In his post-Sandy Hook press conference, the CEO of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre condemned “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people.” It might sound like a rare moment of self reflection from a usually oblivious cretin but he was actually talking about the video-game industry.
He continued by listing “violent video games with names like Bullet Storm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse” before, in a move of blinding hypocrisy, allowing the NRA to release their own first person shooter, NRA Practice Range, for ages four and up.
In a move against patient-confidentiality and civil liberty, La Pierre also demanded “a national database of the mentally ill”, presumably for target practice. He did this despite the fact that therapists are already required to report anyone who makes a credible threat, and warn any possible targets. In short, Wayne LaPierre is an old, ableist, culturally-conservative dinosaur.
It’s very easy to mock the NRA and their puritanical approach to videogames, but it’s more difficult to come to terms with the fact that, as a game consumer, you’ve almost definitely funded them. There’s a reason that the NRA always criticise the same four or five games, and it’s not because the last time they touched one was in an 80s video arcade.
It’s because Grand Theft Auto, Bulletstorm et al don’t pay gun-manufacturers licensing fees, instead they simply invent their own weapons. Call of Duty and Battlefield on the other hand, pay handsome sums to bloody handed arms manufacturers in order to maintain a competitive level of authenticity. “Typically, a licensee pays between 5 per cent to 10 per cent retail price [of the game]”, an arms manufacturer representative recently told Eurogamer. “Video games expose our brand to a young audience who are considered possible future owners.”
Weapon licensing is so lucrative that firms such as Cybergun, exist predominantly broker deals between content publishers and gun manufacturers. A Cybergun representative once remarked: “We definitely see sales of particular guns increase when they are featured in popular video games, such as Call of Duty.”
Game publishers are decidedly less forthcoming. EA, Sony, Codemasters and Crytek have all repeatedly declined to comment on the practice. An Activision representative declined and added “My hands are tied” while Sega remarked that “[This request] doesn’t sit comfortably.”
It’s not just arms manufacturers and the NRA that receive a cut of the billions of dollars spent on modern military shooters each year, war criminals and mercenaries also get theirs. Last year Activision hired Oliver North, a Colonel heavily implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, to consult on Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 while EA, chasing Activision’s market share, decided they should consult with private military contractors..
Elsewhere the United States military contractor formerly known as Blackwater (they changed their name to Academi to distance themselves from numerous accusations they later settled out of court) released a Kinect based shooter in order to improve their public image. Unsurprisingly, given the imprecision of motion controlled action games, the game was practically a war crime itself.
As game consumers and critics, if we fall into the simple trap of aggressively criticising the NRA, we prove them right in their eyes and in the eyes of lawmakers. We must instead take a self-critical look inwards and do what we can to stop funding gun manufacturers while urging publishers and developers to do the same.
These changes can be as simple as using a gun’s model number but not it’s brand name, a practice used by Codemasters to avoid licencing fees in their Operation Flashpoint games.
One also hopes that the industry could stop relying on fire-arms as their primary method of interaction and crafts new genres and player perspectives in the process. Given the persistence of the gun as a practical tool even in inventive non-violent titles like Portal and Anti-Chamber however, this eventuality looks to be a long way off.
For the timebeing gamers and publishers needn’t stoop to the level of the sensationalists at the NRA but instead, show that games are a diverse, fast growing, and maturing medium that will outlive their dying, violent world view.