It feels crass to talk about video games while we’re still standing in the shadow of the Sandy Hook massacre. Frankly, it is crass to jaw about games while families still mourn for their children. But humans are gifted/cursed with the ability to analyze tragedies and ask, ‘How can we prevent this from happening again?’ One town in Connecticut has seemingly decided that one solution involves the application of fire to video games. Sometimes you just need to stand up and say ‘Now hold on a minute,’ regardless of context.
The town of Southington, which lies about 30 miles from where the shooting took place, recently announced the ‘Violent Video Games Return Program.’ Kids can turn in movies, music, and games that contain violent content and receive a $25 gift certificate for a more family-friendly pursuit, like a trip to a water park. The program kicks off on January 12, and is being put together by ‘SouthingtonSOS,’ a group that’s composed of representatives from the board of education, the YMCA, the Chamber of Commerce, local clergy, the United Way, and other organizations.
What makes the Violent Video Games Return Program bizarre and a little frustrating is the mixed message it sends. Joe Erardi, the superintendent for Southington school, told Polygon, ‘There are youngsters who appear to be consumed with violent video games. I’m not certain if that’s a good thing. If this encourages one courageous conversation with a parent and their child, then it’s a success.
“We’re suggesting that for parents who have a child or children who play violent video games, to first of all view the games. We’re asking parents to better understand what their child is doing. Have a conversation about next steps. If parents are comfortable (with their child’s gaming habits), we’re comfortable.”
On one hand, that’s a sensible outlook. Video games have been slow to shed the ‘kids only’ stereotype, but anyone who plays them to any extent knows that it’s a pastime for all ages. Mario, Minecraft, and Angry Birds are all wonderful games, and they can be enjoyed by literally anyone. But games have done a lot of growing up in the past couple of decades– not a surprise, given that those of us who were raised alongside the NES, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum have grown up, too– and not everything out there is appropriate for people under the age of 18. If a parent decides that it’s OK for their eight-year-old to play Grand Theft Auto, that’s their decision to make.
On the other hand, if the goal of Southington’s movement is to encourage parents to talk to their kids about the stuff they like to read, play, watch, and listen to, then why does Erardi intend to destroy the media that’s turned in and then top off the event with a great big toxic bonfire?
Even though Erardi isn’t denouncing gaming as a pastime or singling games out as the reason for the massacre, there’s something disturbing– medieval, even– about burning or otherwise wrecking ‘scary’ media of any kind. While there’s no definitive answer on whether or not video games are art, indiscriminately setting a game on fire because it contains violence is ignorant and damages human culture as a whole. What if someone hands Erardi a copy of ‘The Godfather’ on January 12? After all, it’s a violent movie. Will it go in the dumpster, or will he say, ‘You can’t burn this. It’s a classic?’ Probably the latter, and it’s not fair that video games rarely receive the same grace.
Given the existence of the ESRB and other game rating systems, said parents have no excuse to be shocked that violent video games exist at all. Education is a good thing to place between parents, children, and video games. Fire, less so.