Ever since writing, art, and music became accepted forms of expression, censorship’s been a particularly violent thorn in the side of creativity. Unfortunately, in the modern age, it’s videogames that have found themselves the target of many moral guardians and product bans, usually in response to a particularly traumatic world event that left the general public skittish and prone to throwing accusations. Something has to hold on to the blame, after all, and if there’s no satisfactory scapegoat, we’ll find one if we have to pull it up from the deepest depths. Anything remotely related to that thing that scares us gets deeply scrutinized to worrisome extents, as we ignore the bigger problem.
Most of this isn’t fueled out of genuine malice – it’s legitimate fear, which makes the problem somewhat worse when that fear is taken up to eleven. The best way to get something censored or removed is to raise a valid complaint against it, which means panic and fear are the bread and butter of video game censorship. There’s also that pesky ‘corruption’ factor, in which parents desperately try to shield their little ones from any form of violence or immoral behavior. Mix the three together, and you have a recipe for angry petitions and rage-fueled debates from hundreds of frightened people.
For instance, when the media told the public that the Sandy Hook shooter played video games (shooting games in particular), people took up their torches and poisoned their pitchforks, ready to raid upon the nearest Gamestop. In fact, the very first line in CBS’s report on Adam Lanza was, “Law enforcement sources say Adam Lanza was motivated by violent video games.” It sparked those old stereotypes all over again – the reclusive gamer in the windowless basement, eyes glued to the screen as his virtual body count rises every second.
“Ban all violent games!” the parents screamed. “They’re turning our youth into murderers!” And suddenly, the fact that millions of kids across the world play GTA and Call of Duty religiously without showing any violent impulses beyond a bit of an attitude problem online doesn’t matter anymore. Mental illness or problematic behaviors didn’t matter anymore. The blame was the first priority, whether or not the accusations and demands to ban various games made sense. In fact, it’s already been proven that video games don’t cause violence.
Censorship doesn’t end with violent events, unfortunately. Add social justice to the censorship formula and the game changes entirely.
I’ll admit – there are a few problems relating to social justice that do need to be addressed in videogames. However, as you’ve witnessed by the rapid embrace of Anita Sarkeesian’s views by various videogame magazines and companies, people tend to take it to the extreme. It’s gotten to the point where a rational discussion about these problems is nigh impossible, thanks to circlejerks and people taking sides instead of coming together as equals. Having guns, sex, violent/morally ambiguous acts and prostitutes (or any combination of the three) in a modern setting is a good way to get a game banned these days, as Australia indicates. The misconception is that people who play these games aren’t able to separate virtual reality from actual reality – which we all know is bullshit, seeing as none of us are out breaking pots in hardware stores for no reason.
Videogame censorship isn’t just a bunch of grumbling adults and oversensitive social justice warriors. We’re still floundering when it comes to what should and shouldn’t be shown in our media, especially if it raises controversy. Embrace that controversy – let it promote discussion. We don’t get enough of that nowadays, and fighting censorship prompts those necessary questions.