RT SideQuest: Branching off the RTX Main ConQuest

By John Fenix

Final setup of the RT SideQuest booth is underway in the main exhibition hall of RTX Friday morning before the floor opens to the public.

For a weekend in the summer, tens of thousands of people flock to Austin to celebrate a company whose primary productions are hilarious webseries and Let's Play content. Although it’s been around since 2003, Rooster Teeth Productions has only had its own convention, RTX, for the last 4 years. Despite being so new, the convention, like the company itself, has expanded exponentially, with 40,000 fans arriving in Austin for a weekend of video games, previews of RT productions, meet and greets with RT staff among other events. Beyond the walls of the convention itself, one can find the expanding influence of the convention itself and the fan community itself to bringing good and charity as well as fun. Some of those 40,000 that attended this year's RTX were doing just that, branching off the main path of RTX to attend RT SideQuest, a community-run series of events that has been raising thousands of dollars for charities both local and national.

SideQuest festivities begin Thursday, the night before the convention starts with their Charity Dinner and Auction, now in its fourth year. Before the normal, bustling atmosphere of RTX begins, attendees enjoy a calm, more relaxed occasion to enjoy delicious food, great beer, and meet fellow fans, even a few Rooster Teeth staff. Dressed in suits and cocktail dresses, the event offers a chance for attendees to dress up from the normal convention attire. Around the floor, tables display items offered for silent auction run throughout the night, from props provided by RT Staff, companies such as Twitch, and pieces of artwork created by Rooster Teeth community-at-large. No matter how much the item goes for, attendees know all the money will be donated to charities such as Child's Play, which lies at the core of what RT SideQuest has become. Where they are today stems from their humble origins only 4 years earlier.

Early attendees to RT SideQuest’s Charity Dinner get early chance to bid on the items being offered for charity during Thursday evening, from Rooster Teeth Productions scripts and props, to Twitch streaming packs, to Microsoft and Halo products and signed merchandise.

The start of RT SideQuest parallels RTX itself. When the first RTX was being organized in 2011, only 200 tickets were initially offered. This concerned RT Community member Dominic Dobrzensky, now Co-founder and Donations Director for RT SideQuest. He wished to create an event parallel to RTX for fans to meet each other and explore Austin, even if some of them couldn't make it to RTX proper, which later expanded to offer 600 more tickets. Dobrzensky, originally from Vancouver, teamed up with local Austinite Grady Bailey, now fellow Co-Founder and President, creating a spreadsheet of places to eat and visit for attendees to use, becoming an interactive guide for any RTX attendees to use while in town for the convention. During the weekend of meet and greets, 100 fans showed up to meet fans at local Austin flavors such as Home Slice and Halcyon. Even during this initial event, RT SideQuest showed the potential to become its own event as much as RTX.

It wasn't until after the support and attendance from the first year that started to conceive RT SideQuest as a charitable parallel event to RTX, says Julia Rosinski, Logistics Director for RT SideQuest. They started the following year with their first charity auction, where they raised $10,000 for Child's Play, a video game-related charity. Every year since then, RT SideQuest has raised more money not only for Child's Play, but now several other charities, including Extra Life, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Operation Supply Drop, and AbleGamers. The amount of money being brought in by these events led to the group of people coming together to formally organize RT SideQuest as a non-profit in 2013.

Saturday night of RTX weekend, RT SideQuest staff and Spectres, volunteers spending their convention time helping setup for SideQuest events, are busy pulling together the evening’s festivities on the second floor of Buffalo Billiards bar along Austin’s well-known Sixth Street. The bar, pool cues, and gaming consoles are set for the competitors to compete in the SideQuest BarLympics. Soon enough, the room is filled with competitors, split into four teams, named after characters from Rooster Teeth's show, Red vs Blue. The team that wins the most points from a number of challenges has their name added to the BarLympics trophy as that year's winner. The challenges vary from playing rounds of Super Smash Brothers, drinking a few specialty drinks, or taking a picture of yourself at a bachelorette party or kissing a Lyft car. It's the unique mix of hilarity and high-speed spontaneity that is reflects the spirit of the RT community. After a long night of friendly competition, Red Team took home the trophy and reigned supreme for the evening.

Competitors gather and listen at Buffalo Billiards as Grady Bailey, co-founder of RT SideQuest explains the rules and point system for the evening’s BarLympics.

Even in its few short years of existence, RT SideQuest has rapidly expanded its charitable progress and events beyond RTX. SideQuest meetups have been organized around PAX Prime (PrimeQuest) in Seattle, WA and PAX East (SideQuEast) in Boston, MA. Beyond these meetups, they have done other charity activities: They partnered with local video game retailer Gamers Galaxy to run 24 hour live streams for Extra Life, raising $10,000 over 4 streams. They have even worked with Rooster Teeth staff Barbara Dunkelman, Rooster Teeth’s Community Manager, and Caleb Denecour, Achievement Hunter’s Community Manager to attempt to send them down side of a building in downtown Austin to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As part of their goal of also supporting the community, they provide $200 community group grants to support whatever event or activities they wish to accomplish. It's all part of following RT SideQuest's motto for the group “Enim Filii,” Latin which translates to “For the Children.”

On the Monday following the end of RTX, RT SideQuest attendees that remained in the Austin area gathered for one last farewell at The Salt Lick, one of Austin area’s best local barbecue restaurants, located just outside the city in Driftwood, TX. For the last several RT SideQuest years, fans have gathered to say goodbye to friends, old and new, and enjoy some of the best food the city has to offer. During the previous night, RT SideQuest offered a post-con lounge event at Buffalo Billiards for any RTX attendee to relax and reflect on the finished convention. Sadly, I was catching a flight back home by then and had to enjoy the next best thing: The Salt Lick had open up a small restaurant within the Austin Airport. With more attendees expected to join RT SideQuest alongside their main quest of RTX, the group hopes to rent out a whole area of Salt Lick for the event next year, and I will be sure to be among them, so that I can enjoy the same thing.

