Electronic Arts’ Medal of Honor site now links to sponsor sites — where you can buy guns similar to the ones in the game.
Regular readers know that I don’t believe there is any relationship between people who play violent video games — even for hours a day — and people who commit real-life violence. The rare person who commits a mass shooting probably isn’t a video-game nut. Those who are gamers likely would have gone on their rampages anyway, because it’s other factors — a precarious cocktail of mental state, social and employment standing, and access to weapons — that make the difference. These games are an escape, a chance to play make-believe, or a place to socialize either with friends in the same room or teammates online.
But I’m going to go off course today and oppose something a video-game company is doing to hawk one of its games. The game company is Electronic Arts, and the game is first-person shooter Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
What are they doing? If you click over to the game’s sponsors page, you’ll see: several of the game’s sponsors are companies that sell assault weapons. In just a few clicks, in-game shooters can become real-life shooters.
One of the things I like about violent video games, including shooters, is that they let gamers role-play in a safe space. They can explore ideas of violence without hurting anyone else or themselves. We’re humans, and it’s natural and normal to wonder what it would be like to hurt someone — and to recognize that there are real-life consequences, from a lifetime in jail to a lifetime of guilt, for acting on those curiosities in reality.
In a game, where you’re fighting enemies — whether they’re zombies or soldiers — you get the chance to play the hero. And in our culture, many of our heroes (policemen, soldiers, and movie characters like) carry guns. We can debate whether that’s the way it should be, but that’s how it is.
That doesn’t mean gamers should buy real-life guns. After all, what is someone who plays Medal of Honor 3 hours a day going to do with a TAC-300 McMillan Tactical Rifle? Ship out to Bosnia? Unlikely. Hunt pheasant? Maybe — if they’re near a wildlife refuge. Accidentally or intentionally shoot someone? Again, the odds are low — but they’re higher in a household with a gun than in a household without one.
I don’t think playing shooter games makes anyone more likely to fire a gun at a real-life person. But video-game companies should draw a clear line between fantasy guns and real guns, between fantasy shooting and real shooting. EA seems to be erasing that line entirely — for their own profit, and to the potential danger of their customers. If I were someone who buys EA’s games, this is the point at which I’d stop.