On guns and games

Okay, I read most articles on guns and games in the past weeks. None satisfied me.

I did a little research. I’m part of the first generation that grew up with those games that have become incredibly popular: first-person shooters. Wolfenstein3D at twelve, blablabla. Something has changed through the years.

1990-1999: 190 first-person shooter games came out. The technology used is just born and is very limited. Games are cartoon-looking.

2000-2009: 314 first-person shooter games came out. The technology is improving every nine months. Games are janky-looking.

2010-2019: 160 first-person shooter games came out. The technology is extremely mature and complex. Fewer games come out because development costs are now extraordinary. Games are very good looking.

The number of mass shootings increased in the 2010s. Between 1982 and 2002 (twenty years), there was over 10+ fatalities three times. Between 2002 and now (seventeen years), nine times. Including some horrible numbers (2017: 117 killed).

Just correlation, of course (it correlates with 2004 assault rifle ban going away as well). But it’s interesting to me to see the snowballing happen.

I wish I could see the total number of players playing FPS from 1990 to now. Because it went from a few thousands in the 90s, potentially a few hundred thousands, to hundreds of millions.

One or two orders of magnitude more people shooting people in games, which are more and more realistic –to the point of being used as background pictures in the news, don’t forget– is not a trivial thing. Simply by the numbers involved, coupled with other facts (like parents checking out on parenting), gun normalization through games has to distort pre-teen and teenagers’ perception of violence. We try not to disclose the pictures and names of shooters to not influence potential souls. We can’t then say that the constant display and normalization of violence and firearms use in FPS –hundreds, thousands of hours- doesn’t affect young people.

We can’t have it both ways.

So it’s worth pondering on what we’re doing as game developers. Especially when reports, if you read them, are basically saying, “we’re not sure; there’s definitely a connection between violent games and aggressive cognition but no *direct* link between playing violent games and killing people and also all that research is super new, give us more time”.

Meanwhile we know that online multiplayer communities are formed around those games. Sometimes around those virtual, real weapons. It’s not about a direct link. It’s about the climate we’re complicit of setting up, at very large scales.

But games don’t make people violent, it’s been demonstrated. I am myself, fine.

Like I said, It’s not about that or about you. It’s about how much our environment fuels violence and to the question “is video game culture participating into making violence and brutality something normal and easy?”  the answer, with first-person shooters is pretty clearly, yes, it does.

But it’s just the same as rock n roll and comics.

There’s a huge difference between listening to extremely angry dudes brutalizing their musical instruments, and participating into a raid in HD on a big TV where you actively press a trigger and see bodies fall as a result, hear screams, with weapons coded and designed as close as possible to the real deal, to the point of having weapon manufacturers consult with game companies.

I mean the US army uses FPS to recruit and keep their troops in “soldier mode” ffs.

If you tell me that it’s the same as rock n roll back in 1950, you need some rest. It is very different.

But it’s the guns that kill people.

Thank you for reminding me of this, I had forgotten. So yes, guns kill. And guns exist. They’re usually made of very durable material and can be operational for decades. There’s like four gazillion of them in the US. Unless the government takes the initiative of confiscating all weapons to go to Hawaii to dump them in a volcano, we can’t change that. What we can change is pushing people not to use them against other people. What we can certainly shift is the culture. What we can do is seriously reduce normalizing shooting people. As game developers, considering the trends,  I think we have some room to do something.

But plenty of games are non-violent!

I know that. Farming Simulator and Stardew Valley for instance are about growing stuff and are selling very well, making their developers really happy. But in terms of popularity, shooters dwarf the fuck out of those and y’all know this. Shooters regularly beat sales records. PUBG is 5th on the best-selling game of all time list. It came out 2 years ago (it has sold more than Super Mario Bros in 34 years!). They sell millions of units on the day the game launches. One had 8.3 million concurrent players shooting at each other at its peak. That’s absolutely staggering.

You just hate FPS and developers.

Not at all. I know what it takes to create those games. I understand and appreciate developers’ work far more than the average gamer or non-playing person. I also am in game audio and it’s funny and hard work to record guttural horror, simulated pain, and gross flesh-y stuff.

It also takes a toll on us. So it does to players as well. You guys are no different.

So you want to ban all violent games??

No Jesus effing Louise chill. I would like to use this occasion to point out that any game talking about say, cannabis or eroticism is IMMEDIATELY, with the quickness banned from being talked about and blocked from being sold on any store as if the game itself had killed someone or a dog. Why?

But anyway. It’s not about the general public, bans, measures, or the politic layer. It’s about game developers having to have a conversation about our responsibilities and how we can/should slow our roll with in-game brutality. There are other things in life and if not, we can definitely be more subtle about elimination-based games. It’s an internal discussion that we need and completely, consistently avoid all the time. So we end up with an industry that’s either about dark shooters or ultra cute whatever to counterbalance the grim. 20 years of that, I’m a little sick. We need to recognize what we’re doing, turn it down a notch or five and make games less serious and grim. But considering how much money all that violent entertainment makes (BILLIONS), and how everyone forgets everything after 24 hours of social media, and how reactionary game culture is, game developers will not do shit, not even talk. We don’t have to.

And that’s a shame.

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