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The GamerGate Controversy: A Mire of Misogyny and Hatred

Video games and journalism have a lot more in common than believed by the general public. Gaming journalists are just as important to their respective industry as any other form of journalism. Journalism for video games have come a long way since the conception of the industry. But a major problem with journalists has been escalating within the gaming industry, one that has come under fire recently: video game studios bribing journalists to write positively about the studio’s products in an effort to garner more sales (Kotaku), paid events for journalists to cover big games to either win a prize, or to be compensated with more money (Eurogamer), or studios placing review embargos on reviewers that write highly about the product (GamesIndustry). Journalistic integrity for video games is an issue that is often raised on occasion to dedicated followers of the industry. However, in light of recent events, there is now one more method of bribery studios can utilize: sexual favors for positive coverage. Within the gaming industry is a workforce and community consisting of a healthy balance of men and women. Gaming is no longer exclusive to a male dominant industry. Unfortunately, there are individuals within the community that do not desire this change of hands and attempt to preserve the gamer image in the hopes to make video games exclusive to men. As odd as the following may appear, these two subjects—gaming journalism and women—share a common thread between one another; a thread so tainted by misogyny, racism, sexism and threats of murder and rape, these events led to one of the most controversial movement in all of gaming: GamerGate.

What is GamerGate?

GamerGate is a movement that heavily focuses on sexism within video game culture and the industry at large. The origins of the movement date back to March of 2013, when a public feminist speaker named Anita Sarkeesian crowdfunded and uploaded a multi-part documentary series to YouTube, titled Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. The documentary was aimed at examining “the roles and representations of women in video games,” which included separate episodes discussing “tropes, plot devices, and patterns most associated with women in gaming, from a systemic, big picture perspective,” “hyper-sexualized female characters… extremely graphic depictions of violence towards women,” and “pattern[s] in character design in conceptualization” (“Tropes…”). Upon the release of Sarkeesian’s first video, she was bombarded with a wave of overwhelming negative criticism from gamers, as viewers believed that Sarkeesian was challenging the status quo. In a fit of unmitigated hatred towards the documentaries, users attempted to have her video series taken down; additionally, users uploaded scathing video responses to YouTube, along with replies on her Twitter page criticizing Sarkeesian’s documentaries, calling her a “slut,” a “whore”, and a “cunt,” along with threats of rape and murder, all because of one woman’s desire to speak her mind about the portrayal of women in video games. While Sarkeesian’s documentary series did not start the GamerGate movement, the controversy was enough to keep the subject in the thoughts of all who were involved that ultimately led to the formation of the GamerGate movement.

On February 14th, 2013, a month before the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games documentary was uploaded to YouTube, Zoe Quinn, an independent developer, released a video game titled Depression Quest, a fictional browser game that focused on depression. A year after the game was released, Quinn’s previous boyfriend, one Eron Gjoni, wrote a lengthy blog post alleging that Quinn was in a relationship with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson. In addition, Gjoni accused Quinn of having a sexual affair with Grayson in order for her game to be reviewed positively when Depression Quest later launched on Steam—the digital distribution platform for video games on personal computers (The Washington Post). Initially, the blog post appeared no more than mere Internet drama—a “rambling online essay” as pointed out by Nick Wingfield of The New York Times (The New York Times). That was the case, until Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief for Kotaku, spoke about the allegations in earnest. While Totilo confirmed the relationship, he heavily emphasized that there was no proof that Grayson wrote or covered any game from Quinn prior to the relationship (Kotaku).

Unfortunately, this did not stop gamers from decrying the end of gaming journalism. Shortly after, a number of individuals began to virally harass Quinn and her family with misogynistic and discriminatory language, along with threats of raping and/or murdering Quinn. “Next time she shows up at a conference we... give her a crippling injury that's never going to fully heal... a good solid injury to the knees,” an anonymous user on the message board 4chan wrote, “I'd say a brain damage, but we don't want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us” (The New Yorker). This barrage of verbal assault was enough for Quinn to leave her home and find shelter with close friends.

In August 2014, Adam Baldwin, a famous actor, coined the term “GamerGate” in a Twitter post, where he criticized the hate movement against Quinn. This post led to the conception of the GamerGate hashtag (Reason). A month after the GamerGate hashtag was created, approximately two million Twitter posts contained the hashtag (Newsweek). This quickly formed a divisive split between the industry, where the movement was divided into two groups: Pro-GamerGaters, and Anti-GamerGaters.

GamerGate movement

The GamerGate movement is a mystery in the eyes of the public, which has led to confusion as to what the movement is about. Those that are for GamerGate claim that the movement is focused on the corruption and biased nature of gaming journalism, while those who are against GamerGate claim that Pro-GamerGaters are fighting against women and are thus fighting back against these assaults. The biggest flaw regarding the movement lies in the movement’s lack of opposition towards a unified cause. The GamerGate movement is without any reasonable and logical opposing arguments, which gives off a distinct withdrawal and separation of "Us vs. Them.” One side is fighting to include ethics in gaming journalism, while the other side fights for the freedom of women in the video game industry. This leads to the overall movement having no central focus as to what each side is attempting to resolve.

However, the Pro-GamerGaters bring up a valid concern about the state of gaming journalism. Journalists always have a colored perception amongst the gaming community, as these conveyers of news in the gaming industry are viewed not as individuals seeking to protect consumers from purchasing a sub-par product, but rather as a method for unscrupulous companies to underwrite reviewers and journalists to positively cover the products of the company to ensure maximum profit. The controversy surrounding Quinn and Grayson would be far worse if the developer in question worked for a larger, more publically recognized studio, i.e. Blizzard (World of Warcraft), 343 Industries (Halo), Activision (Call of Duty), or Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed).

On the flip side, the opposition—the Anti-GamerGaters— bring to light a valid argument. Female gamers are subjected to a variety of harassment and abuse. Feminine gamers are frequently bombarded by men asking to be in a relationship, sexually harassed and assaulted, and threatened with murder and/or rape. Women want to be gamers just like their counterparts, but women often prefer not to be involved with gaming, as gaming culture is viewed as a mire of negativity, sexism, racism, and misogyny. However, despite this negativity, the margin between male and female gamers is slowly drawing into neutral ground, as female gamers account for just 48% of the video game industry (Entertainment Software Association).

Although Pro and Anti-GamerGate followers state that their motive is to fight for ethics in gaming journalism and to protect women in the industry, respectively, a number of critics and commentators are skeptical about these claims—that the movement has nothing to do with the journalistic well-being within the gaming industry or protecting women from harassment. “Every single question of journalistic ethics [GamerGate] has brought up has either been debunked or dealt with,” Todd VanDerWerff of Vox wrote, “At this point, [GamerGate] seems to keep raging simply to do two things: harass women and endlessly perpetuate itself so it can keep harassing women. There is absolutely no center to it — save for the harassment of women” (Vox).

