Warren Spector’s Proposal to Reduce Gun Violence
I’m sharing some of the proposals I received to forward to VP Biden to reduce gun violence. Warren’s idea of setting the insurance industry against the NRA could be an epic boss battle. Game On! \o/ Nicole
Warren Spector, Veteran Game Designer Founder, Junction Point Studios
I’m honored to be asked to contribute ideas to the national discussion concerning gun violence and to represent the video games medium in that discussion.
Leaving aside my obvious love of games and respect for the medium, and speaking as an ex-‐academic in the field of media studies, I think it’s important to begin with a solid sense of history when we discuss the role culture and cultural artifacts might play in tragedies of the sort we’ve seen too often the last few years.
Blaming video games for gun violence today is as silly as it was for politicians and pundits of the ’60s to blame television for all of our woes… or critics of the ’50s to blame juvenile delinquency on pinball parlors and comic books… or cultural critics of the ’20s and ’30s to blame movies for a variety of social ills.
We have to go into this discussion with the knowledge that whatever medium of communication the “grown-‐ups” didn’t grow up with is the one deserving of all the blame. People who grew up on movies don’t blame movies for societal problems -‐ they blame television… People who grew up on television know that television isn’t the problem -‐ it’s got to be games… When the current generation of gamers grows up, as we inevitably will, we will blame something else, something we probably can’t even imagine yet. It’s just the way of the world.
There are, to my knowledge, no studies that prove conclusively a link between virtual and real violence. But even if there were, it’d be worth remembering that you could literally erase the word “film” from 50 year old studies of that medium and replace it with “video games” and no one would notice. When studies of every medium show the same thing -‐ that the medium being studied is damaging to children or society or whatever -‐ and the nature of the medium is irrelevant… the threat never realized… maybe it’s time to put away the studies and use some common sense.
Okay, that lecture out of the way, what do I think should be done about gun violence in America? Well, I’d say actions should fall into three categories: The Obvious (let’s just DO this), The Interesting Possibilities (this is at least worthy of discussion) and The Game-‐Specific (what can we do to help?).
I wish I saw more “game-‐specific” ways to address the issue of gun violence. Simply put, I think the link between games and violence is non-‐existent so there really isn’t anything – or not much – we can do, as a medium or as an industry, to ensure that Newtowns don’t happen. Having said that, here’s what I have for you:
Find areas of agreement
o Yes, people kill people and crazy people shouldn’t have guns. Agree that we have to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands while allowing them to remain in the right hands.
o No right, constitutional or otherwise, is completely unconstrained -‐ not the first amendment, not the second, nothing. Get the gun rights advocates to admit this -‐ to acknowledge that there’s a world of difference between regulating guns and taking them away -‐ and you’re half-‐way home…
Define what an assault gun is and ban them
o If you want to defend yourself or your home, buy a shotgun or MAYBE a handgun. You don’t need an assault weapon for that. And simply wanting one, because it’s fun or sporting to shoot such weapons isn’t enough to override the danger these things pose to public safety.
o The current definition (two or more military characteristics) is ridiculous and easily worked around. However, a bad current definition shouldn’t deter us from coming up with a better, more enforceable one. Definition is possible and there is no need for privately owned assault weapons (other than the childish “But I want it!” mentioned earlier). Maybe grandfather in existing weapons but, honestly, I’d look at not even doing that…
No big clips, no fast loaders, no Teflon-‐coated ammunition
o I know people are afraid that they won’t be able to take on the army without these, but let’s acknowledge the inevitable ineffectiveness of a well-‐armed private citizenry against the might and organization of the US Military even with them.
o Let’s acknowledge that the POSSIBILITY of armed insurrection pales before the REALITY of people dying in America today. We can absolutely, unquestionably make it harder for people to kill by getting rid of oversized clips -‐ get rid of them.
o No private citizen needs ammunition popularly called “cop killer ammo.” Ban Teflon-‐coated bullets. Now.
