Should Blizzard take a stand against killer game labels?

You know, I swore to myself never to write this post. This post on the boundless stupidity and ignorance of the media when it comes to video games and their supposed effect on 0.0000000….etc……..1% of all mankind. The common populist and propagandist strategy to blame anything for a society’s failure, just so the really hard questions must never be asked.

I swore never to sink so low as to even deem claims such as these with a reaction.

I have been known to make exceptions.

If you’re currently living in Europe (I don’t know how closely the US media follow the happenings in “teh old world”), there has been no way around reading and hearing about the recent, unimaginable tragedy that has befallen in Norway this last Friday, June 22nd. It is on every news channel all around the clock, in every regional newspaper and will be, I imagine, for a while to come. Understandably so, even though a cynic might add that more people die by violent crime on this planet every single day – people with no name and no face ever remembered in the news. But we won’t dwell on that here and it’s not really the point.

There’s no way to avoid the sad news and sadly, no way to escape the media of which the useless and ruthless majority is presently flocking to Oslo’s court like carrion birds, pressing for a picture or statement from one so unworthy of any further public spotlight. From the very beginning, they speculated, they published gross half-truths and adjusted them later (funny enough journalism knows no real accountability for spreading wrong facts). Worse: like a broken record they promptly recited the same old songs.

I shouldn’t be annoyed. I am certainly not surprised. What did surprise me in fact was a player’s post on WoW’s official, German boards* that I chanced on accidentally. After expressing his outrage about multiple news stations actually bringing up World of Warcraft as “one of the killer games” (along Call of Duty) which the psycho-shooter frequently played in his freetime, he left the following comment under point 1):

1. Die Bezeichnung “Killerspiel” wäre mal ein Fall für die Rechtsabteilung von Blizzard.

[English Translation:] 1. The term “killer game” would be a job for Blizzard’s legal department.

I have to say, I agree with him. Funny enough, many WoW players in that thread didn’t. Well, I’m fed up with WoW being called a “killer game” in the media. It’s ridiculous. Not just because WoW is actually heavily NPC-centric; it’s about freaking GNOMES and ELVES from pink fairy-tale lands fighting evil creatures in dungeons together. And yeah, you kill a lot of mobs all the time. You also pick a lot of flowers all the time, travel the world, spend hours auctioning shoes and dresses. There’s some PvP and the player is actually a powerful god-like figure, like for most games – but what serious person calls a fantasy MMO like this a violent killer game? What happened to online role-playing game?

Let’s forget of course that even if WoW actually was an FPS like CoD, it wouldn’t change a thing; in terms of culpability, intelligent people simply do not explain one individual’s readiness to brutally execute (and bomb) 76 people in real life with a love for popular video games. Really, my qualm is not with this (this goes without saying) for once – but: semantics. World of Warcraft, the killer game. Out of curiosity, what gave it away? “Warcraft”? So this is how far journalistic research reaches in the age of the internet.

I wonder: do Blizzard or other developers ever get touched by news such as this? They can afford to shrug it off with nonchalance, but I’d be vexed by this sort of continuous negative propaganda and false labels. And while I don’t know what the legal situation is in the USA, they’d be in their symbolic right (at least) to demand rectification for the defamation and stark misnaming of their product (as Activision would be for CoD’s case, also since the label “killer game” is not actually a genre, but a media slur). But who is eager to oppose the mass media, how would it be worth the effort? Should game developers in general react to such news, at least by commenting – or should they keep ignoring the underlying accusations? What’s your opinion?

I can’t decide what annoys me more; the shallow stereotypes or the constant slander against an entire genre I happen to love. A genre so full of beauty and wonder as fantasy MMOs, granting millions of player’s worldwide daily escape, a few hours of simple, harmless entertainment in the evening.

And they wonder why some people prefer online games to the real world. Oh, the irony.

*****

For the record

This is in no way an attempt to dismiss or trivialize any part of the horror that took place in Norway. I’m not comparing wrongs here – but wrong is wrong. And a much bigger wrong doesn’t cancel out smaller wrongs. It’s wrong not to speak up on this, like I have seen some gamers suggest in forums lest it not distract from the actual event. I think it is exactly the right time to speak up against it. I think we must always speak up against it.

