The Soapbox: Six responses to the ‘gaming is wrong/evil/an addiction’ argument

I recently went on a rant about gaming, but it wasn’t directed at gaming. It was in defense of gaming. I am so weary of our pastime getting slammed as wrong, evil, or equated as an automatic addiction. Games are bad! Gamers are bad! It is what the mainstream media portrays, it’s what politicians portray, and it is what those with an agenda want John Q. Public to believe. I have been seeing this media-fueled fallacy more and more often coming from good people and it drives me bonkers.

So after a slew of comments of that sort happened in a very diverse group I am a part of, I felt I needed to educate some of these otherwise wonderful folks about the topic. While I have no desire to tell folks what they can or can’t do in their own home or when raising their family, I really wish people would stop vilifying video games and gamers. I feel it is important to combat misinformation that leads to misjudgment.

It struck me how often we as gamers need to have this conversation, so I adjusted those thoughts to compile some points we can all share share during our inevitable discussions on gaming. One key point I kept in mind: As frustrated as I was/am about the misjudging, and as much as I want to beat that misconception down into dust, I don’t want to attack the people. I get that it is hard not to feel defensive when gaming is attacked. I mean, this is my life — my entertainment, my job, and often my family time. But getting defensive and making others defensive doesn’t help, so I am going into this with a focus on enlightening rather than arguing. And I am happy to say that so far, decent conversation has come out of it. I am keeping these talking points on hand to assist next time I am faced with these misconceptions! Please feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences to the list.

1. There is more to gaming than shooters

Before delving into other points, I realized I had to actually define video games to my audience. Many folks not savvy in the world of video games don’t actually know what all that encompasses (even when family members play them!). In large part thanks to the media-fueled frenzy, many have this vision that video games are all violent first-person shooters with players dashing around blowing others’ virtual heads off. While yes, there are shooters (and they are not inherently bad, either!), there is a multitude of other games out there. There is more to gaming than Call of Duty. This point may seem pretty obvious to us as MMO fans, but you might be surprised how many in the general population don’t realize this.

What kinds of games are out there? Give folks an idea. We’ve got a handy link to list off a few hundred examples in our coverage alone. There are building games, historical games, puzzle games, suspense games, social games, Facebook games (I can’t believe how many didn’t count this as gaming), and cooperative games. Games come in all sorts of flavors from realistic to anime, fantasy to sci-fi, pirate to ninja. Games can be cooperative or competitive. They can be geared toward kids or very adult-themed. Games can be massively multiplayer or single-player. Video games have spanned from Pong to Atari to to consoles to PCs. There’s a chance those who are judgmental toward gamers have actually played a game themselves.

2. Gaming does not equal addiction

Having a degree in psychology and having worked in counseling and social work for many years, I find that the comment that gaming is an automatic addiction bothers me the most. I have worked with serious addictions; equating gaming to addiction makes light of a severe affliction. Just doing something does not make it an addiction. Doing it often does not even make it an addiction. Would you say knitting often is automatically an addiction? What about watching sports? Netflix?

An addiction is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) to the point that it takes over their life. We know that addictive behaviors go farther than just substances and include other behaviors. The American Society of Addiction Medicine emphasizes that is addiction is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. It is an impairment in behavior control and a craving; addicts simply cannot abstain, such that everyday life activities and interpersonal relationships are adversely affected.

Can there be folks who are addicted to gaming? Of course. We do not discount that. But addictions can be everywhere: I’ve worked with people who are addicted to other activities to the point that it was interfering with and destroying their lives! Even good things that take over your life to the exclusion of all else becomes bad. For the most part, however, gaming is simply another form of entertainment. Which leads us to…

3. Gaming is entertainment

I admit I didn’t play many video games growing up (I still have my Atari 2600, though, and I totally miss my stolen Super Pong console), likely because we were too poor. I was way more into books and sports — and I still am into those, by the way. I got into tabletop gaming in college (no, D&D is not evil either!), and got into computer games after I left school and had a family. I’ve played games with my kids as they have grown up. When folks I meet in person voice the gaming misconception, I stop and ask them whether they think my family is evil – whether we are maladjusted miscreants doomed to be failures in life. Folks seem genuinely surprised when I point out how involved in gaming we are. Sure we have our issues, but we try to be decent people, serving and loving others, and supporting our church and community. We just happen to also play games in our spare time. Lots of others choose this recreation as well, including teachers, firefighters, doctors, civil servants, tradesmen, and pretty much any other occupation you can think of. I’ve even gamed with a number of retirees!

