What Almost Was: Video Game Burning Post-Mortem

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Jan. 12 almost was the day we took a step backward and regressed as a society.

Earlier this month, we reported on the “Violent Video Games Return Program,” an initiative started in a small Connecticut community named Southington aimed at collecting violent games, music, and movies from families. In exchange for their violent media, families would receive a $25 gift voucher intended for use on non-violent forms of entertainment.

So far, so good. I’m sure more than a couple of you would be willing to turn in some old FPS title you bought on a whim and regretted immediately after you completed its vacuous four-hour campaign. Better yet, a representative expressed that the true goal behind the drive was to open a conversation between parents and children about video games and to get parents to gain a better understanding of what their children play. Fantastic — I don’t think any sane person could argue with that objective.

But here’s where things get ugly. What fate would befall the games turned in via this program? The collected items were to be snapped, tossed into a town Dumpster, and likely incinerated. That’s right — we got ourselves a good ol’ fashioned book burnin’. Yeehaw!

Protip: when you find yourself wanting to burn something, you’re probably the bad guy. Says who? Oh, I don’t know — thousands of years of history. The Nazis did it; the Taliban did it; Joseph Stalin did it; Ivan the Terrible did it. And none of these people are known for being paragons of moral enlightenment. Hell, that last guy even has the word “Terrible” in his name.

But don’t take my word for it. Christopher J. Ferguson, one of the leading world experts on the impact of violent media on children, thinks burning games is a bad idea, as well. Ferguson calls it “classic moral panic,” a practice dating all the way back to the Greeks. When a traumatic event takes place, people tend to blame the media, even in the face of a complete lack of evidence of causation.

Fortunately, Southington called off the program a few days ago with a curious “Mission Accomplished” message. Stating that they successfully spread awareness of the issue, the organizers felt it wasn’t necessary to follow through with the actual collection and destruction of violent media. While we can all appreciate the fact that the game burning didn’t happen, I’m sure I’m not the only one left somewhat… puzzled. Something doesn’t quite add up.

Did they ever intend to destroy the games in the first place?

If they didn’t, then this was just a publicity stunt to raise awareness for an issue. Duplicitous, and an unlikely approach for a group of well-meaning members of the local Chamber of Commerce, YMCA, board of education, fire department, town officials, United Way and local clergy.

If they did, then why go to great lengths to plan and organize an event, only to call it off before it takes place? If they truly believed that this program was the optimal way to get their message across, why be satisfied with just the awareness spread in the planning stages, when the event itself would draw far more attention and further their goal?

Unless they realized in the face of public criticism that maybe, just maybe, destroying art is never the right approach. Maybe they realized that they would do more harm than good to their cause by making a martyr of video games, fueling the indignation that gamers and people in the video game industry feel whenever games are unjustly demonized and made to be the scapegoat for societal issues that have existed long before Duke Nukem and Mortal Kombat. Maybe they put down their pitchforks and listened to reason.

Art is culture. Destroying art sends a very strong message, one of censorship and oppression. Destroying violent media was not a step necessary to achieving the goals of the Return Program, and its inclusion turned what was an otherwise good idea into a Salem witch trial. Fire tends to end conversations, not start them.

On the plus side, maybe the fact that groups now want to burn video games means that they can finally be considered a legitimate form of art.

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4 Comments on What Almost Was: Video Game Burning Post-Mortem

Mich

On January 15, 2013 at 7:09 am

Hey, weren’t there some dead kids and a mentally ill guy with an automatic firearm involved in this somewhere? As usual, a tragic event has played second fiddle to political point-scoring and god-fearing bullsh*t. The victims, and society at large, deserve better than this.

gasmaskangel

On January 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

“Protip: when you find yourself wanting to burn something, you’re probably the bad guy.”

That needs to be on a tshirt or something.

Daretoask

On January 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Thank you for making the connection to the Nazi’s book burnings. Being a german, I was waiting for someone to state the obvious. Burning art for whatever (seemingly noble) reason(s) has always been a crucial point in the process of turning an open society into a closed one. Things can escalate ever so quickly if people accept monocausal explanations for multicausal problems.

R.J.

On January 16, 2013 at 2:07 am

I’m glad to hear that it was called off. The parallel to book burnings was far to obvious for this not to be disturbing to anyone that values free speech. As with any art form, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly, but none of them deserve to be destroyed just because of what they are.