The Art of Scapegoating

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By: Justin Cooper

We’ve grown weary from battle. We try to keep a level head, stay calm in the face of adversity. We remember Bunker Hill, and Prescott’s famous advice, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

But we see the enemy closing in on all sides, and it’s suffocating and saddening in equal terms.

The “we” I speak of are gamers, and the war we fight is seemingly never-ending, for as long as there are politicians and media willing to pervert a misunderstood hobby beyond reason in order to make a good story or stump speech, we have our work cut out for us in guaranteeing freedom of expression for our games and their developers.

  Mortal Kombat was a bellwether for the industry, in that it brought about the first Congressional hearings on possible federal gaming regulation back in 1993. Born from that was the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, with its voluntary rating system akin to the Motion Picture Association of America’s voluntary film-rating scale.

Neither scale is perfect; neither has the universal approval and comprehension from the public and the politicos.

And yet ours is so readily assailable when something unspeakable happens to our culture—at Columbine, at Virginia Tech—and talking-head idiots hop in front of a camera to blame violent video games. In that sense, games are truly the rock ’n’ roll of this generation. It doesn’t matter that no study exists to prove even the most tenuous causal link between gaming and behavioral violence; it sure makes a good headline in 92-point font.

On December 6th, 2007, two Colorado teens were babysitting a seven-year-old girl, sibling to one of the teens. Reports differ as to exactly what transpired, but common to all accounts is that the teens were drinking, that they were acting out martial arts moves from Mortal Kombat, and, most horrifyingly of all, that they were using the younger girl as a human punching bag for their fun.

That little girl died from injuries sustained during the evening. Autopsy results showed she sustained, among other things, a broken wrist, over 20 visible bruises, swelling on the brain and bleeding in the muscle tissue of her spine around her neck. 

It is appalling beyond comprehension to think of the evil and ignorance which led to her death. It is just as disgusting to see the mainstream media jump on a 14-year-old video game as the obvious cause of her death, in their rush to overlook that the teens had been drinking heavily that night. Or that the young man, who reportedly delivered the final kick that sent that poor girl to the ground for the last time, admitted to police that she’d asked him to stop hitting her, but that he didn’t because “I was drunk.” Or that he was referring to his hands as “lethal weapons” throughout the ordeal, as he swung them on a child less than half his age and a third his size. Or that his girlfriend, the older sister to the dying girl, did nothing to prevent it.

Or, heartbreakingly, that the girl had told people of being beaten by her big sister’s boyfriend in the past, and was outwardly reticent to go home in the evenings.

That there is a festering sickness within these two freshly minted killers is beyond question. That we as a culture choose to blithely ignore the actual causes in order to erect easily-pummeled straw men makes us complicit in manufacturing the poison that made these teens what they are.

Because our endless fight is already plenty difficult.  We don’t need to feed our opponents’ coffers with fresh reasons that games should be censored, or abolished; never mind that the reasoning here sounds like slapped-together justification by teens forged in media savvy and lazy scapegoating.

That won’t matter to our opponents on the other side of this war. They never wait to see the whites of our eyes.  They blindside with flawed logic from questionably funded studies, and blanket the uninformed public with rhetoric, painting games as a harbinger of whatever manufactured Apocalypse scares them the most.

As human beings we are sickened by the story of what happened to that little girl in Colorado.  As weary soldiers on the other side of this fight, we know that the Bunker Hill quote cannot help us, and we prepare our thickest armor for what comes next, once the mainstream media gets hold of this story and its “cause.”

And we think of a far different quote than General Prescott’s, courtesy of the author Dorothy Parker:

“They fear the calm who know the storm.”

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