I was going to start a series of articles about Fallout 3 this week, but then the National Rifle Association actually gave me cause to go after it. You see, a few weeks ago the NRA revived the incredibly old argument about violence in video games being to blame for all the ills of our society. This argument has been around for almost as long as we have had video games. The first great milestone in the constant fight came in 1992 when Mortal Kombat was released and brought the debate into the spotlight as politicians, church leaders, activists and many other concerned citizens were suddenly appalled at digital sprites ripping each other’s limbs off.
Now, I’m going to try and stay focused on one particular issue, because treading into this topic is like a swamp. There is a ton of ground to cover and it’s easy to get lost. On Sunday, the NRA released a video game for the Ipad called Practice Range. The game is essentially free, but offers a few downloads that cost money. Practice Range has three courses of targets and a variety of guns to choose from. You shoot the targets. It’s pretty basic. It’s actually kind of a poor game as the controls are inaccurate and I had the best results while standing and spinning in a slow circle. A few details to understand is that on the pistol course you shoot at person-shaped targets and on one outdoor course you shoot the M16, AK47 and Dragunov rifles. And yes, the M16 is labeled M16, not AR-15, the civilian equivalent that was used last month in the Sandy Hook shooting.
If this game had come out a few months ago it would have passed without a thought, but it came out just a few weeks after the NRA tried to push blame for the recent shootings onto video games, movies, TV, music and whatever other things NRA Executive President Wayne LaPierre thinks are turning people into killers, let’s go with atheists. At a December 21 press conference specifically addressing the tragedy at Sandy Hook he said, “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’”
Now comes my personal disclaimer. I love guns. I’m from Dodge City, Kansas and growing up in the Wild West my heroes were Wyatt Earp and Batt Masterson. I actually have a distant relation who was killed in a gunfight with Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. If you’re going to try to shoot somebody like Wyatt Earp in the back, you had better kill him with one shot. But despite all the Gunsmoke and Rifleman I watched as a kid, I do not like the NRA. That does not mean I don’t like NRA members. I get along wonderfully with most NRA members. My favorite gun is the Colt 1911 and I firmly believe that the pistol was retired from military service unnecessarily and would have been more than capable of a full century of service and I’m almost certain that after one or two beers you would agree with me.
Anyway, one of the greatest tactics that the NRA employs is misdirection. By introducing into the discussion about gun violence things like video games, movies, music, atheists and robots it causes people to look at other things to blame for tragedy. It gets journalists to broaden their discussion and go chasing after red-herrings. Thirty minute segments about gun violence get watered down to include a discussion about violence in video games. The NRA throws these out because some people will believe them. Some people will conduct door-to-door searches for violent video games and those idiotic events will get covered. The NRA has money, power and thousands of paying members and getting everyone worried about a 20-year-old video game is easy and it serves their purpose. The NRA’s game Practice Range is indicative of their hypocrisy. Video games are violent, but not ours. Our guns don’t kill people, other people’s guns kill people.
The difference is that I’m willing to admit that video games and other forms of entertainment are violent, but entertainment and media don’t actually kill people. Guns actually kill people and taking steps to make the country safer isn’t the same thing as abolishing the Second Amendment. LaPierre is so focused on his Second Amendment rights that he’s pushing to curtail First Amendment rights.
Don’t let the NRA distract you and don’t let them push you into defending video games, movies, music, comic books, atheists, transformers or hobbits. There is a very real, very practical discussion to be had about gun violence and while games like Practice Range distract us, they also highlight the fact that the NRA isn’t serious about what they say and we, as a country, are going to have this discussion whether they participate or not.
Dan Hoyt has been an avid gamer his entire life. When he’s not playing games, he’s working out by walking his dog, hiking and doing martial arts. He likes to try new kinds of alcohol and discuss politics. He’s a graduate of The University of Kansas and has spent years as a journalist.