezes over at the sight of the Nazi party’s symbol. Not that my formal complaints do any good. Give an asshole a public forum, and said asshole will dutifully march off to turn an otherwise peaceful arena into a bloody warzone of juvenile barbs and hateful bile. Oorah? 

I’m not here to talk about swastikas and the lingering cultural ties to that hated symbol that offend me. Not specifically, at any rate. I got to thinking last week as I edited Anthony Agnello’s recent look at the legal ramifications of lobbing threatening statements into social media spaces. You should go read that first before you go any further here.

Ant and I were chatting back and forth about his efforts to track down some of the Twitter users that lashed out at Treyarch studio director Dave Vonderhaar over the recent Black Ops 2 patch’s slight balance changes to various weapons. I wanted Ant to try to inject the piece with perspective from some of the offending troublemakers, in the hopes of defining their unrestrained hate in more coherent terms. Unsurprisingly, no one stepped up. The only promising interview candidate turned out to be just 14 years old, Anthony told me.

Hearing this made me very angry. I never really expected any of the anonymous asshats to own their words when I tasked Ant with tracking them down, but somehow the revelation that they wouldn’t do so pushed me into rage mode. While there are surely adult offenders as well, the idea of children threatening murder and wishing cancer on another human being whose only “offense” amounts to trying to make a more perfect video game puts me in a furious state. Still, I thought it was important to at least try to give a voice to the angry parties.

There is safety in the mob, and dickheaded tendencies are always going to surface in very clear ways.

I have this one friend on Xbox Live whom I’ve never met before, someone who came to play in my group after Call of Duty: World at War‘s matchmaking paired him off with another friend. He’s a younger fellow, but we’ve been gaming together for years. Not long after he started appearing in my chat parties, I heard him use the term “Jew” as the derogatory verb form for miserly. My response to that has always been one of gentle admonishment; this unmet friend’s utterances come more from a place of ignorance than of hate, and we’ve had some very frank, eye-opening dialogues over the years about prejudice and intolerance.

This friend of mine is a relatively rational person when you sit down and talk to him. He’s still somewhat ignorant, sure, but he’s a God-fearing, church-going young man who dreams of bringing better things to both himself and his family. And yet picked out from the masses in a largely anonymous Call of Duty lobby and judged purely on the basis of his younger self’s “Jew” remarks, he’s also justifiably categorized as “just another hater.” 

That’s part of the problem. There is safety in the mob, and dickheaded tendencies are always going to surface in very clear ways. There’s no way to effectively teach tolerance on a mass scale. This friend grew up in a relative bubble and was exposed to certain behaviors and speech patterns on Xbox Live that he seemingly came to mimic. That’s how everyone else was talking, so why shouldn’t he? He might not ever say these things with his headset off, but a video game’s multiplayer lobby is very much set apart from the social makeup of the day-to-day world.

There’s so much chatter in the media focused on the “violence in games” debate. “Video games are murder simulators,” the naysayers argue. “Sociopaths are what they are, but they are often predisposed toward violent media, in whatever form it takes,” we counter. Studies happen. More discussion follows. Eventually some other shiny bit of news catches the attention of the masses, and opposing sides retreat to await the next time the debate is revived.  

Call of Duty Swastikas

What I want to know is why this on-again/off-again discussion spends so much time looking at content, at the creative stuff that the developers coded to happen inside the game? Spend just 10 minutes in a Call of Duty multiplayer lobby, or Halo, or Battlefield, or any other shooter du jour, and you’ll quickly realize that the truly toxic environment is the one fostered in public game chat. Gamers are allowed to remain anonymous on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network just as they are on Twitter or Tumblr or any number of other social media outlets. That anonymity empowers the subset of asshole gamers to befoul yet another public forum. 

No amount of moderation is going to keep the swastikas off of playercards for good. No parental control is going to stop a truly committed 12-year-old with a head full of ignorance and hate from finding a safely anonymous way to offend a group. Isn’t that the bigger problem? Horrific events like the Newtown shootings aren’t common, and they are often verifiably not directly connected to games (if they are at all). And yet every day, scores of gamers are victimized by public attacks directed at their race, creed, or sexual orientation. 