The point is that gaming is just another form of entertainment. In my house it is one of our preferred forms. And there are innumerable amazing, wonderful folks out there who pick it as well. Gaming is right in the ranks of watching movies, Pinterest, crossword puzzles, watching sports, binging Netflix, reading, playing cards or board games, building models, knitting or crocheting, making crafts, playing bingo… and so on and so forth. The list is pretty extensive; there are many forms of entertainment, and gaming is just one of them. Why should those pastimes be OK and gaming not be? Some people want to spend their money at the movies, others want to buy a game. Some do both. And that’s all great!

And guess what? Gaming isn’t just mindless entertainment, either. It can be very beneficial.

4. Games build skills

Some people mistakenly think that gaming is a complete waste of time and brain matter. While any activity can be a waste of time if it should be spent elsewhere (excessive Facebook, anyone?), gaming has many positive qualities. In fact, it builds skills that are applicable in everyday life. Gaming is even used therapeutically.

What skills can gaming develop? Here are a few examples that are not just random anecdotes but actual experiences I have had through my work in psychology, social work, and gaming:

  • Many games can foster reading through the quest lines.
  • Gaming can encourage creativity through roleplay, art, and writing.
  • Console games especially help build hand-eye coordination.
  • Puzzle games help increase critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • MMOs especially can lead to learning social cues.
  • Multiplayer games offer an arena to practice behaviors like compromise and cooperation.
  • Folks can also develop leadership and organizational skills.

Therapeutically, games can be very beneficial, both physically (such as helping recover after a stroke) or emotionally. As a 2010 article published by the American Psychological Association noted,

It can help young patients especially become more cooperative and enthusiastic about psychotherapy. Recent experience suggests that video games may facilitate therapeutic relationships, complement the psychological assessment of youth by evaluating cognitive skills, and elaborate and clarify conflicts during the therapy process.

Additionally, games can help those with grief. I recently spoke with a mom who was concerned of addiction when her newly adult son just started spending so much time in a video game. It turns out there was major upheaval in his life, and his delve into the game was just a coping mechanism. Does this make it an addiction? No. Gaming can offer a temporary escape (just like books or movies can) to give people time to process feelings. Games, however, have the added benefit of giving players more control of their virtual surroundings and providing the feeling of being in charge of your destiny, things that can be missing in the real world.

As mentioned above, gaming also offers opportunities for those who have difficulty in social situations, such as those with anxiety, autism, or other disabilities. It gives them a community to be a part of.

5. Gaming fosters community

One stereotype we all have heard is that gamers are loners, avoiding life and hiding away in a basement — with our without Cheetos dust smeared on our clothes. I am the first to admit that there can be bad in games, especially some toxicity and bad folks. But you can find bad people and toxicity anywhere. I had to deal with plenty in-person working in social work — and that also comes from co-workers! You can’t blame the medium for the bad apples involved with it. Unfortunately, this is all that gets splashed on the screen through media.

Many people seem to not realize that gaming can be a cure for isolation by fostering community. And this community can seriously rock. Besides being a place folks can learn social skills, it is also a place giving folks a social connection they might not otherwise get. This includes those who are disabled, have anxiety issues, are acutely shy or introverted, etc. A gaming community was actually a social lifesaver when I was newly moved across the US and became seriously ill and housebound; I had little interaction outside of my family except for one game community for a year. I could never have coped with the isolation, so when I say it was a lifesaver, I felt it truly was.

