The most important thing right now is that games don't make people violent. That's what needs to be said. The scientifically-sound research that supports that mostly has it covered.
As an artist, though, I don't think we can honestly say we don't wish to affect people's behaviour with the art we make — or that it doesn't happen, miraculously.
Art that tickles the soul into manifesting outward change feels, by some degree, more successful than that which mostly just passes through like a tasty dinner.
I don't think artists are accountable for the reactions people have to their art, but I also believe, maybe a little fascistically, that there are readings and responses that just are better and more grounded than others. I also reject the full abdication of authorship, however intentionally one may try.
I don't think it's art's responsibility to condone good behaviour.
I do think that, when we engage in this passionate act of communication — this crazy, vulnerable, often futile attempt to organically incite a shared awareness in someone else — we don't think to ourselves, "I really hope they don't act on any of the thoughts/feelings/self-reflection I've inspired in them." There's a real line there. Science says so. Understanding that line is what's key right now. But the rush to distance ourselves shouldn't be taken to extremes. I don't think we want to relinquish that potential level of impact video games can have in all cases — just some. If we rejected games' potential to affect people's thinking and behaviour, the entire Games for Change conference would be a sad farce. I don't think it is.
So along with — or, really, after — the supremely important discussions of mental health infrastructure and gun control… after we acknowledge that games can't drive someone all the way to violence and figure out what role they really play in the mind (dangerously-perturbed or not), after we explore and exhort modern, responsible, pro-active parenting….after all that, can we talk some more about games literacy, in a society-wide sense?
Can we work hard(er) to promote the understanding and discussion of these feelings we give and get in games? Can we make some more games that deserve and stand up to those sophisticated reads of those feelings?
What if, instead of putting more guns in schools and blaming a culture-wide consumption of games, we embrace that consumption of games and teach, or at least model, in schools, a healthy and constructive relationship with games?
Through eighth grade I went to a school that banned games (and film and TV) for a bunch of outdated, well-meaning reasons. The saddest part about it is that my school's philosophy was more dedicated to treasuring and igniting a child's curiosity and love of learning than any I've since encountered. It destroys me that, for all of my school's depth of care and desire to reach children on their level, it relinquished an opportunity to cultivate and shepherd a thoughtful, profound relationship with new art forms.
I would like for that to please be a thing. I think it could be good. The other side of the lie — the idea that "we have absolutely super totally nothing to do with that [horrible] thing" — is a thrilling opportunity to say, "we have so much to do with these other [amazing] things."
Sarah Elmaleh is a voiceover artist and actor. Her voice work includes roles for Wadjet Eye Games, The Fullbright Company, and 17-Bit, and her writing has appeared in Kill Screen and Gamer Melodico. This piece originally ran on Facebook and is republished here with the permission of its author.