Gaming Controllers and weapons inside the mind

Published on June 16th, 2014 | by Dan Stringer

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Video Games Make You Violent – But Only If You’re Bad At Them

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I overheard a story in work this morning involving a single dad, openly talking about his 13 year old son and his mild addiction to video games. The story revolved around the lad’s addiction to FIFA14 on his PlayStation 4 – so far, so much like me, nothing to see here. The story began to get slightly darker when it became apparent that the little guy was desperately in need of a new PS4 controller. As a gamer, I chipped in with a comment about the reliability (or lack of it) in the latest controllers and their ability to stand up to strenuous adolescent hand/wrist action, but this was more than teenage exuberance. It turns out that the kid had conceded a last minute defeat to “some foreign twat” who then decided to let loose with all sorts of pseudo-English insults towards our young protagonist. Of course, the only appropriate reaction to being trounced by Johnny Foreigner was to violently take the controller, smash it on the floor and then stamp on it like a more petulant and technologically-advanced Dennis the Menace. And for once, I’m not exaggerating.

The interesting thing is, FIFA is not a violent video game. Well, unless you count the depressingly accurate depiction of Wayne Rooney’s ‘face for radio’ which makes all of us a little angry from time to time. There is no blood, no gore, no swearing and no guns. If the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll of the Sex Pistols were a video game, FIFA would be a comfy night in with slippers and a mug of Horlicks. Or Coldplay. So why did this kid react in this way and leave his dad with an Amazon receipt where the £50 in his bank account used to be?

broken-ps3-controller

The simple fact is, the kid lost the game. He didn’t react violently to a violent subject; he reacted violently because he wasn’t good enough to win. As a by-product of games becoming more and more realistic and requiring more and more skill to be good at, gamers tend take defeat more personally. Combine this with aforementioned teenage exuberance and it’s a disaster waiting to happen – how dare this foreign kid be better?

Certain sections of the media love to tell us that violence precedes violence when it comes to video games. ‘Killer A’ shot up his school because he played Gears of War. ‘Killer B’ took out half the population of his town because he played too much Grand Theft Auto. There is never any mention that ‘Killer A’ just got his arse handed to him by an 11 year old child or that ‘Killer B’ just failed his 963rd attempt to complete a mission – the concept is unfathomable. It’s a jump I know, after all I’m not debating that these people had a mental health issue in the first place. What I’m saying is that lesser acts of violence like our subject above can easily be caused by their own reaction to under-performing rather than the subject they are invested in. If someone is doing DIY and the shelves fall down after 15 minutes causing them to smash the remnants to smithereens , do we assume that shelving makes people violent? Quick, call IKEA – there’s a shit storm coming their way…

All gamers have experienced the ‘rage quit’: a feeling of such utter frustration with doing badly that we can’t even continue any more. A wilful homicide of our own connection to the game just to get away from the failure we’re experiencing. It’s violence of a lesser kind, sure there are no physical victims but the rage-quitter has got to a mental situation where they literally cannot contemplate continuing with their gaming session. It’s the video game equivalent of downing bleach, and chances are we’ve all been there. Does that make me a violent person? Does that make you a violent person? Ask the Ethernet cable I’ve just ripped out of the wall in a fit of rage – chances are it thinks I’m a right bastard. I’m not about to go to my local B&Q to buy an axe though, so I’d like to think my screw isn’t quite as loose as it could be. We don’t like losing at anything, its human instinct to want to be good at things we do. There are three ways of approaching this idea. The first is to believe that losing is the only real way to get better (and my personal mantra, most of the time). The second is to accept that it’s only a game and doesn’t matter anyway (in which case I don’t know why you’re here). The third is to get angry and rage-quit, before swearing or smashing a controller. At some point we are all going to lose at our video game of choice, and our reaction to it differs from person to person but almost always follows one of those three paths. That’s normal.

PS4-Hammer

The truth is that there are people out there with particularly warped minds. Those problems aren’t caused or even exacerbated by gaming though and in no way should a video game be held as a scapegoat for actual real world crimes committed by someone who is suffering from some serious and potentially damaging mental health issues. It still seems easy to pin the blame on a violent game rather than the mind that’s engaging in it. Point the finger at certain sections the media who still can’t get around the idea that controllers aren’t weapons of mass destruction, and fail to grasp the concept that a warped mind is a warped mind regardless of how they decide to fill their down time.

Or perhaps the moral of the story is that because we don’t like losing, video games actually do make us all violent psychopaths. I can practically hear the ‘journalists’ at The Daily Mail rubbing their hands with glee already. It would be believable if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

Dan Stringer

Dan Stringer

Die hard gamer, music, football and movie fan. Dedicated nerd, and oh so proud of it.
Dan Stringer
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