Gaming communities have been lifesavers in other very literal ways across the world. We are talking about players taking action when fellow gamers are in need. From multiple cases of gamers stepping in to help when gamers are suicidal to reporting a fire to alerting authorities to home invasions to kids recognizing the dangers of grenades, gamers are saving the lives of other gamers. I’ve been there when people jump to the aid of those struggling, grieving, or ill and in need of assistance. This community rallies around members, giving support in many ways, including emotional, physical, and financial. Fellow gamers come forward and return lost money. They build memorials in games to honor those who are lost as well as raise money for those in need.

6. Gamers engage in charity work

The stigma that gamers are bad just needs to be wiped off the face of this planet. Gamers are just regular people. No, scratch that: They can be totally awesome amazing people! Mainstream media seems only interested in sharing news about anything bad that happens related to gaming, like swatting deaths. But video game players can be such a force for good. I am not going to recite every case here, but here are just a few highlights.

I’ve seen huge blocks of gamers do amazing charity work and service. There are regular streaming events on Twitch done raising hundreds of thousands for many charities, often focused on children. Gamers and studios band together to raise money and gather tons of supplies for relief for natural disasters. There are conservation efforts for our military history. Communities come together to donate blood. Multiple game studios launch various charity initiatives. GoFundMes crop up often and meet goals to help gamers and families in need. On a micro level and a macro one, gaming and gamers are making a positive difference in the world. Have people heard about all of it? Probably not, since it goes under the radar and isn’t reported by mainstream media. No, that would ruin the gaming is evil image. But it is out there, and happening. If you want a large selection of these feel good stories to share with others and show, here you go!

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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Aaron Weddle

MJ your an Awesome person i’ve actually ran into instances in public where i’m wearing a gaming related shirt or something and people look at me like i’m sick or will infect them

Estranged
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Kickstarter Donor
Estranged

Thanks for all the responses below, can’t respond to them all today.

Yes, I do believe addiction is part of a larger psychological problem. Unfortunately though, a substance like meth can change our brains permanently.

Reader
Carl Robert

Thanks for writing this. I’ve always thought that the misconception all started because of the subset of games that are designed to be addictive and prey on addictive personalities. It’s sort of created a stereotype that’s applied to gamers more broadly :(

Estranged
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Kickstarter Donor
Estranged

Do lootboxes (purchased with real life cash) and RNG gear take advantage of people with addictive personalities? This website takes a considerable amount of time and space discussing “gambleboxes”…

How about the whole concept of time sinks to hold customers playing and paying?

Games don’t cause addiction, like guns don’t kill people?

It’s difficult to look at a hobby objectively. Doesn’t matter if you are into gaming or the gun range. Typical of me, I’ll post a counter viewpoint.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/the-drug-like-effect-of-screen-time-on-the-teenage-brain

“DR. DELANEY RUSTON:

I mean, it’s amazing that there’s many studies that look at MRI scans of the brain of kids who play a lot of video games, 20 hours or more of video games a week. And when they compare them to people who are addicted to, say, drugs or alcohol, their brains scans are similar.

So, something is really happening on a physiological level. It’s not just psychological.

Well, I think one thing that really helped me to start to be a better parent around this is to learn that the dopamine that’s secreted in the brain’s pleasure center when we get new bits of information and we look at the screens, that center of the brain is most activated when we’re kids and we’re teenagers.

So, knowing that they are so pulled into these in a way that we can’t even understand has made me not be as angry at them, but realize there’s a lot more I need to do as — in my parenting.”

I have an issue, fully admitted.

There nothing else in my life that sings the song of “feed me” like gaming and online communication/services. It ranks higher than food, alcohol and drugs. Sex? Who knows?

Like was mentioned in the article… the human brain craves information and there is no faster method.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

We’ve actually covered some of what you’re asking before: http://massivelyop.com/2017/12/28/gaming-addiction-may-become-a-thing/

Anything can be addictive, even things that are normally good for you. It’s why we generally have articles that do support the idea that YES, loot boxes are gambling and take advantage of people.

However, I don’t think any serious professional would say that games cause addiction. Other professionals have noted that the same areas of the brain that was scanned would also be triggered by, say, getting good grades or eating chocolate. It’s a few factors, like personality type. I quit WoW cold turkey but knew plenty of people who kept playing it even when they claimed they hated it but still “needed” to do dailies and raids.

