Tag Archives: Guns

Gun Control, Violent Games & The Digital Violence Paradigm

The sims

Death in a box.

When I started this column, I had this idea. I wanted to write about that space where fantasy escapism (i.e. popular entertainment) and social forms meet.  I wanted to talk about why we make the entertainment we do and what that entertainment does to us.

Because I do believe that the process of doing something changes us. And since I’ve taken the Area Of Effect title I’ve done pretty much everything but actually talk about that.

Until this week. This week a president decided to lay down some new rules about how guns are purchased in this country while petitioning Congress to make even more.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook there’s a resurgent question in the air. What causes gun violence and how do we stop it? An associated question: do violent video games kill people?

My first instinct is to say no. I love violent video games. They are the only games I play, and I have yet to kill anyone. But I’m an individual, not a statistic. And individuals are pretty bad at working out patterns in huge numbers of people by eyeballing it.

The Stats

1. The U.S. has the highest rate of fire-arm related murders of any developed country in the world.

2. Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.

3. An average of 82 people (8 of them children) die in the United States every day from gun violence.

The Sandy Hook tragedy is a single example of something that’s happening in this country every day. After more than a week of media blackout, the NRA came back with a condemnation of the cultural glorification of gun violence in video games. Guns don’t kill people; video games kill people.

Personally, I thought it was laughable at the time. This is an old argument from the ’90s. And, to me, an obvious opportunity for the NRA to guide the conversation away from gun control. Apparently that’s not the case, as a real conversation about video game violence seems to be in the works.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe video games do anything to us. I think the mass consumption of violence is probably doing a lot of things to us, but I don’t believe it makes us kill each other. And science doesn’t believe it either. Academic studies continue to show that there just isn’t any substantial evidence that video games are a causal mechanism for violence.

Here’s the thing. I actually do think video games and violent media in general do something to us. Just this week I commented on how messed up it is that movies universally recognize domestic violence is bad while at the same time romanticizing boyfriends that kill.  And I think it does a lot to reinforce stereotypes about race, gender, and a on and on until we drown in an ocean of political correctness. But there are some important caveats.

First, cultural artifacts like movies and video games are the product of a culture as well as a means for reinforcement. The stuff we see on the screen doesn’t appear from a vacuum. It is somewhere in the society and somewhere in us. That’s the reason someone makes it and the reason other people pay money to consume it.

Guns are a part of our national persona because violence is a part of our national persona. Ask yourself a question. When’s the last time you watched a movie where the protagonist overcame his challenges without using violence? I can’t speak for you, but of the top 20 grossing films of all time I see only two that didn’t need violent protagonists: Titanic & Toy Story 3. And I’m reluctant to give Toy Story a pass.

My point is violence is the most popular way our heroes solve problems. There is a corollary between the the games we play and gun violence, but it’s more apt to say that the idea of gun violence causes violent video games rather than the reverse. Robert Brockway at Cracked may has one of the best takes on it:

We’ve spent the vast majority of our national history involved in active, bloody wars. We won our independence with gun violence; we stayed a nation with gun violence; we helped stave off worldwide genocide with gun violence. Gun violence has, generally speaking, been working out pretty spiffy for us. The vast bulk of our movies, television shows, and, yes, video games revolve around praising gun violence. And we’re all writing, approving, designing, and buying these things, then turning around and looking at the finished product like we’ve just discovered a rabid animal in our bathroom. Everybody is standing there aghast, wondering which of our media caused all of this violent thinking; nobody’s asking why we made them all in the first place.

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Second, everything I’ve read and come to understand about popular media consumption tells a story of perspective rather than impetus. Pop culture may cause us to feel certain things, and it most certainly impacts our thinking, but it does not build within us a drive to murder children.

Consider Spec Ops: The Line for a moment. We did a whole write-up of it at the end of last year because of how profoundly and completely it highlighted the problems with military shooters. The short version is that combat shooters use something that isn’t real, a fun war experience, to make war seem sexy. While I doubt these games cause players to up and join the military, I do think they shape the way we think about warfare and help us ignore some of it’s nastier consequences. Just the same way I think images about race or gender repeated over and over by popular entertainment shape the way we think about those topics too.

What they don’t do is cause stable, mentally healthy people to kill. Video games aren’t the problem, though they are symptomatic of a problem. People are the problem. In a sense it’s true that guns don’t kill people. People kill people with guns.

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Borderlands 2 Preview

Borderlands combined two types of games that I love: First-person shooters and crazy Diablo-style killing and looting.  I loved everything about it: The art style, the setting, the millions of guns, and the humor.

Not bad for a game basically made on a whim.

As much as I loved it, though, there were some things missing from the game, like a decent story. So, I was excited when I heard that developer Gearbox was pulling out all the stops for the sequel.