The reason the GamerGate movement has accumulated this much controversy does not come from the sides of the movement or what the movement represents; the controversy stems from the methods both sides employ to get their respective sides’ messages across, as well as the harassment and assault on, primarily, women within the industry—one that highlights a wider and larger problem within the cultures of the Internet. Both sides of the movement regularly threaten acts of rape and murder to each other, as well as women who speak out about the movement; additionally, these groups engage in hacking and breaching of personal information on a regular basis. One such method both sides utilize is a form of hacking known as doxing (The Daily Dot). Doxing is the act of hacking into an individual’s personal information and publishing said information on websites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and 4chan. This information includes first and last name, address, ZIP code, occupations, diplomas, one’s credit card number, bank account number, Social Security Number, phone number, along with a number of other pieces information pertaining to an individual. Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Brianna Wu, an independent developer who criticized the GamerGate movement, were among those targeted by doxing (Boston Globe). Additionally, individuals engaged in deploying Distribution Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks on websites in a concerted effort to have specific services taken down (Forbes). DDoS attacks occur when compromised computers send a certain amount of useless packets of information to a server, thus overloading the server until the service is temporarily taken down. Worse, anyone critical to GamerGate are subjected to SWATing—a sinister form of pranking wherein a hoaxed emergency call is sent in an attempt to provoke the deployment of SWAT teams to the victim’s home (The Guardian).

The GamerGate controversy has grown to such heights that the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence held a congressional hearing about the movement and what can be done to stop it. The executive director of The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one Ruth Glenn, described the GamerGate movement as “an online hate group… which was started by an ex-boyfriend to ruin [Quinn’s] life.” Among those present at the panel was Quinn; she discusses her life during the aftermath of GamerGate—how her life has changed following the events of the movement.

“The girl I used to be used to sit down and check her email where she'd get the occasional fan letter, business correspondence and spam email. These days they're joined by death threats and graphic fantasies about raping me, often accompanied by my home address and proof that the sender has everything they would need to carry through on them… When thousands of faceless strangers have set their sights on you, every single aspect of your life is bombarded and probed until who you were before is gone and your life becomes almost unrecognizable” (Polygon).


What has transpired—and what attacks and discussions are to come—is toxic and destructive to not only those who are actively engaged in the movement, but also to those who are swept into the cobweb of misogyny and hatred. GamerGate, while tragic and atrocious, has led to the industry’s first major discussion about diversity, inclusivity, and the protection of women on the Internet. This discussion will continue to pose questions as to how the industry can evolve past the origins of this growing business. But the real question that must be asked is not which side of the movement is right or wrong; the question is whether the methods of intimidation, as well as the treatment of women online is justifiable. Is threatening a woman with murder and/or rape on the Internet reasonable? Is sending the SWAT to an opponent’s home as a result of an ongoing argument justifiable? Is the publishing of personal information reasonable and justifiable? For the industry’s best interest, this movement must end as soon as possible.

Works Cited

Plunkett, Luke “Yes, a Games Writer was Fired Over Review Scores.” Kotaku. Kinja. Web. 
2012. 15 April 2015.

Florence, Rab “Lost Humanity 18: A Table of Doritos.” Eurogamer. Dx. Web. 2012. 15 April 2015.

Whitehead, Dan “Review Embargos: The Subtle Straitjacket.” GamesIndustry. Dx. Web. 2013.
15 April 2015.

“Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” YouTube. Google. 25 August 2014. Web. 18 April

Kaplan, Sarah “With #GamerGate, the video-game industry’s growing pains go viral.” The
Washington Post
. Washington Post Media. 12 September 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Wingfield, Nick “Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats in ‘GamerGate’ Campaign.”
The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 15 October 2014. Web. 22 April

Totilo, Stephen “In recent days I've been asked several times about a possible breach of ethics
involving one of our reporters.” Kotaku. Kinja. 20 August 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Parkin, Simon “Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.” The New Yorker. Condé Nast. 9 September
2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Young, Cathy “GamerGate: Part 1: Sex, Lies, and Gender Games.” Reason. Reason Foundation.
12 October 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Wofford, Taylor “Is GamerGate About Media Ethics or Harassing Women? Harassment, the
Data Shows.” Newsweek. IBT Media. 25 October 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

VanDerWerff, Todd “#GamerGate has won a few battles. It will lose the war.” Vox. Vox Media.
23 October 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

“Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.” The ESA. Entertainment
Software Association. 2014. Web. 21 April 2015.

Romano, Aja “4chan hacks and doxes Zoe Quinn’s biggest supporter.” The Daily Dot.
22 August 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Caesar, Chris “Video Game Developer: Twitter Rape, Death Threats Forced Me From Home.”
Boston Globe. Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. 11 October 2014. Web. 22 April

Kain, Erik “The Escapist #GamerGate Forums Brought Down In DDoS Attack.” Forbes.
Forbes, Inc. 20 September 2014. Web. 22 April 2015.

Hern, Alex “GamerGate hits new low with attempts to send Swat teams to critics.” The
. Guardian News and Media. 13 January 2015. Web. 23 April 2015.

Hall, Charlie “Domestic violence task force calls GamerGate a ‘hate group’ at congressional
Briefing.” Polygon. Vox Media Inc. 21 April 2015. Web. 23 April 2015.  

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Mind Over Play—The Psychological Benefits of Playing Video Games

This discussion was originally written as an assignment for my Psychology class. Several of the sources cited are walled off, and thus inaccessible to most. In addition, some parts of this discussion contain spoilers for a few games.

What is a video game? That is an excellent question. Video games are a rising form of entertainment that centers on human interaction within an experience, taking place on your television, smartphone, tablet, or computer monitor. Games are unlike any other form of media out there, from music and novels, to movies and television. Imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back and you reach the scene where Darth Vader asks Luke Skywalker to “join him on the Dark Side”, and there’s an option you choose that makes him answer with “Ok”, and the scene plays out from that one decision. What makes them so great is that the audience is an active participant in the experience, rather than witnessing the exploits of the character. You’re not merely watching someone do his or her lines; youare that person, deciding what happens throughout the story. They have been around since 1971 and they will continue to remain relevant for decades onward.

