When the Game has No Name, All Are to BlameS

Evidently, removing scary scary violent video games from arcades is a trend now. So reports the Associated Press which, quite typically, can't be bothered to name any of the video games involved.

The AP brings up the news from earlier in the month when Massachusetts yanked some light gun games from arcades in rest stops it owns on the Massachusetts Turnpike, after a family complained they were inappropriate. Now, a guy in Yonkers, N.Y. complained to a private company—the owner of a global movie theater chain—and got action. Two removals. This constitutes a trend.

I'll tell you what is a trend, as I've seen it throughout the five years I've worked for this publication and reported on this type of story: The refusal of newspapers, newsmagazines, local television and television network reports—the "mainstream media"—to give the titles of objectionable games in the issues they're reporting on. It may seem a petty thing but it's actually important.

If this was a story about a school board banning books, you can be sure they'd name which ones. If a library was removing violent films from its collection, I think the reporter would ask for the titles. It's important to know if a library is removing, say, Commando as opposed to Platoon, or Song of the South as opposed to Cinderella isn't it? Doesn't that help the reader justify the reasonableness, or lack thereof, of the decision?

But video games, no one can be bothered to tell us which ones. Apparently that's not relevant to those writing and editing these stories. Bullshit. It's a form of symbolic annihilation and it reflects a mainstream assumption that the entire medium is irredeemable, and its guilt is justifiably collective. It means that every video game is violent, or that "shooting video game" tells you all you need to know, because a game that has a name is now a game that can be distinguished from others, or have its actual relevance to gaming culture described.

Instead, we have what are likely a bunch of early-2000s light gun games that no one plays anymore standing as authoritative representatives of video gaming's content and cultural reach.

That's not to say games are never named. When they are, it's typically to prop up some assumption about why some suspect or malefactor was playing it. Call of Duty is frequently named in this regard. World of Warcraft got prime billing because it helped portray Anders Behring Breivik as a game-addicted loner (which he likely was). But when it's a game that actually isn't tied to a crime or a person, more a social problem, good luck getting its title in a report. (There are exceptions; The Boston Globe went so far as to name Time Crisis as one of the cabinets pulled from the turnpike stops, but there were unidentified others removed.)

This is how you get to the point where Adam Lanza is assumed by lawmakers, think tanks and civic leaders to be game-addicted or corrupted by Call of Duty. That's what's driving the current conversation, where the president and vice president are calling for federal research into the effect of violent video games on kids, as a response to a mass shooting incident. This connection is made through one statement and one statement only: a quote attributed to a plumber who had done work in the Lanza home.

The only title named by one of Lanza's friends, who actually knew him? Dynasty Warriors. This scary scary violent video game story becomes a lot harder to sell to the general public when the title involved isn't the global bestselling military shooter phenomenon, but a Japanese-made beat-em-up. Indeed, this friend said Lanza was "a big fan of Japanese culture," and also collected Pokémon cards.

The Express, the UK tabloid who talked to the plumber, did its damndest to make Dynasty Warriors the culprit, calling it a "shockingly violent fantasy war game." But no one's repeating that slur, because Dynasty Warriors is a) not that and b) not as identifiable or as reducible to stereotype as Call of Duty. See? That's why names are important. It helps readers verify the accusations made against them and the credibility of those making them. (As a commenter below this reminds, the NRA named names in its deranged news conference. But one of them was Kindergarten Killer, a 10-year-old flash game, badly damaging the claim and painting it as unreasonable scapegoating.)

So, please, reporters, take the time to get the goddamn names of the games. Get all of them. Get them every time. A credible report will have them. A credible statement will give them. If the spokesperson for the movie theater company or the department of transportation doesn't know them, that tells you the real story: that political figures and big business are motivated not so much by propriety and decorum in the spaces they control, but fear of bad PR. And that's an older and more credible trend than this nonsense.

Arcade video shooting games pulled after massacres [The Associated Press via KOMO-TV.]