So, apparently, this is how my 2013 begins…

An open letter to the SouthingtonSOS organization about its plan to collect and destroy video games

/Bill Jones/

Screenshot from Tomorrow Corporation’s Wii U title “Little Inferno.” Seemed appropriate.

Update: While I never got a response from the email, The Escapist posted this story. Not crediting myself; it’s just nice to see that they came to reason on this issue.

So, the night of Wednesday, Jan. 2, a buddy of mine posted a story on Facebook I found very disturbing. An organization called SouthingtonSOS — from Southington, Conn. — announced a program to collect and ultimately destroy video games in a stated effort to open a dialogue between parents and their children about violence in video games, as well as certain other forms of media. If you want to read more about it — which you should for context to what is to come — check out IGN’s story on the situation here. You can also download and read a PDF of the official flyer for the event here.

As with all situations like these, we can simply either be angry and go to bed, or we can a little bit abrasive and confrontational, and respond. It appears my 2013 is going to be abrasive and confrontational. I decided to send the following letter to Mr. John Myers, chair of the Southington YMCA, which helped organize the event, and copied Southtington School’s Dr. Joseph Eraldi, who spoke to IGN on their reasoning for the event. The letter I wrote follows. I have yet to receive a response.

Mr. Myers,

I am contacting you because I read a story last night that bothered me. It was about how the group of which you are chairman, SouthingtonSOS, intends to hold an event asking people to bring forward violent video games for disposal and destruction, in exchange for gift cards.

I am bothered by this for a number of reasons. To start, I should tell you that I am a 28-year-old male from the Chicago area, married, with no children yet, just so you understand from what perspective I’m coming at this.

I play video games often, in part because I enjoy them, and in part because I am a writer who regularly covers the industry. But I try to approach things objectively, and there is no hiding that there are plenty of violent games on the market, with some of that violence (much like the violence of any other form of media) serving a greater purpose in terms of storytelling and some of it gratuitous. Both forms, however, are protected by the freedom of speech this country offers. And, maybe more importantly as it concerns this conversation, both are also regulated by the industry itself, which offers a ratings system and self-polices its sales in a way that, at the very least, tries to leave the decision of what should be played to gamers of a responsible age or, in terms of younger gamers, their parents.

What really bothered me when reading about your program, though, was that some of the comments made by Southington School’s Dr. Joseph Eraldi seem like perfectly logical statements. The content of games – just like the content of books, magazines, television shows, movies and so forth – should be something parents discuss with their children. It should be a conversation had at home, and I was happy to see Dr. Eraldi point this out, as so many groups seem to place the blame and responsibility anywhere but the parents. I also wonder, though, why some of the same parents who might see to the destruction of these games bought them for their children in the first place. Either way, why destroy them? What does it accomplish?

Why not simply advocate for more parents to get involved with their children and have these discussions? Where did the idea for disposal of media come into play? I’m hesitant to compare what you’re preparing to do to what the Nazis did, as I’m assuming your group does not have such a nefarious endgame, but I’m sure you can understand that when disposal – and from what I understand ultimately incineration – of media is an idea on the table, that’s going to be the immediate reference point. And I hope as silly as the comparison is, it illustrates how silly the action you are about to take is.

As someone who oversees a learning institution, would Dr. Eraldi just as quickly advocate the burning of violent books, or some of those that used to find themselves on a banned list because certain groups found them objectionable. I noticed reading materials that might promote similar violent ideals were left absent from a list that includes TV and movies. It seems as though the conversation you’re trying to promote only extends to particular forms of media. Strange.

What also bothered me, probably most of all, is that the flyer for this event notes “ample evidence” that violent video games have ultimately contributed to things that lead to a more violent society. I thought that was funny, because unless I missed something along the way, there has never been any conclusive connection between these things, or evidence to support such a claim. As far as I have seen, there has been no scientific proof, only people (including politicians) going on TV and calling themselves “experts” to use a tragedy like the one in Newtown to promote a particular platform, without any of this evidence, only misguided opinions. And when I look at the publicity stunt going on in Southington right now, it’s hard not to feel like you’re doing the same.

Talk to your children? Yes, absolutely. Make decisions about what’s best for them? Of course. Destroy media – destroy, essentially, expressions of free speech – to make a misguided point? I beg you to reconsider.

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” Consider that for a moment. If you’re truly trying to send the message a message about discussing violent media, your medium is sending a totally different message.

I know it is only natural for people, after something as traumatic as what happened in Newtown, to feel the need to do something to respond, to cope. But simply adding to the noise and confusion isn’t the way to do it. Attacking freedom of speech and burning forms of art – however disagreeable some may find them – isn’t the way to do it. But if you’re absolutely intent on collecting and destroying something, might I make a suggestion? Why not collect guns and destroy those. After all, in Newtown, it wasn’t a young man armed with video games who killed 26 people; it was a man with his mother’s arsenal. And I have never, ever, heard of a video game actually killing someone. Seems like it’s guns every time.

Sincerely,

Bill Jones

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