Katie Couric & Violent Video Games – Missing the Point

Gamers just can’t catch a break.

Last week Katie Couric, America’s sweetheart of journalism, presented an hour long expose on violent and addictive video games on her new talk show, Katie. The first story Couric showcased was the tragedy surrounding Daniel Petric, a teenager who murdered his mother and shot his father after his parents confiscated Halo 3. The second story was on former NFL player Quinn Pitcock and how his video game addiction caused him to abruptly retire from the Indianapolis Colts.

Katie Couric

Kotaku writer Chris Person does a nice job summing up Couric’s pieces and points out that each case, when isolated properly, are less about video games and more about individuals who are struggling from internal battles with depression and addiction. Person states his disappointment when he mentions that these cases could really have provided an opportunity to have a mature, thoughtful dialogue about depression, compulsive behavior and even parenting.

But rather than say what can we do to learn from these tragic situations, the tone of Couric’s piece seems to shift. It is no longer about how these individuals lost control, but about how video games were the driving force. About how games are the root of Petric’s loss of control. How games are so addictive that it cost a young man his dream of playing in the NFL. The show uses a junior producer to describe the basics of Halo and Call of Duty that if I were part of Couric’s key middle aged to retired demographic without the intricate knowledge of gaming, I would be beside myself with confusion and anger upon learning that teenagers play games with real weapons and real blood from killing real humans.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

To her credit, Couric attempts to steer the interviews in directions that suggest that video games are only part of the problem, but her interviewees smugly shake off the notions and scoff at the idea that video games fall under the same first amendment protection that covers free speech and expression.

Now I may surprise you with my reaction to Couric’s piece. I understand it. Yes I am upset that as a gamer who has played violent games for over a decade, I feel marginalized and looked down upon as if I were somebody who worships a pagan god of human sacrifice. I am disgusted with the lack of representation and the witch hunt that discussions about video games has become. I am sick of the finger pointing and the blame.

The Daily Show

But still, I understand. It is easy to hit the panic button, and society has already done so. The news industry is just a microcosm of that same panic. The Couric and her show’s producers understand that that underlying panic is easy to feed into and by pushing the right buttons, more viewers are likely to tune in. In its basest form, it is yellow journalism. It is sensationalism. And frankly, I thought Couric would be better than that.

But I can still understand that one sided discussions are a symptom of a larger problem. Society is fractioned on hot button issues. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. Video game regulation. Gun control. Immigration reform. They are all cries of a populace looking to place blame at somebody else’s feet.

Couric had the thought to engage passionate gamers in a dialogue over twitter, something that was met with the types of responses that are typical to the social medium. Responses ranged from insults at the thoughts of responsible gamers, to snarky comments, to gamers taking a stand and truly wishing to be treated as humans.

Games Violence

The truth of the matter is that every individual has a responsibility to better themselves with information. I truly believe that cases like this are indicative of outliers, individuals who are unique cases with unique circumstances. Not only have studies shown that video games have had no tangible effect on human psyche, but consider that modern society is filled with individuals who passionately game. Teachers. Lawyers. Politicians. Athletes. Scientists. Parents. Video games are no more a niche hobby than cross stitching and gardening.

Now, it is up to us, as responsible individuals, to take proactive steps to provide better education and create knowledge on our passion and its effects. Gaming is not without weight in this discussion, and that includes accepting a share of the burden. Mike “Gabe” Krahulik of Penny Arcade has volunteered to do something fantastic by speaking to parents at his son’s school about proper education when it comes to video games. It is mature conversations like this that can only benefit us.

We are intelligent people, capable of intelligent conversations. I firmly believe that only good can come out of learning.

Kotaku – Breaking Down The Absurdity of a Video Game Scare Piece
Kotaku – Katie Couric Gets Schooled On the Benefits of Violent Video Games
Penny-Arcade – Kids and Games

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