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Sometimes, despite being a member of one of the most lucrative new industries in the world, I still feel like a member of a secret society, or, indeed, an underground movement. The evidence for the power and potential of videogames is around me every day, and yet in the mainstream media sphere I hear nothing but cries of the impending apocalypse through youth violence and the downfall of modern society via videogames.
The Virginia Tech shooting, in addition to being a tragedy that impacted close friends and the videogame community directly, provided a chilling Twilight Zone moment; rather than speculating on Cho Seung-Hui's many psychological troubles, before his name was even released, media commentators were buzzing about videogames. They were judge, jury and executioner on the dangers of videogames to college-aged youth - and when the truth came out that Seung-Hui didn't even own a single game, it all vanished like morning fog; no one spoke of it again. Not of the mistake. Not of the poisonous misconception. Not of the hypocrisy. No one apologized.
For a nation drenched in grief this was not surprising - we had other things on our minds. But as the events cooled, those moments of madness stuck with me.
Youth violence experts track a number of correlating factors in rampage shooters. Distance from peers, suicidal depression, fixation on news reports of real-world homicide. Only with Columbine did the videogame issue arise, even though, like 16 other shooters studied by Dr. James McGee for his landmark work "The Classroom Avenger" (PDF), they showed textbook signs in every other dimension of teenage vengeance shooter behavior. And now with Robert Hawkins, in another time of shock and grief, they are already at it again.
This is a very real quality of life issue. It is a quality of life issue that I exist in a world where my profession is slandered every day in the mainstream media, where parents have to duck their heads out of admitting that they work on games, where we all have to live with the bizarre internal contradiction that Halo is fun and CSI is appalling, but one is the target of attempted censorship and the other is one of the most-watched television shows in America. Videogames have a massive public relations problem that really hasn't been addressed, can't be addressed, by those who stand to profit directly through game sales - the media too quickly calls their motives under question. It must be fought from the ground, by the gamers and for the gamers. I'm talking to all of you.
Others, even here at The Escapist, have argued in favor of awareness of these issues and offered a variety of solutions for them. But this month I am looking at the game censorship debate and offering, for your approval, the argument for why it is critically important that we initiate a positive, rational videogame PR movement, and why there is no better time than right now.
Here's how we do it.
The Voices of Reason
There are voices of reason on our side, and we need to support them more. One of them, Dr. Helen Smith, referenced in Gerard Jones's Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super-Heroes, and Make Believe Violence - which is an absolute must-read for anyone who cares about videogames, and I do in dead seriousness want all of you to go out and buy it right now - keeps a blog where she discusses real work on fighting and understanding youth violence. We need to be talking more about Helen Smith and less about Jack Thompson.
Some of the heroes come from within the cultural analysts, and they've been doing fantastic work for a good long time. James Paul Gee has been fighting for us for a long time, and he thought he was just furthering education! Jones references Gee - as most media culture analysts looking for a game scholar do - heavily, and we all should as well.