More effective, comprehensive background checks
o The idea that there’s a loophole for private and gun show sales is insane to me. ALL sales should be registered and regulated.
o Create a unified, national database of weapon registrations.
Regulation might be scary, but show me where in the Constitution it says the government can’t know you own a gun. And show me where knowing you own a gun gives the government the right to confiscate said gun.
Give the ATF some teeth
o Get the ATF a full-‐time director.
o Remove obstacles to effectively tracking guns and the activities of gun dealers (e.g., national databases… cross-‐agency sharing of information… closing of gunshow loopholes… etc.)
Fund and deliver more effective mental health care
o I don’t believe we can stop crazy people from committing crazy acts (which is why I so strongly favor enacting laws that minimize the damage they can do when we miss them…). However, it’s clear to me that we’re not doing enough to provide mental health care to people who need it in this country. (Okay, I don’t think we’re doing enough to provide ANY kind of health care in this country, but that’s a whole separate discussion!) We need to give schools, parents, doctors and the authorities more tools to help people in need before they get themselves into trouble. I have NO idea how to act on this, especially at a time when the same people who are arguing that crazy people are responsible for gun violence are the ones arguing to gut healthcare spending..
Insurance against the inevitable
o The most interesting possibility I’ve heard recently that I hadn’t heard before was the idea of requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance. We already require that of drivers, so why not gun-‐ owners? And if you want to see the NRA look a lot less scary to politicians who, by and large, know what the right things to do are, let the NRA go up against the insurance lobby!
GAME SPECIFIC THOUGHTS
Don’t sacrifice the First Amendment for the Second
o As I said in my preamble, it’s easy to blame the medium you don’t understand for whatever is “wrong” in your culture – easy but, historically, always the wrong thing to do. Don’t do it now. Don’t let hysteria lead to the sacrifice of one Constitutional right in order to give the appearance that you’re safeguarding another. Games are protected speech. We have to fight unceasingly for that.
Stop functioning as an advertising medium for gun manufacturers
o Honestly, I think it’d be hard and probably even dangerous to regulate advertising of this sort without falling afoul of the First Amendment. Still, I wish EA and others would not act as advertising for real guns. I was saddened – though not surprised – when I read about the link there.
Support and extend the games rating system
o I’ve long believed that we have the best, most informative, ratings system among all media – better than movies, better than television. We need to promote that fact even more, educate people about it.
o We need to extend the ratings system by providing the ratings board more resources (people, money, etc.).
o We need to hold publishers and retailers accountable when they ignore the system and sell to people who shouldn’t be playing certain games. (I never wanted kids playing Deus Ex – not because it was “violent” or anything, but because I was asking players to think about things kids shouldn’t have to think about – political, social, cultural, ethical things adults should be thinking about…)
Support and expand games education
o A better educated, more diverse audience is the best way to change the content and aesthetics of games. Until consumers start rebelling against hyper-‐real, hyper-‐violent content, there’s no incentive to deliver any other kind of content. Developers and publishers follow the market; they don’t drive it. And even if you don’t believe that games CAUSE specific behaviors or even general types of behaviors – and I steadfastly refuse to believe that – there’s no question in my mind that we’ve reached a point where a lot of games are just going too far in terms of violent content. It’s just in bad taste and culturally corrosive…
o In the same way we teach kids to be intelligent, critical readers (at least that’s what we claim!), we should teach kids – early – to be more critical consumers of other media content. I’d love to see film studies, television studies, game studies all taught from elementary school on. “How did that game make you feel?” is a great question to get kids thinking about. “How did that game make you feel that way?” might be even better.
o There’s no point in denying the cultural impact games now have (a very different thing than any supposed individual behavioral impact). Acknowledge the place of games in society and encourage the educational system to deliver better-‐informed, better-‐prepared, more literate citizen critics and citizen consumers.