The Basement Files

In defense of video games


I’m taking a break from the irreverent this week and actually talk about something that matters to me. I do this occasionally when society needs a kick in the pants with common sense (like I did with my e-cigarette article when places like Hennepin County and Duluth act like idiots and ban things without knowing fact one about them,) and this is another one of these times. When nerd-dom comes under attack by talking heads in the media who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about — video games, specifically “violent” video games. In light of the recent massacre at Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., they again have come, pardon the pun, under fire.

Tuesday saw the release of the newest edition of quite possibly the most controversial video game of all time, Grand Theft Auto V. You might remember previous releases, planned by pundits on both sides of the aisle who used their First Amendment right to attack the First Amendment right of Rockstar Entertainment. They would claim that the “entire point of the game is to sleep with prostitutes, then kill them and take their money.” Now, although the games gave players an unprecedented amount of freedom, and they could use that freedom as they pleased, it was up to them.

So what kind of games are these? Much more than just “carjacking” and general mayhem, these games actually feature some of the best writing this, or any other industry, offers. There is a reason that in its first 24 hours, Grand Theft Auto V made a record $800 million. Yes, $800 million. Eat your heart out Hollywood.

While there is an over-arching story of “crime families” and “good old boys,” in these games along the lines of, and even in homage to at points, Hollywood hits like “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” and “Goodfella’s,” (Heck, Ray Liotta even voiced the main character in a previous release that was an homage to himself in that movie,) there is so much more than that. While the subtleties can be lost on some, pretty much every single item, from graffiti on the walls to billboard advertisements for gold buyers (advertising to buy “your dead relatives gold, we even buy teeth!”) is a biting, even scathing satire, on everything at this point in American culture. Political sex scandals, drug addicted celebrities, and people’s weird fascination with reality TV, think of something to poke fun at and it’s there.

My personal favorite are the talk radio stations you can listen to driving from place to place. Yes, talk radio. There are hours of fake shows to listen to that are not only hilarious, but perfectly encapsulate the nature of both liberal and conservative talk radio, while skewering them like there is no tomorrow. It’s great.

But remember, Grand Theft Auto V is a video game. It’s not real. It’s a work of fiction. Yet it will be blamed for acts of violence and aggression. Granted, for midnight releases across the nation there was some violence by a few people who couldn’t wait to get their hands on the game, or just rob folks waiting for it.
Still, it’s not the game’s fault. A criminal is a criminal, and if some thug wants to perpetrate a crime, then he is solely responsible for it. Not some game. If someone gets really high on “magic mushrooms,” it is his fault, even if he’s been playing “Super Mario Brothers” and has seen Mario eat thousands of them. Blaming a game for a crime is like blaming the gun for a shooting. They have nothing to do with it. The onus is on the criminal, and the criminal alone.

I know some will say, “Well, a lot of these mass shooters were addicted to these games.” I’d be willing to bet they played more than just “these games,” because games can be an escape from reality. When your reality stinks, video games can seem like a drug, one used to escape reality like alcohol, truth be told. But is it the alcohol’s fault if a drunk commits a crime?

Some people probably shouldn’t be playing these video games. Some people do have legitimate mental health issues that need to be addressed. I’m not trying to be mean, but sometimes people need the kind of help they won’t get by immersing themselves in a virtual world where there is no repercussions for their actions. Some people need professional help, and there is nothing wrong with that. I have tremendous respect for someone who admits they have a problem, goes out and gets help to deal with it. Ignoring it only makes it worse. Until we, as a society, come to terms with that, as opposed to saying, “everyone is perfect in their own way,” and this ridiculous stigma about getting help, we won’t fix the problem.

Nothing is perfect, and there are some out there who need help. Until we stop placing the blame on the wrong thing, in this case video games, the problem not only continues, but get worse.

If you think you have a problem, or think a family member needs help, then go get professional help. Playing video games for 12 hours a day will not cause you to go out and kill someone, but if there are other underlying issues, it might be a symptom that something is wrong. Getting help is nothing to be ashamed of. It is far better to put up with the one person not worth your time who makes fun of you for getting help than to throw the rest of your life away.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.