I wanted more character customization. It’s in Borderlands 2. I wanted a better story. Gearbox promises that it’s in Borderlands 2. In addition to making the new game an overall better experience, they’ve added the wub wubs. I think most of us agree that we need more dubstep in our lives. Alex Clare thinks so, anyway.

So, because I’m basically crazy excited about the game, let’s talk a little about why it will be so awesome, and hopefully (if I have the money), it will be a day one buy for me.

The Characters:

Borderlands 2 features an all-new cast. Don’t worry, the main characters from the first game are still there, but they aren’t playable. They’re going to play a major part in the story, though. Our friends Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick will all be there, along with our favorite beatboxing robot, Claptrap. Plus, the Guardian Angel, whom we still know almost nothing about (other than she is a satellite), will also be returning.

But, let’s focus on the NEW main characters.

Axton is a commando who, like Roland, depends on his turrets for his special attacks. I played mostly as Roland in the first game (I had to solo a lot, so the extra firepower is always welcome), so Axton will probably be my first choice.

Zer0 is an assassin who can disappear and make decoys of himself. He uses these abilities to sneak up and get close to enemies so he can cut them in half with his rocking laser-edged sword. He looks like he’ll be a lot of fun for people who like to be sneaky-sneaky and kill bad guys with a little more flair.

Maya is a siren like Lilith who controls the elements and is basically a genetically-modified wizard. I know people that had a lot of fun as Lilith in the first game, but I’m not sure if Maya plays quite the same way. Maya looks much more focused on straight breaking things (by phasing them into other dimensions) than Lilith, who was a little more stealthy.

Salvador is the “gunzerker.” He’ll play a lot like Brick, but instead of using his fists to break things, he can use his ability to go nuts and dual-wield any combination of the weapons in the game. Want two rocket launchers? Okay. Do it. He’ll be a lot of fun for players who want to just cause insane wanton destruction. So… everyone will probably find him fun.

There’s also a fifth class, Gaige the Mechromancer, who can summon a floating death robot called “Deathtrap.” She is the root of the “girlfriend mode” controversy. She’ll be available for download later.

Setting:

Borderlands 2 takes place five years after the original game. The villain of the game, Handsome Jack, has taken credit for the work of the Vault Hunters in the first game and has basically bought all of planet Pandora (and apparently its moon too, since he has a giant moon base).

Players will go through snowy tundra areas, desert areas, jungles, caverns, and urban locations in their fight against Handsome Jack. Each area has some unique enemies to blow up and loot.

Guns N’ Loot:

Gearbox really focused on the guns for Borderlands 2 to make each gun manufacturer more unique in order to help players more easily find the gun they want. Jakobs guns will be fast on the trigger and precise and have “old West” styling. Vladof manufactured guns will look like Russian guns and have a high rate of fire.

Most fun (to me) look to be the Tediore guns, which Gearbox head Randy Pitchford described as the “Walmart” guns of the game. When you are done firing them, they don’t reload, you just chuck them and watch them explode. I love explosions.

All in all, Gearbox has promised that there will be even more guns in Borderlands 2 than the original. I’m more than okay with this.

Other loot includes ways to customize your character (you can do more than simply palette swap this time!), including different heads, clothing, and miscellaneous gear. You’ll also get grenades, weapon modifications, and other secret stuff that they haven’t let slip yet.

I’m stupid excited.

The Mecromancer

Borderlands 2, liked every other game, is available for pre-order. No matter where you preorder the game, you’ll get into the Premier Club, which is just a fancy way of saying that you get some shiny golden guns, a key to unlock a special chest, and the Mechromancer class for free.

If you preorder from GameStop in the US, or GAME (does that place even exist anymore?) in the UK, you’ll get the “Creature Slaughter Dome.” I’m guessing that this is a place where you slaughter creatures. Probably for McDonald’s. Maybe you’ll get a double cheeseburger out of it.

But, wait! There’s more! Today, Gearbox announced that there would be a “season pass” for Borderlands 2, in which you can get all the downloadable content (which you’ll want to get anyway, because if the DLC in this game is anything like the last, it will add a TON of content to the game) for $30, which is ten bucks off of buying all the DLC separately. You should probably do that. Just sayin’.

Also, there are three editions of the game: the regular ($59.99), Collector’s edition ($99.99), and the Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition ($149.99). The Collector’s and Loot Chest editions come with all sorts of cool stuff. However, I’m almost sure they are mostly sold out of those. It’s okay, the regular edition will do you just fine.

Split screen and online four player co-op is back in Borderlands 2. Which is awesome, because it’s the best part of the original game. Nothing like killing baddies with your buddies.

Borderlands 2 releases on September 18th, so go get it. And hey, if you need a buddy to play with, you can send me a friend request at gamertag: Spumis.

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