If you have an issue, fine. Good on you for understanding that. But as a fellow human being, be sure to understand why you have that issue. I don’t drink alcohol often because I drink anything when I’m nervous. I have weight problems, social issues, and don’t make a lot of money. Drinking alcohol clearly can be a problem me , but I’ll have a drink or two every once in awhile when I feel I have control over my issues.

Maybe someone is shy, a perfectionist, and gets easily distracted. Online games might be a big problem for someone like that. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the games, it’s just that that person needs to get control of the factors that can make those games a problem for them. Their problem can’t affect other people around them in the same way a knife can, let alone a gun, so that argument is probably a bit dramatic ;P

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Atryue

“Maybe someone is shy, a perfectionist, and gets easily distracted. Online games might be a big problem for someone like that. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the games, it’s just that that person needs to get control of the factors that can make those games a problem for them.”

This was a big factor with my gaming problem when I was younger. I had no self esteem. I had an inferiority complex. I wasn’t widely accepted in social circles. I was smart but not very strong. With games, I felt like I could be more than I thought I was. Games would tell me that I was strong, that I had friends, and that I could be a hero and make a difference. Games gave a sort of purpose and meaning to my life. So you see, there is a big draw (validation) for someone who feels small and left behind.

How do we treat the underlying issues instead of the symptoms?

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

Therapy helps a lot of people. Change your mind, change your habits.

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Bruno Brito

Sugar rush is extremely similar to cocaine.

Honestly, this is a extremely long debacle, and here’s how it works for me: Almost everybody who plays more than 2h is addicted. But so is everyone else in the world with something. If your addiction gives you joy, doesn’t sap your strength, makes you meet new people, and keeps you away from trouble, go for it. Do you function as a society member? Then indulge away.

sauldo
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sauldo

Two hours a day? A week? A month? The two-hours threshold does seem to be a little arbitrary. Notwithstanding the possible physiological implications raised by Estranged’s post, I see a video game addiction as a question of habit vs. opportunity. Can’t you pass a day without playing video game? Are you craving for more when not playing? When offered equal opportunities between playing a video game or attending an entertaining social event, do you choose more often the first over the latter? Then there are chances that you are addicted (well, at least I know I probably am).

The thing is, I don’t think that this is inherently a bad thing. Most prominent human accomplishments are often the product of passionate and obsessive minds focused on realizing one goal. In a sense, it is a form of escapism not that different from what people are looking for in video games.

The main difference I think – and what might explain to some extent the flak that video games are receiving from the mass media – is that they are a leisure. And as all leisure, video games are at their core unproductive. Not to say that the medium cannot lead to something productive – like stimulating the imagination of its players or favoring social exchanges like MMO’s do – but a game is first and foremost, more than a hobby, a pass-time.

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David Goodman

No, gaming does not ’cause’ addition; addiction can take the form of gaming – gaming can be an outlet for addition. Anything that generates dopamine does this. If I didn’t have gaming in my life, it would have been something else. My childhood was rough – trust me on this, I would have found something else.

At best, I might agree that gaming is “easier” to become addicted to because it ISN’T drugs and it’s NOT alcohol, so it’s easier to justify it as “an innocent addition”. But the issue wasn’t the game. It was never the game, and it’s never going to be the game.

And there’s far, far more that goes on in a person’s life than JUST gaming; you have to take outside factors into consideration, and it doesn’t look like that article tried to do that.

Plus, I would never trust an article that phrased itself as “The drug-like effect…” — the language itself is already prejudicing itself against the thing it seeks to study. With a title like that, you can imagine that the author had an idea first that they wanted to prove, and then looked for everything that supported the claim.

That, and PBS.ORG is not a medical or research organization. It’s a broadcasting company.

Estranged
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Kickstarter Donor
Estranged

David, the only way we generally learn about research is via a news story. Researchers aren’t so great at showing us their work.

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Jon Wax

dopamine burnout is real

and brutal

Reader
Utakata

I am the same with you on #2. And I come from the harm reduction side of things. So to equate gaming “addiction” with actual addiction is really disheartening to hear (as well as being false). As well it seems to trivializes those struggle with very real addictions, IMO. Glad you made this point.

