Games and Guns: A Game Bias Special Report

by Jed Pressgrove

Here at Game Bias, we take games, as well as biases, very seriously. Not to be outdone by U.S. President Donald Trump, we also take the association between games, guns, and real-life violence very seriously, despite the fact that Trump seemingly took those things very seriously first, well before the publication of this article.

People might look to 90-second videos and scientific studies for guidance on the connection between games and guns, and that’s fine. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people or even incredibly stupid people. It just means they’re people without firsthand knowledge of how games and guns can spontaneously intersect.

Lucky lucky you, I happen to have such knowledge to share. It’s time for you to listen to me.

Last year I had an accident. I stepped on my PlayStation 4 controller, rendering it inoperable in key ways. To make matters worse, I was in the middle of playing a game for a review that was near deadline, so I had to shell out $60 for another PlayStation 4 controller right then and there.

Not a happy occasion, as you can imagine. I hated the fact that Sony would make such a sensitive controller, and I hated the fact that Sony would sell extra controllers for $60. Additionally, I hated the fact that I hated these facts, as the hatred ended up making me fairly bitter about the whole situation.

I did the only thing I knew that could make me feel better: I went back to the woods where I grew up to fire holes in the broken PlayStation 4 controller with my Ruger .357 revolver. Here is select documentation of that cathartic event, starting with the controller’s placement into a gap of a dead tree:






As you can see, when games and guns collide, you can have one helluva mess.

Game Criticism as Bellyaching

by Jed Pressgrove

What is criticism? Every video game critic and reader should answer this question and then be on the lookout for posers. At the risk of oversimplification, criticism is sharing reactions to something without sounding like a commercial. But when criticism is based on personal thoughts that contradict what we can clearly observe, it fails. This kind of criticism, this bellyaching, might resonate with a lot of people, but it doesn’t illuminate anything — it merely clouds the truth.

Stephen Totilo demonstrates bellyaching in “The Disappointment of Video Game Guns.” Totilo is indeed honest about his personal disappointment with the use of guns in Watch Dogs, but his expression of disappointment is not criticism because it denies several realities. The trouble starts in the third paragraph: “For better or worse, shooting a gun in a game is still the purest—and easiest—way to feel that a video game is interactive. The people who make games know this. They’ve known this since before Space Invaders.”

Reality 1: Not all gamers feel shooting a gun is the “purest” and “easiest” way to interact in a video game.

Reality 2: Not everyone who makes games believes this.

Reality 3: Space Invaders and other early shooters don’t prove Totilo’s point (in fact, Space Invaders is about defending earth from aliens and getting a high score, not “shooting a gun”).

The article then describes how a gun in a game usually means the game will have a lot of shooting (indeed, many games are designed to be shooters or violent crime simulations). Totilo decries the “kill-or-be-killed hostility” that guns in games bring with them. At some point, one might imagine Totilo making a truly provocative statement, but later he concedes “I’ve already played and enjoyed that [‘a Grand Theft Auto of guns’].” Totilo’s complicity with gun violence is simple: he doesn’t have much of a conviction about guns or violence in the first place. He simply doesn’t want Watch Dogs to have more shooting than hacking, and he is criticizing a game that he hasn’t played for this potential imbalance. Remember, no one quite knows what Watch Dogs will be. It’s not a sequel in a long-running series like Grand Theft Auto that thrives on giving gamers what they’re used to. Watch Dogs is a new unreleased game, but Totilo is already disappointed in it.

To be fair, many of us (gamers and critics) have reactions similar to Totilo’s. We are all capable of irrational disappointment, especially if we’re already excited. But game writers have turned normal human reactions into a new low for criticism. Consider that it is not unusual for random unreleased games to be criticized for lacking female protagonists as other games are praised despite a lack of diversity. How is this criticism? It resembles exhaustion. More and more, game critics are expecting developers to create games specifically for them, with no room for negotiation. (Gamer entitlement? How about critic entitlement?)

One can see why some game developers hate the press — real criticism is about reactions, not demands. What makes this bellyaching very troubling is that many critics don’t bother providing hope to the reader. Above and below Totilo’s text is the same picture of a man pointing a gun, a tautological trap. The irony is that game critics are often pointing water pistols.