Recently, however, they have been the subject of media outcries and various scientific and psychological experiments that aim at determining if video games are more destructive to us or not. As unfortunate as that is, we have to see past those notions and look at the benefits these video games have on our lives, and there are certainly a great many of them: coping with and curing depression, improving ones ability to remember and learn (particularly in education), relieving stress, reducing aggression, improving hand-eye coordination, reaction time, motor skills, eyesight, reducing the aging process; it is impossible to fathom how deep this rabbit hole goes. But for the sake of this discussion, we’re focusing on the first four—starting with video games as a cure for depression.

Video Games as an Aid to Depression and Anxiety
In the last few years, various news outlets have scapegoated video games for being a link to recent crimes and murders throughout the United States, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the U.S. Navy Yard shooting. In addition, studies from across various universities and government-funded experimentations have continued to find that video games can increase aggression in an individual, making them more violent, and even become addicted to the games. However, there have been an equal amount of studies that highlight the opposite of the previous studies: video games do not increase aggression, games are not a narcotic, etc. What is seldom discussed and investigated in these studies are the benefits that video games have on people’s lives.

For instance, video games are a great method of helping those with depression, more so than, arguably, therapeutical counseling. Depression is an incredibly devastating condition for anyone to have, whether it’s kids or adults. Yet, despite its destructive power, fewer than 1 in 5 teenagers are given treatment. For many, counseling can be expensive, with sessions ranging from $200-$250 per hour—and that’s just for one session for a given day; whereas purchasing a video game console and a game or two can cost between $260-$520—without any frequent, periodical costs for a session.

What makes video games work as an agent in fighting depression is that they give you full control of the world around you; you have absolute control of the situation. While people believe that video games are addictive to the point of social withdrawal, they’re actually an invaluable trait for those going through depression: it lets them become something more than what they are. Video games aren’t addictive so much as they are compelling; you can be a heroic knight, a one-man army, or a rock-n-roll god.

Would you rather pay exorbitant fees to go through this every day, or play a video game you like that can help you?


In fact, in June 2013, researchers in New Zealand created a video game that helps patients with their depression in a fun and compelling manner. SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) is an online video game—free of charge—that delivers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to patients suffering from depression. In the game, players have to destroy GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts) to restore balance to the world. The intention of the game is to get the patients to learn that the GNATs are evil and harmful to the world around them, and to expunge the gloomy, negative and depressive thoughts inside them, thus stopping the rumination of their depression. When they stop buying the idea that everyone hates them or that they have no place in the real world, they realize that the GNATs are not statements about reality, but rather twisted thoughts manipulated by one’s own depression.

A study was conducted on 168 teenagers, averaging at 15 years of age, seeking help for their depression from various therapies, health clinics, school guidance counselors and primary care doctors. Since women are the most prevalent with depression, about two thirds of the subjects were comprised of girls. Half of the group was given regular treatment from one-on-one counseling over the course of five sessions—the control group—while the other half was given SPARX as their treatment for five sessions—the experimental group. After the five sessions were done, 26% of the control group who were given counseling completely recovered from their depression. However, the ones who were given SPARX as their treatment had a significant increase in recovery, with 44% of the experimental group showing signs of recovery. A similar experiment was conducted on adults, and found that computerized CBT was as effective as regular treatment via counseling

Linked Wellness

Video games can help deal with the harshness of the world, even if the game isn’t intended to deliver CBT. Such was the case for a young man who was forced to face his depression dead in the eye after a major update was rolled out. He wrote anonymously on Kotaku as a guest about his struggles with severe depression, how he has “suicidal thoughts regularly”, and his numerous attempts to end his own life, only for them to be foiled by himself.

“My primary reason for existing,” he wrote, “has been those parts of my entertainment that I enjoy the most, and nothing more.”

He expressed that when he sees change as bad, he thinks about committing suicide. He even wrote that “for most of my adult life I didn't buckle my seat belt when I drove.” His depression was put to the test after an update was implemented in Star Wars: The Old Republic, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) set in the Star Wars universe. In the update, a specific ability for his class was nerfed, or made less effective. Initially, the update hit him hard. But, what struck him as shocking was what he was thinking at the time: he didn’t want to kill himself, but instead adapted to the changes.

“When [the developers] made those changes to SWTOR, I didn't think about committing suicide. But I did consider not playing the game anymore. That was a shocking twist for me, because I loveSWTOR. I have spent more time playing this game than any other in my life. But [the developers] had betrayed me, I thought. My groove was no longer valid, and considering that [the classes I played] have the best stories, lore-wise, in the game, I felt like if I had to give them up it might be too painful to continue playing other [characters].

After about an hour of that thought rolling around in my head, I realized just how ridiculous that was. All I had to do to continue enjoying these characters would be to change [the way I play]… Now that my [play style] was no longer valid, I could add [unused abilities] back into the rotation, and things would be fine.”

Even a video game that isn't intended to fight anxiety and/or depression helped someone who did.


“This is the oppressive, crushing dread of being truly alone.”

–Ben Croshaw in his Zero Punctuation critique of Silent Hill 2

We know that video games provide a way to not only entertain through interaction, but to help those who are stricken with depression and anxiety—but what about games that elicit an emotional and psychological response from the audience? This is where video games shine the brightest. Let’s use horror as an example. In a movie like, say, the original SawThe Blair Witch Project, andParanormal Activity, the filmmaker’s goal is to do one thing: to scare the audience. But that’s the only extent the scare has: to induce fear in the audience, and then move on to the next scary scene. Whereas in horror games like Silent Hill 2Resident Evil, and Outlast, the scares are meant to not only scare the audience, but to force them to react and fight back against the terror. As discussed in the beginning, games are meant to provide interaction to the story, rather than having the audience watch the story unfold before them.

While the discussion is still on the subject of depression and anxiety, I‘d like to talk about my favorite game of all time—a game that is a beautiful example of a player-character relationship: Dark Souls. The quote used in the previous page sums up Dark Souls, and he even described the game’s tone and atmosphere using a similar description.

Just to give a brief synopses of the game, Dark Souls is set in a dark fantasy setting where all the mighty heroes, deities, and rulers have either abandoned everyone or have gone insane after the entropic decay of the universe from the Undead outbreak. The Undead are cursed humans who cannot die by normal means—they can still die, but they are revived like a Phoenix, giving them a sort of “immortal” status. You play as an Undead, trapped inside a jail cell, when a mysterious knight throws a key into the cell and flees. You escape and fight your way through the horde of other Undead men and women who are beyond your help to discover that the knight who helped you escape is dead. You escape from the prison and begin the search for a cure to stop the curse inflicted upon you.