Every time a news station, a daily paper or a radio channel mentions video games in one sentence with mass murders, it concerns every single player out there and establishes an ever-so-delicate bond between individuals that have absolutely nothing in common. Every time they so much as hint at video games when such a human tragedy occurs somewhere, they plant a subtle seed in the heads of the public audience. And while I can do nothing about this, I will never accept it – not for myself and not on behalf of my fellow MMO players. That allusion is outrageous on a personal level, and detrimental to the social acceptance of online gaming worldwide. It’s hypocritical and suggestive journalism such as this which perpetuates the idea of gamers as social weirdos and outcasts, isolating those further who might already feel alone. I blame sensationalist media for countless acts like this – I blame them a great deal more than MMOs could ever be blamed for any crimes committed. People who live in glass houses.

*Edit: It appears that the topic I referred to on WoW’s boards has been deleted in the meantime.

24 comments

  1. “on the boundless stupidity and ignorance of the media when it comes to video games”

    gonna comment with a quote on the topic media, not much to add there, folks:

    Fed with lies
    Led with lies
    Media TV shit!

    theB

  2. Another excellent post, Syl. Nothing can detract from the horror of the recent events. To blame gaming for awful murders such as that is just wrong, and of course you’re right to speak up against it. For some reason I find myself thinking of the GLC’s *Guns don’t kill people, rappers do* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXzFp1lshBE
    (sorry, humour is a defense mechanism :) )

  3. I think, though I may be incorrect, the ‘manifesto’ that he published was ‘set/written’ (this is bad use of language – apologies I’m tired…) in such a way that one would write, say, a game/raid strategy. Urgh – I’m not being clear… I think, in this case, there was more ‘reason’ for the media to jump on the ‘killer game’ bandwagon than usual, based what he’d written.

    That’s not excusing the media and their ‘give everything a label’-ness, just trying to highlight where their collective head is at.

    Your post in absolutely spot on though – particularly this: ” in terms of culpability, intelligent people simply do not explain one individual’s readiness to brutally execute (and bomb) 76 people in real life with a love for popular video games.” In a nutshell – that’s it.

    And seconding Issy’s GLC quote, which I’d thought of as well!

  4. @B
    Nasum had it all right..

    @Issy
    You never have to excuse yourself to me over using humor! :) I’ve never heard this song, it’s brilliant. spot on, too.

    What sickens me everytime is this “hedging strategy” of the media, they’d of course never dare to make open accusations – so there’s that constant subtle flow of assumptions and hints and presumptions that ultimately do just as much harm or more, because you can never quite catch and oppose them for what they’re saying (or not saying). it sickens, sickens, sickens me – so just sometimes I’d wish someone from the industry would speak up and talk real business and numbers. it’s probably naive, I just don’t understand how it can never concern them, at least for their players sake.

  5. @Pilfkin
    I see – yeah, I knew about the manifesto but didn’t hear about that part in it. frankly I stopped reading when they recited more and more details from it (which I personally find a huge mistake to do), the madness just makes your head spin.

    And as IF the media needed more excuses to allude to games ….BLEH.

  6. I think Blizzard/Activision is in a difficult position when it comes to reacting to this kind of thing. On the one hand they would be completely justified in speaking up against it, but on the other hand the stance of “this is so ridiculous it’s not even worth commenting on” has some merit as well.

    How bad is the media reaction really though? I’ve seen some pretty insightful articles about it online actually, like this one.

    If anything, this whole situation casts a stark light on the sad view that non-gamers have of gamers, because going by Breivik’s words, if you tell someone that you’re playing WoW, they won’t give a crap about what exactly you’re up to because they don’t care. I think if anything that should encourage people to treat gaming more like a normal hobby.

  7. I think the monster actually referred to WoW in his “manifest”, saying something like that claiming to have been playing WoW was a good excuse to cover up for suspicious absences and unreturned phone calls and such.

    He also allegedly has eight years of university studies – I don’t see anyone calling that “killer studies”. Although they may very much be – somehow I doubt it was all peaceful mainstream courses.

    So, good post – the events in Norway are horrible and heartbreaking but to blame it on a video game is ludicrous. Media had better try to answer the hard questions and examine their own role in whipping up hate between people before pointing any fingers.

