Below we see the introduction of “Game Theory” in the New York Times, a series primarily devoted to what games its reviewers like for their entertainment value. But the first “edition” of Game Theory ventures into the emotion-laden topic of game violence. Notable in the article, as in almost all of the discourse on media violence, is the absence of any empirical evidence to support alarmist arguments that young imitate in real-life what they play on their computers.
“Welcome to the first edition of Game Theory, a conversation about the year in video games. Some introductions for the uninitiated: Stephen Totilo is the editor in chief of the gaming news site Kotaku.com, and he also writes about video games for The New York Times; Kirk Hamilton is the features editor at Kotaku; and I’m the deputy editor of Yahoo News, and a writer of video game reviews for The Times. The three of us will be bickering — I mean, coming to a friendly consensus — about the year’s best games, the year’s worst games and about what 2012 indicated about the state and future of this creative medium.
We’ll be joined here and on the ArtsBeat blog by some distinguished guests: Rich Moore, the director of “Wreck-It Ralph,” by my lights the finest movie about video games ever made; Lucy Prebble, the British playwright of “Enron” and “The Effect,” now onstage in London; Gavin Purcell, the supervising producer of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” probably the most prominent place in pop culture that evinces an interest in new games and their creators; Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of The New Statesman, a British current-affairs magazine; and Jenn Frank, whose essay at Unwinnable.com (“Allow Natural Death”) about her mother, video games and death might have been the most widely circulated piece of online writing about games this year, as measured by cursory glances at my Twitter feed.
It’s hard to talk about video games and 2012 without addressing the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the inevitable debate over violent games that emerged from the entirely predictable discovery that Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman, played Call of Duty games. (Perhaps he also ate Big Macs; he’s in that core demographic too.) There’s no evidence that video games cause — or even correlate with — violence, and that can’t be stated often enough. And one of the most pleasurable aspects of playing in 2012 was how many tremendous games had nothing to do with shooting people in the face.
But I do think gamers are overly defensive about the news media’s focus on video game violence. Video games, or at least some of them, are horrifically violent. Tom Bissell, writing for Grantland this year, phrased it this way: “Why do gamers want their puzzles to bleed and scream?” It’s worth at least engaging with the question.