Thank you. /bows

possum440 .
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possum440 .

((Deleted by mod. Please review the commenting code.))

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Utakata

So…err…what games do you play, if any? (From the sounds of it you avoid them the way I avoid Air Supply tunes. But since you are posting this on a pro-gaming site, you’ve got the curiosity of my pigtails. o.O )

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Jon Wax

hey man…

you dissin The Supply?

Reader
Utakata

:(

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

Look through our “For Science” tag. We’ve discussed that video games can teach violence, can lead to loneliness, and can even threaten social development. The counter point MJ is making is that for all of those, good games can also enhance those: games can teach morality, can connect people, and can help social development. No tool is perfect, but demonizing “new” tech is an old problem.

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Bruno Brito

long counter rant

And like that, you lost me.

Whatever dark negative counterpoint you have, for sure you’ll attempt to fit into your dark negative outlook on stuff. Boohoo.

it’s your dime, however. Spend it as you see fit.

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Toy Clown

I hid computer gaming from my family because my mother thought I was an addict, and my brother withheld my financial school support doled out by my grandmother’s will until I “gave it up” — even though I kept my grades high, had a social life and worked. I know my mother picked that crap up from live talk shows — which was her addiction!

I was resentful as hell because gaming was my stress relief and gave me the ability to shut off. In a lot of ways, I think it saved my sanity. That incident is what propelled me to move out and get my own apartment. Even after, I still hid my computer away in my bedroom and kept the door shut so my family couldn’t see it.

Skip ahead quite a few years and I don’t hide my gaming anymore, but old habits die hard and my computer stays in my bedroom, so it’s only a door shut away from prying eyes. Except for the maintenance man. He saw my set-up when he came to check the air con filters last summer and went, “Wow, cool! What sort of games do you play?”

I like connecting with gamers in the real world.

Reader
Bruno Brito

I have a saying:

“If families were any good, they wouldn’t come for free.”

CapnLan
Reader
CapnLan

My family wasn’t quite as severe but I got a good amount of that myself. I remember my dad always commenting about “goddamn thousand dollar sonic hedgehog” because computers were for “learning the future” and not playing games. Don’t ask me what that means because I never figured out what he meant.

Fortunately I was able to convert my parents eventually so it all worked out. Now they send me all kinds of games and gaming peripherals so it’s all fun now, but I feel ya.

Veldan
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Patreon Donor
Veldan

My mum always acted like gaming was a terrible thing. Since my dad played video games too he couldn’t really forbid them, so I ended up being allowed to play 1 hour a day (which I always did, and tried to get some more in). However, the effect was that my mum managed to make me feel guilty about the only thing in life that gave me joy during the tough days of school bullying, which was totally unnecessary and only made a kid that already felt bad about life feel worse.

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Jon Wax

same tempo, different beat.

this happens every few years or so. things go bad and folks blame societal decay then try to find its source. games, metal, rap, drugs, whatever…

i find some of the points above kinda ironic: fostering community is arguable. on console there was for a while, a healthy number of clans playing team based games. that all got ground out once the mainstreaming of gaming started. the teams were beating the brakes off the new comers so the teams were slowly segregated off and basically given nothing to do. it happened in enough games that the community eventually just dissolved. you guys just did an article about your dislike for whales, the very people that provide the funds to keep the infrastructure going. no need to dissect PvP. so, yeah, i dunno, seems more cliquey then community.

id agree that yeah games “could” lead to skill building, but again, the watering down of gaming has lead to the exact opposite: there is very little innovation in thought and the tendency toward glitching or cheating seems ever expanding. the folks managing large numbers of players in tactical situations has diminished. the skills being learned today are the meta opposite of the ones useful in life.

it borders on entertainment. very hard to find just the right mix of mechanics, environment, playerbase and attitude. at any given point, one of those things is gimping the rest and things are never as good as they could be. star citizen, will probably never be able to create the depth that people want. it’s just not physically possible to code the level of detail into a world that people want. if they get what they want, the depth will cause the game to feel like work. hopefully red dead will bring it back to what makes gaming fun again. watch the “survival games 2018-2019” on youtube and just fast forward: same game, same game, same game… hack tree, break rock, stab animal, kos. no wonder folks don’t learn new skills.

but in the end, this is just the same old mass panic that occured in the 80s with dnd and rap. same tempo, different beat.