It strikes me as profoundly alarming that violent content is a more discussion-worthy topic than the bully culture that reigns in multiplayer lobbies and in-game chats. In truth, we are so used to disgusting behavior from our fellow gamers that more thick-skinned among us tend to just point and laugh. “Trolls be trollin’,” we glibly remark, before muting the offending speaker and moving on with our gaming.

This isn’t a problem that we can safely mute anymore.”

This isn’t a problem that we can safely mute anymore. The video gaming haters of the Internet feel empowered, and rightfully so. It’s not like some game publisher is going to try to get one of its customers thrown in jail, no matter how awful their behavior might be. Maybe they should though. Would it be such a terrible thing if a multi-billion dollar company like Activision stepped up and said, “Your disgusting behavior is not welcome in our games, and we are going to take every step to ensure that you behave.” Would the sales of a best-selling franchise like Call of Duty really take a hit if real effort went into fostering a friendlier playing space?

The only plan of action that I’m suggesting here is more discussion, but on different course than the conversation typically follows. A new perspective never hurts. After chatting with Anthony about his feature, with thoughts of the “violence in gaming” debate buzzing in my head all the while, I can’t help but think that we’re doing this wrong. Violence-fueled entertainment is an inescapable fact of life, and that’s been the case since long before Call of Duty, long before even the great William Shakespeare spilled his bloodbath across the pages of Macbeth

So let’s talk. Violent content in video games is no different from violent content in movies, in TV, in music, in comics, in any other form of media. Games don’t train our children to be murderers; they train them to be assholes. Shouldn’t we be working a little harder to address that?

Top image courtesy of Alexander Mak/Shutterstock

Product Review

Raw and brutal, ‘Dead Cells’ will pummel you, and you'll like it

Dead Cells is an indie game that blends elements from roguelite and Metroidvania genres to bring fast-paced combat pace, a complex progression system, and gameplay with plenty of secrets to uncover.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Gaming

Overkill’s ‘The Walking Dead’ delayed indefinitely for PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Overkill's The Walking Dead for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been postponed without a new release date. The co-op zombie shooter suffered massive delays, then received lukewarm reviews once it launched for the PC through Steam.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Product Review

‘Resident Evil 2' is a terrifying new virus you'll want to catch

Resident Evil 2 brings the Raccoon City incident to a new generation of players, acting both as a nostalgic throwback and a thoroughly modern horror game with some of the best visuals of the generation.
Gaming

How you can give your PS4 a fresh start with a factory reset

Learn the many ways you can factory reset your PS4. From reverting your settings to factory to doing a full wipe and reinstalling the latest PlayStation firmware, we cover it all here, step by step.
Gaming

Can't stand keyboard gaming on PC? Here's how to use a PS3 controller instead

Properly connecting a PlayStation 3 Controller to a PC is no easy task, especially when you opt for third-party peripherals. Thankfully, our guide will help you through the process.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ update makes you the most dangerous snowman ever

The latest content update for Epic Games' Fortnite adds the Sneaky Snowman item, turning players into stealthy masters of disguise. The update also changes the Sniper Shootout game mode.
Gaming

Having issues with your PS4? Check out our solutions to its most common problems

Just because the PlayStation 4 is a remarkable system doesn't mean that it's immune to the occasional hiccup. Thankfully, we've vetted some of the bigger PS4 problems and found solutions for whatever might ail you.
Gaming

‘Resident Evil 2’ will get free mode called ‘The Ghost Survivors’

Resident Evil 2 will be getting a free post-launch DLC mode which will feature characters not playable in the game's main campaign. No release date has been given for the new mode.
Gaming

These Xbox One exclusives are the definition of quality over quantity

Xbox One has a prestigious collection of handpicked titles that you can't play on other consoles. Here are the latest and greatest Xbox One exclusives, including some that are also available on PC
Product Review

The Digital Storm Aventum X is an unstoppable gaming PC. Trust us, we tried

Packed with dual-Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti graphics card and a 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, the Aventum X is an infinitely upgradeable gaming PC that’s capable of far more performance than you’ll ever need.