Violence in Games: When the Agenda Dictates the News
What sounds like a headline that’s likely to get more attention and make a news organization more money: “Father Fails to Secure Firearms, Leaves Them for 9-Year-Old to Play With” or “Video Game to Blame for Boy Bringing Gun to School?” Clearly, it’s the latter. The former would be more accurate if all you were interested in was reporting the facts and just the facts but facts don’t make money.
And that’s the problem with coverage of recent news coverage of anything that’s even tangentially related to video games. Whether it’s a kid bringing a gun to school, a mugging in Britain or a mass shooting at a military installation, the media isn’t interested in reporting the news but in creating a story that’s much more exciting than just the facts.
If you’ve followed me over to here from my other blog, The Lowdown Blog, or started reading me from my campus radio days back in university, you might recall that I started out my media hobby (I sure can’t call it a career) as a news anchor. I’ve always had a fondness for the news and doing the news correctly.
Basically, the first lesson about actually producing a newscast I learned, apart from keep it to five minutes or less, was don’t get sued. That’s what my boss was running scared of more than anything else. Don’t do anything to get us taken off air. (Ironically, the news department was closed 15 months later.) As such, I’ve always tried to be as legitimately fair and balanced as possible when it comes to doing the news (unlike Fox News which skews right to balance for news media it perceives as being biased to the political left).
Why do I mention this now? Because I’d like to engage in a little experiment. I’m going to summarize three news stories as reported by the mainstream media then re-report them using indisputable facts and highlight the differences between reporting and reporting with an agenda.
Father: Boy was acting out zombie-slaying game Minecraft
Summary: A nine-year-old boy was brought up on weapons charges after bringing a gun, a knife and a sledge-hammer to his elementary school. The boy’s father said that his son was imitating behaviour he learned from Minecraft. He said, “They use hammers to dig and knives and guns to protect themselves from zombies.”
Just the Facts: A nine-year-old boy was brought up on weapons charges after bringing a gun, a knife and a sledge-hammer to his elementary school. The boy was charged with possession of a firearm on school grounds, possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm by a minor.
The Difference: The father just thinks that his son was acting out Minecraft. If they had done some research, the folks at WFTV (who originally reported this story though the father’s quote isn’t in the story on WFTV’s website) would have found out that there are no hammers, knives or guns in Minecraft. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the father is wrong about the contents of Minecraft and therefore is wrong about why his son brought a gun to school. Deleting one quote changes the whole narrative of that story from video games made the kid bring a gun to school to a kid brought a gun to school.
The Agenda: Violent video games are harming our children. Just like Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips, The Beatles’ music, comic books, movies, TV, rock & roll music, so on and so forth in years gone by. Whether or not the father had a motive for blaming Minecraft, the reporter or editor had a motivation for leaving that quote in the story.
Man stabbed and robbed in London of Grand Theft Auto game
Summary: A 23-year-old man was hit with a brick and stabbed before being robbed of his copy of Grand Theft Auto V. The man is in hospital in stable condition. The robber also took his mobile phone and watch.
Just the Facts: A 23-year-old man was mugged on his way home from an Asda supermarket early Tuesday morning. He hit with a brick and stabbed before he was robbed of his Asda purchases, his mobile phone and his watch.
The Difference: The official police statement said that the man had been “robbed of items he had bought from a nearby Asda supermarket, including a copy of Grand Theft Auto” along with his watch and phone. To imply that he was only mugged for a copy of the game is trying to create a story that isn’t entirely supported by the facts at hand. The man was mugged. The robbers took several things. They could have been looking for that copy of GTA5 just as much as that fancy watch or cool new smartphone.
The Agenda: Video games drive people to violent acts. It’s not just a random mugging. It’s a random mugging for a video game. Look at what video games are driving people to do. Look at how they’re eroding the very fabric of society. We can’t just worry about what people will do because of violent video games but what people will do for violent video games.
Washington navy yard gunman ‘obsessed with violent video games’
Summary: The Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis played violent video games including Call of Duty for up to 16 hours at a time and friends believe it could have pushed him towards becoming a mass murderer.
Just the Facts: Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis played video games as a hobby. He also carried a gun with him at all times because he believed that people would try to take his belongings. Apart from carrying a gun at all times, friends said that Alexis was a calm individual and very “chilled.”
The Difference: The fact that he plays video games, for long stretches at times, and that he killed seven people are not cause and effect. In fact, a note found after the publishing of this Daily Telegraph article showed that Mr. Alexis said that low-frequency radio wave transmissions drove him to commit murder. That’s not video games but mental instability that caused this shooting.
The Agenda: Clearly, the agenda is to show that his obsession with violent video games was the reason Aaron Alexis became a mass murderer. Never mind the fact that there are millions of people who play “violent” video games but aren’t murderers or that Mr. Alexis had a history of various violent and gun-related incidents or that there has been no recognized conclusive evidence that violent media causes violent behaviour. A friend who runs a Thai restaurant drew the conclusion that “games might be what pushed him that way.” No scientific evidence or other proof. Just a hypothesis.
At the end of the day, news media organizations are just businesses that are looking to make money. We like to think that they’re beholden to some moral standard that requires them to be fair and unbiased in their reporting but the popularity of the likes of Fox News and MSNBC show that there’s money to be made by pandering to a particular group.
In the case of video games, there are a lot of people who still believe that violent video games make the people who play them violent. There are just as many people who are willing to click these articles just to dive into the comments to argue for the other side. Either way, on a polarizing issue such as the effect of violent video games, you’re going to draw eyeballs which means that the news organization is making money.
Gone are the days of the legendary newsmen. The stars of the news aren’t the likes of Cronkite, Murrow, Jennings and Brokaw. The names that you can trust are Stewart and Colbert but they’re on Comedy Central. Sure, the network evening newscasts are fairly good about reporting news rather than opinion but they’re still looking for ratings. Why do you think Katie Couric was so short-lived behind the desk on CBS Evening News?
I don’t like jumped up news stories pushing an agenda and we shouldn’t have to settle for it. Unfortunately, these stories are so ubiquitous that they’re almost unavoidable. Take solace in the fact that science is on our side and that there is no proven causative link between violent media and violent behaviour. Eventually, everyone will see the truth of the matter. It might just take a while.