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You know how many murders and assaults there are in the average game of Grand Theft Auto? Exactly none. How many people are killed in serious on-line session of the latest Halo or Call of Duty? Precisely zero. How many throats are cut or necks broken over the course of the whole Assassin's Creed series? Zip diddly.

The same thing can be said for every Stallone movie, with a side order of Schwarzenegger and a dash of Michael Bay. Mix in a double-batch of Tarantino. Finish off with a fine James Bond. No matter how loud the booms from the theater's 50-speaker ultra sound system, or how bright the images on the IMAX-3D screen, no one dies. It is not real.

Movies and videogames are fantasies. When you push the square button on your Playstation 3, it doesn't fire a gun, wield a knife, or accelerate a car. It sends a signal that's evaluated by software. It shifts some pixels. There is no gun, Neo. No car. No knife. No harm, no foul. The only injury is the flab gained from all the hours parked in front of the screen.

Which isn't to say that America hasn't fallen into a culture of violence. Of course it has. But that culture has nothing to do with fantasy on the small screen or on the big screen. It has to do with reality.

Not only are video games and movies nothing more than bits of color flitting around a screen, people know they are fake. It takes a deliberate effort to sink into one of these false experiences, and the illusion is as evanescent as a soap bubble. Games in particular have a hard time engaging people on more than the most superficial level. Even the best video games—from A Mind Forever Voyaging and Star Control II, to Knights of the Old Republic, Borderlands and Mass Effect—have a depth of character not much exceeding the average Choose Your Own Adventure paperback. What's more, game developers are all too aware of the limitations of the medium. The difficulty of providing story and character without imposing such rigiditiy that it ruins the experience is a problem that's plagued game makers from the time of the primordial pixel.

The truth is that children running around shouting "pew pew pew" and pointing their fingers at each other are enjoying an experience that's just as violent, and more engaging to the imagination, than most games. I say that not only as someone who has loved games for three decades, but as someone who spent years reviewing, testing, and writing them. Even with the best of games, emotional engagement isn't that great.

I'm willing to bet that you could take all the people inspired to actual violent acts by playing video games and fit them into one (very unpleasant) booth at your nearest Denny's. Blaming video games for violence in our culture is just the latest itteration of a trope that's been voiced by everyone from Harold Hill to Socrates. Whether it's Pool (with a capital P) or Books (with a capital B), whatever the kids like, it must be trouble.

You know what really inspires people to violence?


Are we seeing a generation that's more inured to violence than their parents? There's little evidence to suggest this is true, but if it is, don't blame Blizzard or Electronic Arts. Blame us. All of us. Blame a people who have accepted the efficacy of torture, surrendered the idea of privacy, cheered endless imprisonment without charge, and enshrined the authority to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime. Blame a nation whose young adults cannot remember a time when we were not at war.

Rather than healing wounds, time has just turned war into back page news. Hollywood has been accused of glorifying violence, but reality has done something infinitely worse. It's made death, destruction, and personal tragedy boring. It's made a culture of violence so prevalent, that we didn't notice it settling around us like an ugly red fog.

And perhaps the worst thing we've done is to make killing clean and neat, cool and pushbutton. We've turned the business of death into something carried out as a 9-5 job, something you can do wearing a polo shirt in an air-conditioned office. Something you can practice in the afternoon, before going home to your kid's softball game and a nice home cooked meal.

It can be argued, has been argued, that the use of remotely operated weaponry is no different than the use of weapons that demand a more personal presence. After all, the person on the receiving end of an attack is just as dead whether that attack comes from a $20 million laser-guided missile, or a $20 truncheon. If dead is dead, what's the difference?

The difference isn't in the effect on those who are killed in the attack. It's in the effect on those who authorize it.

War is state-sponsored violence. It's acceptable only when it's necessary. The people who carry out that violence are admirable not for the harm they cause, but for the risk they assume. In an age when only a small percentage of the population accepts that risk for the rest of us, it is far too easy to use the instrument of war as an expression of frustration or hubris rather than out of need. Removing the risk even to that small group makes delivery of deadly force so acceptable, it barely warrants notice.

In 2005, a rancher in Texas set up a rifle connected to the Internet, rigged so that someone on the other end could direct the weapon toward a deer or antelope and kill the animal by remote control. Within weeks, Texas had banned this sort of operation. Thirty other states followed suit. In every one of those states, deer hunting is legal. Deer are just as dead when hunted by a guy in a camo suit as they are when that guy it sitting on his couch. So why does it matter that death was being delivered by remote control? Why did it matter so much that even Texas was quick to halt this use of weapons?

It matters because it matters. Increasing the distance between personal action and violence is accepting that violence itself is nothing very important. Something you can carry out without the sanction of any court. Something you can carry out on a battlefield that has no boundaries. Something you can do when there's no real threat. Something that's... no more than a game.

You want to blame rising violence in America on someone pushing a button? I'm right there with you, but that button isn't on an Xbox.

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