What makes Dark Souls such an incredible experience is in part of two things: the brutality of the enemies the player fights and its reflective-surface storytelling. When you leave the prison, you find that all of society has collapsed; everyone is out for your head, and the ones that aren’t trying to murder you are just as mentally damaged as the enemies you fight. Throughout your journey, you’ll find people with a feint glimmer of humanity still within their soul, some of which are willing to aid you in your journey, if only for a brief and terse amount of time.

An Undead merchant.

Dark Souls wikia.

The world is beautifully silent, with the sounds of swords, shields, magic, footsteps, and the monsters that stand before you filling the emptiness of the world around you. Every second of your time is mostly spent all alone, with nothing but your trusty weapon and shield keeping the ravenous nightmares from claiming your precious Souls. A large part of the game centers on the concept of Souls, the universal currency of the game. They serve a multitude of tasks: they’re used to purchase gear/magic/miracles/pyromancy from other individuals, upgrading your gear, repairing said gear, and leveling up. These Souls are vital to your survival against these enemies, but what makes them even more precious is how the game punishes death—which plays into the reflective-surface storytelling mentioned above.

Your character has two forms that occur when separate conditions are met: Human form and Hollowed form, a stage of being an Undead where you lose your sanity and turn into a decomposed abomination. All Undead will eventually lose their mind and go Hollow. When you die, you go Hollow and lose all of your Souls. All of them. But the loss of your Souls is only temporary, as you leave behind a bloodstain seconds before you died that contain your Souls, giving you a chance to reclaim them. If you die before reaching your bloodstain, you lose those previous Souls forever, replacing the previous bloodstain with the new one. This is where the development of the character reflects back onto the player. As the player continues to die, they begin to lose their mind and go insane, furious and equally depressed about their continued failure. As you continue to die, your mind descends deeper into the rabbit hole of insanity and depression. Psychologically speaking, being angry results in more mistakes and less meaningful choices, because your mind is clouded in anger and hatred, and the depression adds to it.

What makes the psychological drama stand out is the difficulty of the game. I know of this first hand, because I’ve played on a character through eight runs, with each successful completion increasing the amount of health all enemies have and how hard they hit you. So defeating an enemy on the eighth run is like stopping a freight train with jet thrusters on each cart with your bare hands. If it were easy, the deaths would have no meaning. Nothing has been gained, and nothing has been earned. Life is all about falling down and failing. You cannot learn without failure. If the world let you skip the toughest parts of life and then moves you straight to the greatest joys of it, the achievement is lost entirely.

But it isn’t all gloom and madness. The most uplifting moment in the journey comes from its seemingly trivial moments: overcoming a difficult trial, especially the boss fights. When you take down a boss that has continuously flattened your face into the floor multiple times, there’s a sudden rush of euphoria that sets you on fire as you scream with joy and excitement at taking down that one enemy you could not defeat. After the fight is over, you are given a large amount of Souls and a piece of Humanity, a black sprite used to revive back to Human form. You forget everything that happened beforehand and you start off with a clean, emotional and psychological slate. You feel like you’ve won tens of millions of dollars from the lottery.

Who would have thought these words would make you feel so satisfied.


Video Games as a Stress Reliever
Now that we’re out of the swamp of depression and insanity, let’s move on to another topic that was discussed near the beginning: video games tackling aggression and stress disorders. This is the hardest topic to delve into, because dozens of experiments and studies point to two sides of the same coin. On one hand, studies have shown that video games increase aggression in young teens and adults; but on the other hand, there are studies stating that video games do not increase aggression in individuals. So the question still remains at this point: do video games cause aggression?

Personally, I don’t believe video games cause violence or increase aggression and stress. Well, I say that after writing my lengthy discussion of Dark Souls, but I still believe that they don’t result in thoughts of violence or aggressive behavior. I actually think they reduce the impulsive behavior that leads to aggression. Video games are like virtual punching bags or stress balls, where someone can squeeze that ball or punch as hard as they can, but it’s not going to break. This is especially true for games that are intended to put the audience in a state of meditative relaxation, like JourneyFlower, or Sign of the Magupta.

How relaxing.

That Game Company

The same is also true for simpler, more casual games—games that are more readily accessible to a larger, more casual audience. An experiment was conducted to determine if playing casual games could reduce stress and improve mood. The experiment was tested on 101 individuals (57 females, 44 males, average age of 24 years). The control group was given a task to search the Internet for health related articles to put in a folder on the desktop, while the experimental group was given a choice of three casual games—Bejeweled 2Peggle, or Bookworm Adventures—to play; both groups were given a time of twenty minutes to complete their respective tasks. Both groups were hooked with sensors that tracked left and right frontal lobe alpha power.

For clarity, increased alpha power in the left hemisphere results in negative mood, and increased depression and avoidance/withdrawal behaviors, while decreased amounts result in the opposite; increased alpha power in the right hemisphere results in better mood and an increase in approach/engage behaviors, while decreased amounts result in negative moods.

In the final results, it was revealed that playing casual games not only improved mood, but also showed that brain waves varied uniquely based on what games were being played, with Bejeweled 2showing the biggest improvement. It was also revealed that playing casual games dramatically reduced anger when compared to the control group.

This game will help you reduce your stress and aggression levels.


“Participating in [casual video games] produces changes in brain waves consistent with improved mood. Remarkably, different games affected brain waves in unique ways. For example, [Bejeweled 2] players experienced significant decreases in left alpha power when compared to controls. Participants who played [Peggle] experienced significant increases in right alpha power while playing… there was a very large difference between [Peggle] and control groups. Playing [Bookworm Adventures] significantly improved the right/left brain alpha ratio [,] another indicator of improved mood and the changes were significantly different from control.”

But these psychological experiments for reducing stress and aggression aren’t solely limited to your everyday individual; they’re also the results of virtual simulators for soldiers recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) created the Virtual PTSD Experience, a simulation meant to provide education on combat related Post Traumatic Stress. It’s set in a mall with different activities relating to PTSD. For instance, one of the activities centers on a mattress. If the user lies on the mattress, a video is displayed, showing the events prior to entering the mall, giving information on trauma-related nightmares and sleep disturbances. The event in question is an activity where the subject drives in an armored Humvee through a battlefield, gunfire and explosions blaring all around.

