The Violent Video Game Return Program: Ah, Cripes

Author’s note: SouthingtonSOS has canceled its Violent Video Game Return Program, citing that it’s already accomplished its goal of spreading awareness. That said, I believe the points in this article are still valid and efforts like these are distracting us from the real issues. SouthingtonSOS’s program may have been terminated, but it can still serve as a useful example–and so we’re going to run the original article in full.

Now I’ve seen it all. In a fit of well-intentioned but reactionary knee-jerk-ness in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, SouthingtonSOS, a community action group based in the town of Southington, Connecticut, has organized a Violent Video Game Return Program for January 12. Residents are encouraged to trade in violent games, movies, and music in exchange for $25 gift certificates furnished by the local chamber of commerce. Finally, someone that’ll give Kyle more than $2 for his copy of Homefront!

Although I dislike the idea in principle–especially the plan to snap and burn the collected discs–it’s clear that Southington has its heart in the right place. “We’re suggesting that for parents who have a child or children who play violent video games, to first of all view the games,” Southington School superintendent Joe Erardi explained in a recent interview with Polygon. 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.” That part about encouraging parents to take a more active role in, ya know, actually parenting, is something I can really get behind; neither the Xbox 360 nor the Playstation 3 is a babysitter, and I’m not sure I’d trust the care of my children to something called the Wii that wants everyone to shake its remote. Getting mommy and daddy more involved in junior’s interests is always a good thing.

Although SouthingtonSOS is careful to note that this program “…is not intended to be construed as statement declaring that violent video games were the cause of the shocking violence in Newtown on December 14th,” I can’t help worrying that such initiatives are distracting us from the bigger picture. I’m no psychologist, but I’m fairly certain it takes a lot more than media-created desensitization to violence to turn someone into a cold-blooded killer. There’s a whole host of health, economic, and cultural issues contributing to the violence in this country. People pick up a weapon when they’re desperate, when they’re alone, when they feel disenfranchised, when they’re sick, or–perhaps most importantly–when it seems like there’s nowhere they can turn for help. Unfortunately, solving those problems involves a lot more time, effort, and money than trading in a few games and walking away with a gift certificate and a warm fuzzy in the pit of your stomach.  It means looking in the cultural mirror and examining all of our warts closely rather than covering them up quickly with a bit of makeup. The cynical side of me thinks we’ll never get there because there’s no easy way to put something like that on a campaign poster, because concerned citizens have events like this Violent Game Return Program that can make them feel like they’ve done their part and can go back to their lives.

I hope SouthingtonSOS’s message of greater parental involvement resonates with the community and influences at least a few families positively. I truly do. But I can’t help worrying that their Violent Video Game Return Program will only further add to a terrible stigma often attached to one of my favorite hobbies, that it’s distracting us from the real issues at hand, and that the fumes from the burning games, music, and movies will do more damage than the initiative will do good.

You know what it comes down to? We need to be better to each other in general. I say that not as some Bible thumping zealot or crunchy hippy flower child but simply as someone looking at things logically and rationally. We need to take better care of our neighbors. We need to stop stigmatizing those who need a little help and make sure they can get it. We need to stop putting profits ahead of people. We need to wake the fuck up and stop being such a bunch of selfish assholes. When everyone’s included and taken care of, many of the motivations for violence are removed. What we really need is a Fucked Up Society Return Program. Sadly, it’ll take more than a few gift certificates to Arby’s or Chuck E. Cheese to get that one off the ground.

Check out Episode 123 of the D Pad D Bags podcast for our takes on Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 4:

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