    Btw, guns don’t kill people but they help – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsN0FCXw914 :)

  8. @Shintar
    Indeed, I understand that stance too – although sometimes silence is not very satisfying.
    I have a feeling that the news are especially extreme and ludicruous in places this time around. Friends of mine live in Finland and Sweden and have told me that they have to stop reading even the more serious papers.

    One particularly infuriating channel was N-TV by the way; they have now “corrected” some of their WoW statements, now just check this out. LOL! journalistic accuracy is having a week off, it seems!

    Thanks for the link, luckily yes there are also the opposite voices of reason, although I am not sure they ever reach the right channels. I received a similar link before, so while we are sharing. :)

    @Tessy

    Hi there! =)
    Ah, but it’s easier to fingerpoint at others and distract from your own role. after all, the media are “ever our servantz”.

    Eddie Izzard <3

  9. Ouch, that’s just painful. I’ve been following the case via the BBC and some Austrian news websites and some of them didn’t even mention his gaming, or as a tiny footnote at most. (Which I think is a good thing as they tend to focus on more important things instead, such as his political views and what inspired them.)

  10. I can at least see some reasonable arguement for the CoD “killer game,” but WoW? The closest thing to real life combat is a hunter, who carries what appears to be a giant toy Lego bow or gun. Nothing in WoW makes me think of ANYTHING related to real life. A DK yanking me from 20 yards away; a rogue completely invisible until he stabs me in the back (which I completely DON’T initially die from like in RL); a mage…..aka magician; a warlock….aka dark magician; a shaman…aka hippy magician. None of these things hold much water in the real world for sane people. Crazy people are crazy, so anyone trying to explain it away with something like Warcraft are just too lazy to realize that.

    It’s not CoD’s fault either. Like I said, crazy people are crazy. The Oslo dude could have gotten just as enraged over his favorite peanut butter branc slightly changing it’s recipe.

  11. @Finnei
    The thing is, games are not even related to what he did like that. it’s not like he got pissed off losing a match and then went on a killing spree – he wrote a 1500 pages long manifesto, moved home to fake jobs and prepared for years. not exactly a spur of the moment thing somebody does in a rage. he just “happens to also have played games” in his life – so let’s mention that in the news all the time, shall we… -.-

  12. I really don’t know why games are always mentioned, the fact that he played WoW seems like such an unnecessary detail (millions of people play WoW, millions of people eat bread, maybe they should have mentioned whether or not he ate bread?).

    As far as the “killer game” thing, “killing” in WoW isn’t really killing, like hardly even in a virtual sense. You work to make health bars go down until you “defeat” things and they disappear.

    What I always find during these big stories is that the media will play them for all they’re worth. They want the details that seem to have some type of better, more profound understanding of why things happen. Concise reporting isn’t an option; they flail into all different types of associations and plant seeds for the stay-at-home moms to gossip about during lunch.

  13. I think that gaming is something people latch onto as *negative* far more than they do bread.. After all bread is mentioned in the Bible.. and terrorists play games. Oh to have the simplistic life of a journalist :P

  14. Well too much bread can be horrible if you are on a diet. Also bread has gluten which some people may have an immune reaction to. I’m sure bread has ruined lives somewhere, and ever since the popularity of Atkins the media has given it a bad name.

  15. This is what I know about violence vs videogames:
    They DO affect you in negative ways, as does violent movies etc BUT it’s only short term, more like a mood thing than serious permanent damage.

    As for CoD, I’m surprised that whenever violence and videogames come up, why does no one problematize the military shooter America’s Army? It was FUNDED by the US army as a recruitment and training tool and is praised on its official webpage as the most precise and realistic digital representation of military training.

    I guess violent video games are good as long as they train the “good” people, but they become bad when they train the bad people.

    Maybe it’s not about the games, but about the goddamn people playing them, some of which just happens to be insane.

  16. Disclaimer: this does delve off on a tangent slightly

    I think this is one small head of a many-headed demon that is modern media.

    The media can get away with almost anything – and News International have shown just how far journalistic outlets need to go to generate such outcry among the masses; phone tap celebrities and random individuals for your story and you’re A-OK but tap the grieving families of murder victims and amazingly (and far far too late) the UK public grows a backbone and says enough!! (I live on a strange island!!)

