First Person [School] Shooter Videogames

First person shooter (FPS)  video games have been around for quite a few years. Even if you haven’t played them, you’ve probably heard about Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Call of Duty, and Halo. While the idea of putting a virtual gun in the hands of young, impressionable gamers creates angst for parents and other adults, the fact that little Johnny is killing Nazis, monsters or aliens softens some of the objections.

FPS games played in more natural settings, e.g. inner cities, elevated concerns once again and games like GTA: San Andreas led to protests and calls for greater restrictions on content and labeling.

But it took a Colorado resident who created a video game based on the Columbine High School shooting to really fire things up. Danny Ladonne made Super Columbine Massacre RPG in 2005 and a documentary about his experience a few years later.

In 2011 another video game based on Columbine was released as a modification for Half-Life 2 and received equally harsh criticism. School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 was cited in the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. The 7-2 opinion established protection for video games under the First Amendment.

Most recently, a new release slated for June 6 is renewing the controversy around FPS video games in school settings. Active Shooter is designed to give players the option of the role of S.W.A.T. team or shooter. According to a news report,

Steam said in a statement on its site that the game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any sort of a mass shooting, referring back to the phrase dynamic SWAT simulator.

However, in light of recent and strong criticism the game maker is considering removing the option to take the role as shooter.

If you believe that FPS games set in high schools is a bad idea, sign the petition at

Media Violence: Cause or Effect?

The age-old question about media content and make-believe violence comes up every time we have a horrific incident of violence in real-life. Movies, video games, and now fully-immersive VR are the focus when well-meaning crusaders attempting to explain, or reduce, violence and mayhem in our schools and streets.

An editorial by Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and a professor in the Department of Communication, asks serious questions about modern mass media and its consequences. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time before continuing with this blog post.

I just had a Facebook “discussion” with a colleague who is a Clinical Psychologist and his take is that the research connecting social learning theory with violent media exposure fails to draw a direct cause-and-effect line between the two. But I would like to suggest that this failure to provide significant research findings is more about the limitations of our research methodology and ethical restraints imposed on experiments with human subjects than it is about real effects. The fact that the military uses video games and VR to train soldiers is important, and it suggests that there is evidence that the newest technologies in video gaming and VR can make players more effective shooters/killers in real life.

Fully immersive VR with input control devices that mimic real weapons, and simulated virtual environments that can map the game onto real (not virtual) physical spaces (e.g. a 3-D simulation of a high school) could be a deadly combination.

If we’re serious about taking away “assault” weapons we might also consider taking away “assault” media. Or perhaps, as Bailenson suggests, video game companies should follow the lead of major retailers who are pulling certain products and increasing the age requirements for purchasing. Software manufacturers could avoid regulatory oversight by imposing their own restraints on what they make available on the open market. But I wouldn’t suggest holding your breath.


Over at Vox, Ezra Klein has written an interesting, 25-paragraph essay Gamergate and the Politicization of Absolutely Everything. For those who have not been introduced to the raging debate swirling around the video game industry, gamergate is a controversy that touches on many of the media topics and themes that we’ve been addressing this semester: media effects and concerns related to sexual and violent content, politically incorrect stereotypes, censorship, and journalistic ethics just to name a few. Here’s Gawker‘s attempt to explain what all the fuss is about. Want more?  Here’s a great article by Erik Kain at Forbes.

Klein’s thesis is premised on the idea that everything has been politicized in the extreme. The gamergate battle lines have been drawn between waring factions. On one side the “young, white, male” demo (that has historically been at the core of the gamer community) and on the other side, feminists (more here). It’s hard to ignore the fact that real differences exist between gamers who like to blow things up and those who like to build things together. And finally, differences exist between those who feel marginalized by the present systems and,…well…those who feel marginalized by the present system. In fact the entire controversy has something to offend nearly everyone. It’s as though the controversy is a kind of ink blot test on which we are invited to project our own worldview and moral objections. As Klein notes, “Video games are the excuse for this fight, not the cause of it.” For those with political biases on the left, it’s about “sexism and online harassment,” but for those on the right it’s about “political correctness and speech policing.”

Klein’s essay ends on a cautionary note that predicts other battles, like gamergate, but with even greater consequences. As the culture wars escalate and battles lines are drawn, the battlefield itself will be the online space where digital avatars battle to the death over controversies large and small. Thankfully, digital wars are not nearly as painful as analog wars. After all, when your digital self is mortally wounded or killed a quick reboot is all that’s needed to get back in the fight.

Virtual Tragedy

The growth of online gaming and virtual reality technology has exploded around the world, but perhaps nowhere more dramatically than in the nation of South Korea. With some of the fastest internet connectivity and a cultural tendency towards all things high-tech, Koreans are experiencing internet addiction at unusually high rates.

Case in point is the tragic story of a young couple who allowed their infant daughter to starve to death while they played an online game in which they raised a virtual child. The irony is striking. Last night HBO aired a documentary, Love Child, which told the tragic story as a cautionary tale to those who are too easily distracted by virtual worlds. Here’s the trailer.

The parents were charged with a lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter because of the nature of their “addiction” and the father served one year in jail. They’ve since had another baby and we can only hope that this outcome will be different.

While this is an extreme example of internet addiction and its horrific outcome, milder forms of the ailment may be present closer to home. If you’re wondering if you suffer from net addiction, you can take this self-guided quiz.


Violence and Media

Correlation does not prove causation. That is research-speak that calls into question the claim that watching violent movies or playing violent video games makes the player a more violent person. But despite the difficulty of finding causal links, the events at Newtown and other  scenes of gun violence will likely increase  funding for research that attempts to uncover connections between violent media consumption and violent behavior.

Here’s a video clip that frames the issue…

Even though most gun deaths are suicides and gang-related shootings, it is the mass shootings, such as the ones in Aurora and Newtown, that focus the public’s attention on violent video games and movies.

However, despite concerns about the media’s contribution to gun violence, most of the response from politicians has focused on certain types of guns and large-capacity magazines…much to the chagrin of 2nd Amendment absolutists. There are several reasons that may explain this. The first is because the media-violence link is still not conclusive in the minds of many researchers. And the other reason is something called the 1st Amendment and Freedom of Speech. Attempts to limit speech (content of TV, movies and video games) results in some pretty difficult legal challenges. Even before you consider the competing interests of the 1st and 2nd Amendments this is a difficult issue.