A few days ago I suggested that we as an industry might do well to get ahead of attempts to blame our entertainment medium for the deranged sniper homicides near Washington, D.C. While I’ve only heard speculative mention of any possible association between those killings and the sniping simulations on the market (see partial list in previous post), I wasn’t at all surprised to open my Gannett-affiliated local newspaper yesterday and find an article entitled “Sniper deaths stir video-game violence debate.”
The game primarily targeted in the article was Konami’s PS2 title Silent Scope 3 (SS3), which carries a ‘Mature’ ESRB rating. The ‘Teen’ rated Silent Scope, “a less sophisticated version,” was also noted as being available for GBA. Leaving aside the question of what actually makes SS3 more “sophisticated,” the article clearly intended to establish that not only are there sniper simulations on the market, but that some of them are squarely aimed at kids, whom the non-gaming public assumes are the only consumers of interactive entertainment.
If there’s a wedge to get behind regarding concerns about violence and games, it seems to me that the point of that wedge might be raising the consciousness of the average consumer about the demographics of the game-playing public. While I have serious concerns about the ready availability of hardcore titles, and I’m not convinced that violent works in any medium are benign to children, I’m also concerned that the public and press don’t seem to differentiate between children and adults in their concerns.
For example, nowhere in the article is there any assertion that the sniper on the east coast is underage, yet the article only takes five sentences to get to a quote from a concerned “New York City mother of two” in a Yahoo chatroom: “These kinds of games are disgusting and shouldn’t be available to kids.” Well, I agree that some games are disgusting, and there are plenty that shouldn’t be available to children, but what does that have to do with the killings, or with the possibility that the sniper may be an adult?
Having joined the battle in predictable fashion, the article mentions a few more sniping titles, then brings in Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association (which may be the most redundant title I’ve ever heard in my life) for counterpoint. Dutifully championing the industry, Lowenstein scoffs at the idea that video games ever cause aggressive behavior, cites a few allies in his cause, then closes with the following: “…all repudiate claims that violent media and/or video games do not lead to aggressive behavior.”
Whether that’s a typo, or Lowenstein was misquoted or misspoke, if that’s as good as it gets then I suspect our industry is going to take a beating for the foreseeable future. If the sniper turns out to have been a devotee of one or more sniping games, I suspect there will be hell to pay.
— Mark Barrett