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Atryue

I’m still waiting for the day when gaming becomes socially acceptable in mainstream media and loses the stigmas and stereotypes which have plagued my favorite past-time. In the meantime, however, I’ll continue to show people that “gamers” are everyday people.

In spite of the few instances of bad press, I consider Pokemon Go to be big win towards social awareness and acceptance. For a brief few weeks, it was “cool” to openly walk the streets and play a video game.

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Jon Wax

yeah thats already happened. esports. once they shoved money into it, it stopped being a game and became a sport. that’s mainstreaming.

candycrush has 2 old women in a waiting room talking about playing video games. that’s mainstreaming.

taco bell wouldn’t do all those crappy cod crossovers unless gaming was mainstream.

you guys shoulda been around for the dungeon and dragons panic. this is nothing.

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Kickstarter Donor
Peregrine Falcon

you guys shoulda been around for the dungeon and dragons panic. this is nothing.

I remember the “Satanic Panic” against Dungeons & Dragons. I had to be more secretive about playing D&D than drug dealers had to be about their true source of income. And for those of you who think I’m exaggerating… I’m not. You truly don’t understand how bad it was back then.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Vampire: The Masquerade and murderers who had the book.

Fun times.

Reader
Jon Wax

yep. the 80s were… fun?

now im gonna go find Polybius and go for high score!!!

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Tanek

This is definitely a thing in the news again now, what with some politicians trying to deflect conversations away from certain topics.

‘Players in these violent games score points for shooting others! Points I say! It is training for real world violence!’
And yet there is an organization out there in the real world that “sanctions over 11,000 shooting tournaments and sponsors over 50 national championships each year”. I wonder whether those competitions have points and rewards.
I am not saying those shooting competitions are bad, but neither are the video games.

Very good list of topics in this soapbox. Especially all the charity work associated with games and gamers. Thanks.

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connor_jones

“This is definitely a thing in the news again now, what with some politicians trying to deflect conversations away from certain topics.”

It depends on what side of the political spectrum the criticism is coming from. When it comes from the conservative right as it seems to be now, it is soundly rejected by the mainstream media. When, however, this new ‘puritanism’ comes from the liberal left (the Sarkessians/McIntoshes of the world) it is embraced. Funny how that works??? If anyone doubts this, they need look no further than Ben Kuchera at Polygon and his recent flipflopping on the issue.

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Tanek

I’m not saying you are wrong about reactions sometimes being hypocritical when it comes to right/left issues, but we are talking about two different things here.

One is a political strategy supported by a major party, politicians, and lawmakers. The other is a set of societal opinions held by individuals. Unless I missed something and there have been major national political news stories demonizing games for gender stereotyping. That is possible. If so, point me in that direction and I’ll check it out.

Also, on the guns issue, somehow the games are bad and are to blame, but the guns are not. In the other, to use gender issues as an example, the people complaining about games tend to be saying that the attitudes in games are reflecting attitudes in society and both are bad. I am guessing the gun violence people would not like the same logic applied. :)

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David Goodman

Hey, guns can’t be responsible for gun violence! It isn’t the gun that kills someone!

But games? Oh hell, games are to blame for *ALL* violence – even the ones with guns! — but not because of the guns.

Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the guns? We don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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Jon Wax

actually… it’s the bullet.

keep your guns

ban bullets

Reader
McGuffn

There’s a difference between “Duke Nukem is a pig” and “Mortal Combat makes you kill people.”

Reader
Bruno Brito

The NRA has power over decisions all over the country. The makers of Duke Nuken has none.

In the end, it all comes down to the people that play/shoot. But what i’m seeing is that instead of stopping the shooting, people wanna stop the playing. That’s full blown lobbying for the seller of guns. The USA always made a shitton of money selling weaponry, and there’s a reason why it’s in such state nowadays.