    I’m all for free press, but I’m not all for making stuff up or rehashing old content and representing it as news. I’m not for allowing news outlets to use their mass influence to attach sweeping labels to things. If they can’t back what they say up with facts and evidence from reliable, open sources then they shouldn’t be allowed to say it at all. I’m not for this ridiculous trend where every news outlet seems to be heading towards the realms of blogging where the journalist wants to give their own opinions on every story – just shuddup and tell us the sequence of events and then get out of my face!! If I want opinions I can find them, if I want straight-forward news I should be able to find that too!

    No more hiding behind “an insider told us” or “a close friend revealed” – if your source can’t bring themselves to live with their public revelation then it’s hearsay and you can’t print/reveal it to a mass audience, representing it as factual along the way!!

    There is merit to genuine journalism and news sources – what we have at the moment (with few exceptions) is a massively networked gossip stream and it should be brought crumbling down.

    /end rant

  17. @Stumpy
    True words. it has nothing to do with free speech – if I as a private person am liable to what claims I make in public and potential rallying effects of that, so do journalists.
    you can’t do it here: if you claim stuff in public, you’re legally accountable (prevents racist and other crap just being thrown around by politicians and other “interest groups” etc.) for it.

    Well, if the non-facts the media are continuously spreading about video games isn’t influential rallying, then I don’t know! which is also why I wish sometime, a game company that actually cared would sue them until there’s no tomorrow (after all, so do celebs all the time).

  18. @Gilded / Issy:
    I guess you’ve come across this one? (I trust translating it for you isn’t necessary!)

    @ironyca
    I’ve actually read an interesting study once on how violent games have (at least) 2 main different effects depending on the recipient; while they can have the temporary effect you mention, they are actually a very effective way of winding down aggressions for many (sane) people. my partner plays FPS to “relax and unwind” after work, lol…(I consider him sane!)
    which goes back to what you already said – crazy is crazy, with or without games. It’s not such a far fetch, is it, that somebody with an unnatural attraction to violence and the wish to shoot people in the head would get attracted to games that allow that kind of thing? so the “order” of things is rather crucial – it’s THIS way around, not the other way around.
    and maybe, just maybe, some crimes never get committed because there’s the option to compensate for things in virtual worlds (but that’s another topic).

  19. I’ve come to a position in the last decade or so where I just assume that anything the media reports is incomplete at best, opinionated as a baseline, and a flat out lie far too often. It’s about the same position I have on politicians; if they are speaking, they are lying.

    Journalism is a lost art. Thankfully, the internet has made information easy to acquire, and with enough research, it’s easy enough for interested parties to completely ignore reporters. Of course, people lie on the internet, too, but if you can manage to get a good cross section of data sampling, you can usually sort out a fair bit of the static.

    Then again, we do have things like this, as assertion that, if true, helps to remind us that even if individuals don’t lie on their own, someone will lie for them:

    Breivik Facebook Page Altered?

  20. /sigh – I suppose I should come up with another name for my game time. When I’m wound up or need to destress, my wife tells me to either go for a bike ride or go shoot people in the face. Now, what she really means is go do some BGs or BFBC2, not actually pull my .44 or .300 out from the gun safe and find a water tower somewhere.

    I’d like to see the number on people who play/watch violent games and moves who DON’T abuse their spouses, go on killing sprees, etc.

  21. Amen. What they completely forget to mention is that a psycho like that guy would’ve done something like that quite regardless if he had ever touched a game like WoW or any other game for that matter. 30 years ago it would’ve probably been the hour he spent listening to Black Sabbath. 80 years ago it would’ve probably been that one time he went to a jazz-club. 150 years ago it would’ve probably been the one time he missed out on church.

    There will always be something to blame, but to people like this reasons don’t matter. When they’re that fucked up, the only thing that can prevent it from happening is stopping them early enough.

  22. @Adgamorix
    Ah, but that wouldn’t make for good news – who wants to hear about the majority of people? it’s exceptions that make for explosive news.

    @Zinn
    Indeed. There is/was always something to take the blame and will be, humankind is probably just really big in distraction strategy like that. it hurts more to have a look at things closer around you, let alone yourself.
    this is still part of many countries foreign policy up to this day, is it not. if we can’t fix home, let’s have a war somewhere.

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