The T2 Virtual PTSD Experience.


“[This is] the first true AAA drama, where we’re engaged through the exploration of a mental state, rather than simply satisfied by achieving a goal.”
–Extra Credits discussing Spec Ops: The Line

War loses all meaning in entertainment when everyone acts all giddy and joyous about the act of killing their fellow man. Case in point, movies like Die Hard or The Expendables, or video games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Why do people glorify war when it’s abundantly clear that being a soldier is the last thing anyone would want to do in their life? It’s utterly disgraceful and embarrassing that most of the entertainment industry paints war in a positive light when we’re not taking into account the ones giving their lives for a pointless cause that started because of petty trifle and squabble. Thanks to studios like Yager Development, we’re reminded of what war is truly about: war is an uncaring and unavoidable dystopia of hatred, misery, and death.

Does this seem like fun?

University of Arizona

Spec Ops: The Line was an eye opener to me for many reasons; the biggest one of all was the story, which psychologically plays games with the audience. It’s even one of the few games I’ve played where I was physically sick to my stomach, which says a lot. The first thing that comes charging out the gate is the one aspect that is omnipresent throughout the entire game: it’s not fun—extremely gripping and engaging, but not fun. It’s the one thing that exists as the silver platter for its underlying message—which I’ll save for later.

Spec Ops: The Line is meant to be a satire of the gung-ho, America bravado films and video games, like the ones mentioned above, going as far as examining the genre it represents and criticizes it. I’d argue that this is akin to The Great Gatsby or the Schindler’s List of its idiom. It is an oppressive and brutal journey through the inner depths of humanity’s inner demons.

The game is inspired by Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the same book that inspired Apocalypse Now; they even name the antagonist Konrad to make sure you remember it. There are two themes that remain constant throughout the story: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how far removed modern entertainment depicts war when compared to what it really is. You play as Captain Chris Walker, a soldier in the U.S. Army sent to Dubai with a small fireteam to evacuate civilians from the war-torn city. Everything is going well as you shoot your way through armed foreigners, when the least likely adversary attacks you: other U.S. soldiers. I have to say, green lighting this game took balls. It’s not your standard Iraqi, Russian, Nazi, or terrorist villains, but U.S. soldiers. Anyway, you fight your way through soldier after soldier, seeking answers to why they’re trying to kill you.

The first part that really stood out to me was the first time I was physically sick, nearing the brink of vomiting and eventually did after it was finished—which is an extremely power feeling, if masochistic. At one point, Walker and his squad are forced to use white phosphorus on a large company of soldiers in order to proceed. What follows is a sight worse than the deepest nightmares seeded within us all.

They walk through the aftermath of the destruction they wrought, soldiers with their limbs brutally eviscerated from their bodies as they try to claw their way to safety from the white, miasmic cloud. “Kill me, please,” one soldier pleaded to me. “Why did this happen,” another whimpered, dying immediately at Walker’s feet. But that’s just the beginning… They discover, to their horror, that they killed a large group of civilians in the rampage. The victims they killed are burned beyond recognition, striking a closer resemblance to ghouls than humans.

What have I done?


Now this is where I inject the psychological aspects of the story into this piece. Throughout the game, Walker and his squad encounter a good amount of people on their journey, willing to help them out when things get ugly. Occasionally, a character will converse with Walker—but there’s a much more sinister twist to this: the game will periodically break the fourth wall and speak not to Walker, but you, the player, because this isn’t an experience that’s just taking place on your screen; you are an active participant in the story.

“This is your fault, goddamnit,” one of my squad mates shouted at me in anger, “He turned us into fucking killers!” I felt like utter garbage after that. After that, Walker descends into a downward spiral of insanity, with the emotional status of his men following suit.

So I wrote near the beginning of the Spec Ops discussion that the game not being fun ties integrally into the story. This is why it works incredibly well. The juxtaposition of the serious narrative with the obvious and overtly game-like play makes you feel like something is wrong; the banal gameplay makes you feel the uncanny nature of the game. That “fun” gameplay experience is meant to give you a psychic disconnection from the character. The game’s theme of PTSD is squarely dependent on you feeling uncomfortable with the actual play experience. It’s designed to make you feel uncomfortable, while eventually getting numb to the actions you perform. You feel like something is wrong with Walker, and you feel that through the dissociative gameplay.

The second of these revelations came near the end, when it slowly became clear what the message was all about. Before that, though, the game gives you small messages in the loading screens—the process in which content is loaded onto the screen, with tips placed in them for you to read—that are beyond strange. Messages intended to be informative tips end up developing into deep, psychological profiling comments addressed to you. Comments like:

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.

How many Americans have you killed today?

This is all your fault.

You are still a good person.

If Lugo (one of your squad members) were still alive, he would likely suffer from PTSD. So, really, he’s the lucky one.

If you were a better person, you wouldn’t be here.

To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously.

That last one, about cognitive dissonance, is the one that stood out the most to me. It’s saying that you killing those soldiers is normal, because it’s a game and that’s what you’re supposed to do; but, with the knowledge that the developers set up throughout the game, deep down inside your subconscious, you realize that what you’re doing is wrong, and that you shouldn’t be killing those U.S. soldiers. Near the end of the game, characters begin talking about games and escaping reality. At this point, the game has taken off the gloves—all bets are off. The story is no longer about what’s going on in this fictional virtual world you play in, but instead what’s happening outside of it. By talking about video games, they set the player up for the biggest and ruthless string of punches in all of gaming.

Your life isn't real; it is an illusion manipulated by a higher entity who controls your every action.


And then we reach that very end, when you encounter Konrad. Throughout the course of the game, Walker’s goal was to find and kill Konrad for what he’s done to everyone in Dubai. After slaughtering through hundreds upon thousands of U.S. soldiers, Walker learns that Konrad has been dead all this time, but he’s still physically there, talking to you. Then, he gives this speech, aimed directly at the player like a gun to someone’s head.

“None of this would have happened if you just stopped. But on you marched, and for what? You’re no savior. Your talents lie elsewhere. [It] takes a strong man to deny what’s right in front of him, and if the truth is undeniable, you create your own. The truth, Walker, is that you’re here because you wanted to feel like something you’re not: a hero. I’m here because you can’t accept what you’ve done; it broke you. You needed someone to blame, so you cast it on me, a dead man. I know the truth is hard to hear, Walker, but it’s time. You’re all that’s left, and we can’t live this lie forever.”

