In the wake of any mass shooting, such as the hideous slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, there is always a struggle to look past the easy and obvious explanations and turn instead toward a whole bunch of bullshit. This is only becoming more difficult as America charges into the 21st century, and the concatenation of our brainless follies gets ever-more compressed, the latest catastrophe being crammed up our ass well before the last one has had the opportunity to pass from our minds.
Thus Adam Lanza, a young white guy in military gear and an assault rifle, killed 28 people (including himself) not six months after James Eagan Holmes, an assault rifle-toting young Caucasian gentleman decked in military gear, killed twelve people in Aurora, CO. And just over four months after Wade Michael Page–yet another scion of the peoples of Europe–murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI. (Now the last one was an openly racist massacre, and thus didn’t provoke a very deep discussion, since everyone already knows that America is racist, so why bore people with some shit they already know? Although the Chicago “lifestyle” magazine RedEye did produce a helpfully racist primer on good versus evil turbans.)
Americans can always be counted on to forget, or never know about in the first place, things that happened a couple years ago (“Obama will take on those Wall Street fat cats!”) or, even better, stuff that happened not-in-America (“Arabs! What the fuck did we ever do to them?”). Furthermore, any crimes that non-whites commit can be safely resolved by additional racist harassment–which is why people of color are always secretly relieved when some crazy shit wasn’t done by one of us. (Please don’t tell the bad whites I said that.) But now: Sandy touches down too soon after Irene; Jordan Davis falls while we’re still mourning Trayvon Martin; Michigan’s unions get stomped while we’re still wondering what the fuck happened in Wisconsin; and so on. How will we cope–where by “coping” I mean, of course, going on in exactly the same way as before?
Video games! Could games like Spec Ops: The Line challenge our society to confront the way it thinks–or fails to think–about violence and militarism? Could penetrating gamer-critics like Anita Sarkeesian use a critique of sexism in video games to shine a light on sexism and violence against women–all of Lanza’s adult victims were women–in the broader culture? Yeah, probably. But wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to simply use video games as a scapegoat? Certainly it would. Indeed, it has already begun.
Video games, like rock music in an earlier age, is perfectly suited as a political punching bag for ritual post-disaster “discussion”: basically every young person likes them, but the old fucks that comprise the political class don’t, so it’s a great way for the people who decide basically everything to blame things on the people who decide basically nothing. Even better, the industry that controls the medium is so rich and powerful thatnothing worth changing will actually change. Is a national debate about violent video games going to tear into the genuinely fucked-up Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, featuring “Secretary of Defense” David Petraeus? Or are our noble representatives more likely to target Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV–games that, for all their problems, actually try to say something of value?
What’s more, the denouncers of “violent video games” always have a comically reversed concept of cause and effect. While it’s true that brutality in art supports brutality in the general society, art is but a small, strictly superstructural subset of society. Or to put it less grad-schoolishly: no shit video games are violent, because the world is slathered in violence already, for reasons that have very little to do with games (and very a lot to do with the political class). You might as well ask why pictures of fish are so watery. Some games deal with violence intelligently; some decadently; and some without much reflection at all. That all merits scrutiny–by civil society, not officials, and especially not those that one suspects to possess an aesthetic literacy bounded strictly by Norman Rockwell and the less challenging passages of the Bible.
Leaving aside whatever was going through Adam Lanza’s head on that awful Friday–I don’t know and neither do you–is a kid more likely to emulate Max Payne–a man whose wicked killing skillz make him completely miserable–or the awesome dudes of Seal Team Six, who heroically shot some old guy in the face (at the cost of only a few bystanders, a crashed helicopter, fake vaccines for Pakistani kids, and billions of dollars)? Is someone more likely to conclude that maximum firepower is a good way to solve problems from a cartoonish farce like Saint’s Row–or from the fucking police, who can’t seem to do anything these days without a tank, a drone, or at least an assault rifle?
Whatever. Despair is not particularly leftist, but dishonesty is even less so. The slavish “stability” of everyday life is notoriously uncongenial to critical thought; yet it seems that even in crisis, all we can think of is how to “move forward” in the same direction that got us fucked in the first place. We are wanderers into the void, who have rejected as “impractical” any idea except the obviously cracked one that there’s salvation on the other end of the void. So we wander on and wonder, with each fresh proof of our terrible mistake: “Will we triumph over this, the latest attack on our complacency?”