Bob Dunn | Game On: We play to heal, not to harm


It happened again.

Hate-infused men walked into public places and slaughtered people who were out minding their own business and living their lives until those lives were senselessly cut short in a flurry of gunfire.

The time between these horrors used to be months or even years. Now, it's a matter of hours.

By now, the tepid non-response has become a sad cliche and, instead of those in a position to do something taking some kind of decisive action, they dusted off one of their oldest straw men and laid the blame at the feet of video games.

Never mind the facts.

Never mind that despite decades of research, no direct link between gaming and violence has ever been established.

Never mind that in countries like Japan and South Korea, whose gaming population is at least equal to, if not greater than that of the U.S., they don't have the kind of massacres we see on a regular basis. Nor do any other countries where gaming is popular (which is most of them).

Never mind that while some studies estimate about 48 percent of gamers are women, they aren't the ones getting high on anger, arming themselves to the teeth and pumping round after round into innocent men, women and children.

Never mind that modern gaming runs the gamut from the action and crime-movie inspired Grand Theft Auto franchise to puzzle and farm simulation games and ignoring that diversity in content is being willfully obtuse.

Painting all games with that kind of broad brush would be like dismissing all of cinema as worthless trash based on the existence of "The Emoji Movie."

Say what you will about video games; they aren't the problem.

Certainly, they're an easy target and a convenient scapegoat; many kids and young adults are fascinated by them and many older people, if they're aware of modern games at all, have likely heard only of the most maligned of them or of the ones held up as the most egregious examples of gratuitous violence.

There's nothing I've seen in any of the reporting on the most recent incidents that indicate video gaming was involved in these people's lives at all. And even if it was, there are millions upon millions of gamers who don't steep their brains in venom and bile and go out and end the lives of children to support some sort of ideology or relieving some kind of misplaced resentment.

Even if the people who foisted these horrors on the world were gamers, because that label applies to an estimated 2.3 billion people, (almost none of whom commit a single murder, never mind dozens) it is completely meaningless.

There are likely commonalities between the gunmen that don't seem to spur the same kind of reactionary nonsense as whether they play Call of Duty.

But, then, in the midst of the din of rhetoric, misinformation and hashtags competing for attention, something remarkable happened.

David Dague, better known as DeeJ, a community manager for Bungie, the developer of the Halo and Destiny games, put up a humble apolitical post on his Twitter feed, which simply asked, "What is the most positive impact that playing video games as a hobby has had on your real life?"

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The tweet generated thousands of responses.

Some gamers pointed to how gaming helped them to overcome childhood obstacles.

"I was born with a variety of fine motor skill issues. I couldn't tie my shoes until I was 9. Playing both computer games/video games at a young age helped me develop my dexterity and overcome significant physical barriers. Today, at 32, I play the drums," wrote @LittleMissLizz.

Others talked about how gaming gave them an alternative to being exposed to danger while growing up.

"Videogames saved my life & took all my friends off the streets of the South Bronx to converge at my house every Saturday. The ultimate sell to a parent is to know where their kids are & no harm was done to anyone," said @LordCognito.

"Video games allowed me to fail and keep going anyway. I've watched it help young children read, build strong relationships for those struggling with social anxiety, and distract people from the often harsh realities of life. They're powerful and meaningful. We can also do more!<3" wrote Twitter user @gamedesignkrw in their reply.

But, by far, the most common reply had to do with celebrating the relationships and human connections gamers have made while playing.

"It gave me friends all over the globe. It made me see people from other cultures as my friend and not the other. It made the world smaller and friendlier," said @CrazyStevieD.

The responses didn't celebrate virtual violence. No one (from the replies I saw) said they played games to shoot, stab and create mayhem.

The responses celebrated humanity, self-care, resilience, charity, fun, creativity and family. It was a rare moment of joy on Twitter.

This isn't me defending my hobby; it doesn't need me to do that. This is me frustrated to the point of fury that instead of addressing anything close to the core problem, we're wasting our time on these nonsensical distractions.

There are plenty of legitimate problems within the gaming community, including toxicity, misogyny, racism and bullying that actually exist and having to pump the brakes on chipping away at eliminating those to once again have this long-ago-settled debate sets back those efforts.

Likewise, desperately pointing the finger at gaming while conveniently and cynically ignoring the actual and obvious contributors to this cycle of evil is sickeningly heartbreaking.

We play to heal, both ourselves and others. Not to harm.

In the responses to DeeJ's tweet about why they game and what the positive impact has been, I think, @Ryno_666 put it best:

"We must never stop learning how to defeat tyrants, monsters, ghosts and dragons, for they exist in real life."

Game on.


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