Keep that underlined part of the quote in mind. Almost every video game is based around the idea of building fantasy; becoming something you’re not. In most first-person or third-person shooters, the developers build the framework around making the player feel powerful as they charge through waves of enemies that only they can overcome. Yet, Spec Ops, a shooter, looks at that and laughs at the player for how pathetic that fantasy is. It openly mocks the player for longing to be something bigger than what we are. The game critiques and even eviscerates the very genre it tries to be. It is the most powerful message in the story, and everything leading up to that point reinforces that statement.

This is what I love about video games: they can tackle incredibly deep topics through the interaction that other forms of entertainment would dare not venture into, and Spec Ops is an amazing example of a story with a powerful message behind it.

Video Games as a Catalyst to Education
“The United States’ education system is a joke.” I learned that from someone who teaches Basic English to Japanese students. And that person is right: we’re not even in the top 20 in the global educational ranking, which is really bad. The problem with education that stands now is that there’s a lack of motivation to learn. Schools have punished students for doing poorly, which in turn results in less creativity and risks taken in their assignments—in a world where people work to make one of two things: tools and art, both of which involve very creative minds to make, especially in this technological revolution we’re entering.

Video games have an untapped potential at reinvigorating education in the United States and beyond. Even now, scientists and psychologists are exploring the use of video games as a medium in education. Before that, there have been plenty of games intended for educational purposes rather than entertainment. What makes video games so fascinating in the context of learning is that they make it fun and engaging, without bogging the user down with boatloads of text and exercises. Games like Where in the World is Carmon SandiegoThe Clue Finders, and Reading Blaster are great examples of video games as an educational medium.

This brings back so many memories.

Museum of Play

Another example of a video game intentionally created for education is Immune Attack, a first-person strategy game developed by the Federation of American Scientists, Brown University, and the University of Southern California to teach complex biology and immunology subjects to students. In it, you play a teenage prodigy with an immunodeficiency. Players are tasked to teach this individual’s immune system how to properly function, or else the host will die. It sort of plays like a first-person shooter without guns, where the player fights off various pathogens and viral infections while teaching different immune cells how to stop the infections. Through the intense and engaging gameplay, the user learns more and more about the human immune system and various infections in ways that reading a textbook covering the same material would just not work.

Unfortunately, not all games are intended to educate, which is the big problem when looking at the majority of games put out by the big corporations within the industry, as games in this category are generally created for entertainment rather than education. But that doesn’t mean that these video games can’t teach something to the player. For instance, the ability to learn from a referential source is a great way to peek an audience’s curiosity. Case in point, tangential learning—learning through referential curiosity in a context an individual is already engaged in. Let’s take the comic book seriesFables as an example. It’s clearly not trying to educate, yet everyone who reads it knows who the big bad wolf is, what Little Boy Blue is, or who King Arthur is. It’s all thanks to the setting and context of the story that allows the audience to dig deeper into these characters and themes: the bustling streets of New York City ripe with fantastical characters, spells, and detective work—a fantasy based on reality. Intrigued? The audience was exposed to something they didn’t think they would have been interested in, which is a major breakthrough in learning.

...and speaking of which...

New Sanctuary

Another great example, tying back to video games, is a series I love: Final Fantasy. The series is filled with various biblical, religious, mythological, and folklore figures and settings. From the top of my head, here are the names of figures the player encounters throughout the series:
Odin, Sleipnir, Ifrit, Garuda, Bahamut, Shiva, Gilgamesh, Alexander, Ramuh, Leviathan, Asura, Carbuncle, Phoenix, Titan, Fenrir, Siren, and Hades. This is just scratching the surface of what’s in the games.

To elaborate deeper into tangential learning, I’ll discuss my favorite character in the series: Gilgamesh. In the games, Gilgamesh is a silly and cowardly, but equally power warrior who is obsessed with swords, specifically, collecting swords from other combatants in a duel with the following rules: the winner takes the loser’s best sword. More often than not, he will flee from battle if he is losing a fight. He is normally depicted as a fairly tall humanoid, with 2-4 arms, but can have as many as 8 arms, each brandishing a unique sword. His ultimate goal is to find the strongest sword of all: Excalibur. Unfortunately, he often finds and mistakes the “Sword of Legend” with a cheap knockoff of the sword, humorously and famously called Excalipoor.

Outside of the game, however, Gilgamesh was actually the king of Uruk, Mesopotamia who ruled around the time of 2800-2500 BC. He is also the protagonist in the Mesopotamian epic poem, Epic of Gilgamesh, a story about how Gilgamesh came to power, and Enkidu, a demigod who is sent by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing his citizens (who is also in the games as his faithful sidekick), where they become close friends after a major battle and go on to fight big monsters until Enkidu dies by the gods. After the death of his companion, Gilgamesh embarks on a quest to find the secret of eternal life, but is unable to find it and dies, his legacy living on even in death. None of this was looked up—all of that was from memory of what I read in the past. That is tangential learning at its best.

The Gilgamesh of reality.


Video games will have a massive and irreproachable impact on human society, far bigger than people let on. They are so much more than just games—they are a gateway into a world of possibilities. Personally speaking, I believe that these video games are going to be a massive stepping-stone in the evolution of our species—not just physically, but mentally and psychologically.


APA: The Benefits of Playing Video Games

Fernández-Aranda, Fernando, et al. "Video Games As A Complementary Therapy Tool In Mental Disorders: Playmancer, A European Multicentre Study." Journal Of Mental Health 21.4 (2012): 364-374. CINAHL with Full Text. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.

Time: Study-Playing a Video Game Helps Teens Beat Depression

BMJ 2012;344:e2598

Andrews G., Cuijpers P., Craske M.G., McEvoy P., Titov N. (2010) “Computer therapy for the anxiety and depressive disorders is effective, acceptable and practical health care: a meta-analysis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information

Kotaku: A Simple Change To a Star Wars Video Game Helped Me Fight Depression

SILENT HILL 2 (Zero Punctuation)

Hasan, Y., Bègue, L., & Bushman, B. J. (2013). Violent Video Games Stress People Out and Make Them More Aggressive. Aggressive Behavior, 39(1), 64-70. doi:10.1002/ab.21454

Kushner, David. "Violent Video Games Do Not Cause Aggression." Video Games. Ed. Laurie Willis. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from "Off Target." Electronic Gaming Monthly (Aug. 2007): 12-16. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

FLC: “Virtual World” Helps With Post-traumatic Stress.

