The annual E3 gaming conference is taking place in Los Angeles this week, and many of the world’s biggest gaming publishers are lining up to show the public their latest big budget offerings.
Many of the new games presented will share a common theme: guns.
The mid-90’s represented a turning point for the gaming industry, in which its focus on shooters grew stronger — going from Quake to Goldeneye, to more recent celebrated games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield.
The mass-market appeal of shooters such as these reached fever-pitch in recent years, with annual installments and frenzied launches marking what are now some of the biggest money makers in all of entertainment (raking in over half a billion dollars in just a matter of days).
For the past several years E3 has attracted critical commentary on the volume of games involving guns.
Some of that criticism is based on just a sheer lack of variety, yet sometimes it’s due to the real-world parallels that can be drawn. Sometimes those lines are obscure, but for E3 2016 the parallel for some is ostensibly clear.
Following yet another horrific mass shooting in the U.S, in which over 50 people were killed, some members of the gaming community are now beginning to question the role that such games play. Not only in promoting gun culture, but in how their flashy presentations can often seem tone deaf — particularly in the wake of such tragedy.
Chris Plante and T.C Sottek, writing for The Verge, pulled into question EA’s press conference for its apparent disregard for the very real events that had occurred just hours prior in Orlando.
The Verge editorial questions the morality of showing footage where “humans kill each other with hyper-detailed guns” so soon after the worst shooting in the history of the United States.
EA’s conference is the first of many taking place this week, showing new ‘gun games’ like Titanfall and Battlefield. Yet, as The Verge points out, such heavy focus on the shooter genre is not the practice of just a single publisher, adding that E3 as a whole “regularly celebrates graphic violence”.
Many have taken The Verge article to be a either a cheap shot towards the gaming industry, or click bait at a time of mourning. Whatever you consider it to be, one thing is clear — the issue the editorial is attempting to address is by no means a binary one.
The Verge piece isn’t attempting to shame EA and others for the games they create. Nor is it a criticism of the gaming industries creative output.
Instead, I believe the commentary (misjudged or not) was attempting to start a timely dialogue on the brazenness with which various gun fantasies are flaunted, trailer after trailer.
American gun culture, violent games, and popular entertainment in general have a longstanding (and lucrative) relationship which isn’t going away anytime soon.
The popularity of such entertainment has long been questioned, be it in games, TV or movies, such as those from Quentin Tarantino. Arguments on the how and the why are endless.
People will draw parallels, lines will be drawn. This is inevitable. Some will blame games, others won’t. Sometimes it will be justified, sometimes it won’t be.
Real people died, and hours later a corporation took to the stage to showcase how you can kill people in their new game. It makes for a flashy headline, but the connection is often tenuous and the subject much more nuanced.
Games are often a scapegoat, and gamers are often defensive. Either way, distinguishing fantasy from reality and remembering real people have suffered is what matters right now.
Nobody is calling for end to this form of entertainment, however we should take this as an opportunity for consideration, reservedness and to reflect on how popular gun-toting media fits into and informs our culture.
No matter what your stance, we should first and foremost mourn those lost. Worrying about how EA and others sell their games can be an issue for another day.