The tenuous connections the anti-video game crowd will use to justify a screed sometimes amazes me. Apparently on Sunday night pro-football player Kevin Everett suffered a major spinal injury during the game that had many people predicting he’d be paralyzed as a result (he’s doing much better than expected at the moment). For some reason this prompted a columnist at The Virginian-Pilot by the name of Bob Molinaro to write a rant about video games apparently on the basis that violent games have so desensitized us that we aren’t able to sympathize with the plight of this multi-million dollar sports star:
I IMAGINE THERE’S a large segment of NFL fans that envisions pro football to be the embodiment of the video games they love to play.
Perhaps most of the NFL’s popularity can be attributed to the interests of gamblers and fantasy fanatics. But I’ve got a feeling that a certain percentage of males, those whose senses have been bombarded by video violence all their lives, are attracted to pro football by the slickly edited TV images that are a variation of their virtual-reality experiences.
At this point I think it’s important to point out that there have been rabid fans of NFL football and the “slickly edited TV images” for far longer than there have been video games. I know a lot of football fans that were attracted to video games because of the football simulations, but I don’t know of too many gamers who were attracted to football because the broadcasts kinda sorta seem like the games they play. Granted I’ve not undertaken any scientific studies of this question, but I have heard people claim the former reason and no one claim the latter one.
This makes me wonder if the catastrophic injury to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett will make any real impression on the desensitized adolescents and adults raised with the cartoon violence of “Madden ‘08” or “NFL Blitz,” or the absurd blood-and-guts scenarios associated with other Xbox games.
This was my “what the fuck” moment. Apparently Mr. Molinaro thinks video gamers are unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s not entirely clear just what sort of response Mr. Molinaro feels would be appropriate from gamers. Does he expect this tragic injury to cause us all to toss down our controllers and rush out to donate money to an already well-paid sports star in hopes of helping him overcome this injury? Or is he just upset we haven’t sworn off violent video games after being shocked to our senses by Everett’s injury? Even though it’s clear that he seems to think we should be doing something as a result of this unfortunate event he doesn’t actually bother to say what that something is.
From there he goes on to rail against football fans themselves apparently having forgotten about us insensitive gamers for a bit:
On a human level, there may be no more important or heartbreaking development in the NFL this season than the spinal-cord injury suffered by Everett on Sunday. Yet, I suspect it won’t resonate as it should.
The NFL, after all, has a well-programmed audience. The league’s crass packaging of its product anesthetizes us to the violence. The men inside those jerseys sacrificing bones and ligaments and risking paralysis aren’t really people; they’re interchangeable laundry.
Nobody stops to ask what price the athletes pay for our amusement until years later, when former players are hobbling like tables with one leg shorter than the others. Or they suffer brain damage brought about by the very collisions that vicariously thrill us as we sit in our family rooms.
Last I checked those players are paid pretty damn well for those risks and I doubt very many of them are unaware of the potential for catastrophic injury they face when they go out on the field. Yes, the whole thing has a gladiatorial combat air about it and that’s as much an appeal to the players themselves as any of the fans. Anyone who has reservations about that sort of thing probably isn’t signing up to be a football player to begin with. Is it a tragedy when they get hurt this seriously? Absolutely, but is it too much to ask for a little personal responsibility? Those players knew what they were getting into when they signed up and they’re not exactly hurting for health care when they do get injured.
One of ESPN’s most popular features with football fans is a program highlighting the biggest hits from that week’s games. Former NFL players sit around a desk guffawing as video of freight-train collisions are played one after the other.
With each hit, the panelists raucously exclaim, “He got… jacked up!”
Somehow, with a young player clinging to life in Buffalo, getting jacked up doesn’t seem so funny.
As they say: It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. There’s a certain amusement to be found in tempting fate and walking away unscathed or with only minor injuries and that’s as true for everyday people as it is for any football player. How many reality shows are made up of video clips of people injuring themselves in some way? The people in all those clips survived — very few of those shows will air clips in which people were grievously injured or killed — and many of the people involved are interviewed boasting of their survival. A lot of them seem to be composed of poor guys getting hit in the balls unexpectedly. As someone who has taken a few nutshots in his time I can honestly tell you there’s nothing at all funny about it at the time, but years later I often laugh about it when I recount those stories to others and I still laugh at every video clip of some poor guy who got hit in the balls trying to teach his five-year-old how to play baseball.
You can argue it’s wrong to laugh at the misfortune of others I suppose, but that’s not going to stop people from doing it and exposure to violent video games has very little to do with that fact. I need only remind folks that the old cliche of slipping-on-a-banana-peel joke was in cinema long before video games came around and it rarely failed to get a laugh at the time. Hell, it still does when done properly.
From here he goes on to whine about how you shouldn’t get too attached to a player if you’re a fan as they’re only one bad tackle away from being out for the season (as if fans didn’t already know this) and he whines about how the outcome of a season isn’t so much who has the better team as much as it is which team is luckiest to have the fewest injuries and how football isn’t just some cartoon, blah blah blah blah blah. Then he gets back to tying it all in with those nasty, desensitized video game players:
I wonder if any of this hits home with the very large and growing demographic that comes to football through the make-believe violence of video games. In that world, jacked-up players always bounce back, returning as good as new when the game is switched on.
This week, more than many, we’re reminded that in real-time, real-life football, the violence and its consequences are all too real.
Allow me a moment to enlighten Mr. Molinaro even though I, technically, am not a football fan at all.
Dear Mr. Molinaro. We video gamers aren’t so inured to violence that we can’t sympathize with Kevin Everett on his injury. Nor are we blissfully unaware that football and life don’t have a Reset button. It might come as a surprise, but a lot of us prefer violent video games over watching football precisely because we know the violence isn’t real and no one is actually getting hurt. In many ways it allows us an opportunity to exercise some of the baser instincts of mankind without actually harming anyone in the process. The same baser instincts that are likely the cause of the NFL’s popularity along with boxing and the UFC.
By the same token we are not unaware of the enormous sacrifices and pain of the people who participated in World War II or Vietnam or Desert Storm simply because we’ve played games set in those environments. We’re not unsympathetic to the victims of violent crime even though we have played games that allowed us to act out said crimes nor are we unresponsive to the victims of police brutality even though some games have allowed us to play as officers who like to use excessive force. We’re also not desensitized to the plight of hostage victims or the gorillas who kidnap them the world over despite the fact that we’ve played a lot of games, Donkey Kong comes to mind, in which such scenarios play out. We also have deep respect for the pain and suffering experienced by uncounted millions of little yellow pills needlessly consumed, along with the occasional ghost, despite our years of playing Pac-Man.
It is possible, Mr. Molinaro, to play video games on a regular basis without losing all connection to reality or the empathy for others that makes us human beings. Blaming the world’s woes on a hobby you don’t appreciate does nothing to solve the problem you’re whining about, especially when that problem appears to be largely a figment of your imagination or lack of understanding of human nature. If you’re appalled by the violence inherent in either NFL football or video games my advice would be not to participate in either activity, but don’t try to claim those of us who do are all insensitive jerks because we don’t react the way you think we should to every tragedy that comes along.
Update: Forgot to give a hat tip to Game Politics for the original link.