When I originally pitched writing this piece to Kotaku, I was a bit worked up. I had read some of Kotaku’s coverage of the post-Sandy-Hook gun vs games debate, and I sent some pointed tweets to Kotaku staff. I felt that the games industry media had not provided balanced coverage.
I felt that every story of mass violence from the games media was slanted towards gun control as the answer — and the lack thereof as the cause.
The few interviews I saw with game developers focused on gun control as the response to any calls for a check on video game violence.
I was pissed.
I thought that, as a game developer who not only has worked on mass-market games that revolve around violence, but as a gun owner and libertarian, I could provide an argument that would reach out to both sides. My argument would explain why, at least in the America that I believe in, the right to express speech through video games and the right to bear arms shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
I thought I could explain the nuances of magazine capacity, rate of fire, “assault” features, etc., to the masses that really don’t understand the differences. Those difference sometimes define the line between a well-meaning gun collector and a felon.
I thought I could step beyond media hype and Hollywood education to really tell people what real life was like and make a difference.
A few weeks ago, Stephen Totilo, head of Kotaku, offered to take me up on it. He asked me to write up a piece from the perspective of a game developer who was a gun owner and wanted to stand up for gun rights.
I do fit the bill.
On the gun side, I grew up in Alaska. I have owned and fired weapons since I was a child. I have used firearms to defend myself from animals and to defend my pets from animals. I’ve used them, in that regard, in a lethal manner. I have served in multiple branches of the military — in the military police field — which involved me pointing live weapons at real humans.
I have never fired a weapon at a human. I have never been in combat. But I understand weapons. I could rattle off a list of firearm related labels.. Rifle Expert, Pistol Expert, 03 Federal Firearms Licensee, Range Safety NCO, etc.
On the game side, I have been an avid video gamer from the F-16 Strike Eagle days. I became a modder after getting out of the Corps in the late ’90s and started working on games for Red Storm’s Ghost Recon franchise, moving onto games such as Halo: Reach and working in big IP’s for WB Games.
I currently run my own studio, focusing on a small, Kickstarter-funded game.
All of my games experience has one thread running through it: Violence. When not working on a shooting game — which is what I am best known for — I worked on a short-lived sword slashing game. I have never made a game that did not include violence.
So, here I am, a gun-owning, 2nd Amendment proponent who also makes violent video games.
I support the 1st Amendment just as strongly and planned to explain to you how a degradation of one can equate to the degradation of the other.
I was going to talk about how degradation of our Constitutional rights is something we should all rail against and had even planned to bring up the erosion of our 4th Amendment rights as context, in this age of “Big Brother” and the Patriot Act.
But now that I have sat down to write this, I realise that I am not going to convince you.
If you want to ban guns, you want to ban guns. If you want to protect your rights to bear arms, you want to protect them. Regardless of what I say here, I will not change your mind. But in this venue, I can assume you care about video games. So, what I will do is to ask for a separation between the two.
The NRA (an organisation, which ironically, I stopped supporting because of their support for the last failed “Assault Weapons” ban), cast the first stone with their stupid casting of blame onto old video games and movies as a cause for the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This was a blatant misdirection and such obvious flailing designed to deflect the discussion from guns. Even folks like me groaned in disgust. The NRA made themselves look like idiots by holding up copies of GTA, Mortal Kombat, etc.
But then the games media took the bait.
Every article that talked about mass violence and the effect of video games seemed to want to push back against the stupid NRA accusations. Every interview of game developers had to call out for more legislation to ban some form of guns.
I can argue passionately for gun rights. I can argue passionately for speech rights. Both have been validated by the Supreme Court. But what do I do when they argue against each other, when special interests are turned against each other by legislators with an agenda to “do something?”
Instead of trying to educate the game audience about the nuances of gun design, gun control agendas, and other things that hopefully they will take the time to educate themselves on — before they abdicate their rights — I find myself hoping they will educate themselves. I hope they will step outside of their information zone.
What I would ask of the games media, please, is to recognise that it is not us vs them.
Just because out-of-touch NRA executives spout stupid shit about video games, does not mean that games folks need to spout stupid shit about guns. Gamers can defend their hobby in a reasonable manner without being unreasonable.
While I do have this platform, I do want to call out two issues that I passionately feel we have been avoiding while both sides attack each other: The mental health issue, and the coverage of murderers.
America has a seriously-deficient mental health system, both culturally and governmentally. I have not heard any serious discussion about working to fix this. I don’t mean more fucking government money, I mean talking about a society where it is OK to come out and ask for help. We can figure out the money stuff after… we know how to help the crazy guy on the corner (even if we don’t want to), but what about the repressed suicidal young guy barely hanging on?
And, last but not least, I do want to call out what really gets me pissed. This is what I really think is a true causation factor in this rise of mass violence: the mass media attention that these depraved, and often suicidal killers, receive.
If you have done your homework, you know that the deadliest school killing happened in 1927 (not that you would know that based on today’s coverage). The mass shootings of today, the Sandy Hook killings included — these events, and the perpetrators — draw clicks and views. The media delves into their history, posting every available photo of them, giving them the fame that they crave.
This is what the killers want.
Let’s look back into our teenage years. You know that loner, suicidal guy who couldn’t hack society? Do you think, when he wants to check out, he would choose to be the guy who offed himself in his crappy hotel room? Or do you think he wants to get his picture and name splashed across media for the next few years?
Stop and think back to the North Hollywood bank robbers. These guys were better armed, better armoured, than any mass killer in history (most of which was illegal). They fired thousands of rounds, and took hundreds. Two guys. Yet, they killed no one. Why? They were trying to escape with the money they stole. They didn’t want to get on the news. They wanted to get away.
Let’s look at the motivation of the offenders, and think about why people do this, and why this is currently a “trend”.
Could it be gun laws? Movies? Video games?
Or maybe the same folks that exploit these stories to bring out the faces of these killers should hold up a mirror and think about how they report them?
I know this article will draw some hate, and I guess I could have taken the chance to speak up more to educate the audience about the current debate about guns vs. games. Maybe it’s worth it to take the time to refocus the debate on things that could have a huge impact without eroding our constitutional rights.
Christian Allen is a veteran game designer, having worked on titles such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Halo: Reach. Christian currently leads Serellan, a small studio in Seattle working on a Kickstarter-funded tactical shooter, Takedown. You can follow him on Twitter.