O’Brien, K., Parks, J., Russoniello, C. (2009) “The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress” Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation, Volume 2, Issue 1

Ashton, Adam. "Video game helps veterans explore post-traumatic stress anonymously." Washingtonpost.com 31 Jan. 2011. Academic OneFile. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

McIlvaine, Ron. "Virtual-reality games helping with PTSD." Soldiers Magazine Apr. 2011: 24. Academic OneFile. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

Extra Credits: Spec Ops: The Line (Part 2)

NPR: U.S. Students Slide In Global Ranking On Math, Reading, Science

Ted Talks: How schools kill creativity

Annetta, L. A. (2008). Video Games in Education: Why They Should Be Used and How They Are Being Used. Theory Into Practice, 47(3), 229-239. doi:10.1080/00405840802153940

Amazon Affilliate Link

The Pointed Finger: Violent Video Games

By Max Gruber

I am a gamer. That should not come across anyone as a surprise to those reading this. I love video games as a form of entertainment. Since the first prototype of the Cathode ray tube Amusement Device in 1947 (simply put, the earliest example of a video game platform), many people began to grow an energetic fascination with the technology. “When we started making video games”, Pitfall Creator David Crane said, “We looked into the future and said, ‘This is going to be as big as television, or bigger, because it’s interactive.’” The landscape of the mass media industry has evolved so much since then, that trends begin to emerge—ideas are constantly shared and envisioned everyday.

Video games have hit a critical mass so giant, it’s begun enveloping other forms of media as they try to catch up to the latest trends. Movie studios like Warner Brothers jumped into the gaming landscape when they were getting their start, publishing titles like the Batman Arkham series, The Lord of the Rings, the recent Mortal Kombat, Bastion, Scribblenauts, The Witcher 2 (and the upcoming Witcher 3), and many more—all of which have been a tremendous success. Over the years, electronic gaming has become a phenomenon in and of itself. And, statistically speaking, they speak for themselves; video games gross more than the movie industry. With titles like Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, and many other big named franchises driving the sales of the gaming industry.

As bright of a future as it seems, there is, unfortunately one obstacle blocking its path into the public consensus, one that threatens the very industry we cherish and love dearly: the controversy surrounding violent video games. But, as much as I want to jump right into the heart of the issue, we have to start from the beginning of this controversy, and that starts back in 1992.

The History of Violent Video Games and the ESRB

The history of this subject dates back many years, when video games were still a relatively unknown industry. I spoke with my mother, 54, about what gaming was like back in her time. While she never owned a video game console, she remembered a friend of hers (who would later be her husband, and my father) who was obsessed with arcade games when he was working at a bar.

“Whenever he would clock out or go on a break”, she told me, “he would go straight to the arcade room and would fancy himself with Mrs. Pacman. He was obsessed with it, and even got amazingly good at it, to the point that no one could ever beat his high score.”

Now, there were plenty of violent video games back in the day, and other, more… questionable and objectionable titles back then. But, all of this started back in 1992, with a game called Mortal Kombat.

The game featured scenes of intense violence in the form of Fatalities, an execution-style attack that could only be used when the adversary’s health was depleted twice. The Fatalities ranged from the mild (Liu Kang’s barrage of attacks, Sonya’s fiery kiss and Scorpion’s fire breath), to the absurd and over-the-top (Kano’s Heart Rip, Sub-Zero’s Skull and Spine Removal—pretty much everything else).

Upon seeing the Fatalities, the entire public went into a moral panic that led to various Congressmen speaking up to start a U.S. Congressional hearing on video game violence and the corruption of society to these forms of media. Leading the hearing from late 1992 to 1993, were, now retired, Democratic Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl. In the hearing, all of the involved parties were concerned with the portrayal of realistic replicas of human characters in video games, such as Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Lethal Enforcers. The hearing did not discuss the portrayal of cartoonish characters in violent video games, like Eternal Champions.

JL and HK-Wikipedia.jpg

Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl, the two men that would change the gaming industry for the rest of time.


As a result of the hearings, the entire entertainment software industry was given a year to create a functional rating system similar to the MPAA ratings; one that would easily identify the content in the product. If they were unable to do so, the federal government would step in and create one. At the time, there were various rating systems created by various companies. Sega formed the Videogame Rating Council (VRC), but the rating system was mainly in place to rate its own games. Following that, the 3DO Company created its own rating system, the 3DO Rating System. Similarly, the rating system was only used for its 3DO Interactive Multiplayer console. The 3DO Rating System would later be discontinued after a certain rating system would be implemented in full.

In 1993, one of the various rating systems was pending approval from Congress: the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). In 1994, the Software Publishers Association formed the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC). Then, on July 29th, 1994, the IDSA’s rating system, known today as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), was presented to Congress and was approved. In September 1994, following the approval from Congress, the ESRB rating system was established, becoming the official rating system for American video games. Originally, a handful of video game companies like LucasArts, Sierra On-Line, and 3D Realms followed the RSAC system, but would eventually migrate over to the ESRB. Its impact is still shown to this day. Scour through your old library of video games, and you’ll see the rating at the bottom left of the box, and on the game disk/cartridge.

Initially, the rating system consisted of five ratings: Early Childhood, Kids to Adults, Teen, Mature, and Adults Only. But overtime, it grew to seven ratings: Early Childhood, Everyone (replacing Kids to Adults), Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature, Adults Only, and Rating Pending.

Ratings for a game work similarly to ratings for movies and television: the publishers send out a short film on a DVD containing footage of the most graphic and extreme content in the game. These can contain content related to the game’s context, such as the story, reward system, and anything that might affect the overall rating. The publisher also fills out a questionnaire describing the content in the game, while paying a small fee—which is generally lower for games that have development budgets under $1 million.


Today’s ESRB rating system.


After the ESRB was put in place, the world went on its merry little way; everything went on by, as if nothing ever happened. Of course, there was the occasional incidence of crime or violent behavior that is directly influenced by video games, but no one seemed to have a care in the world. That was, until recently, the video game industry would once again take center stage in the fiasco, this time, in Newport, Connecticut, on December 14th, 2012:

The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

On December 14th, 2012, some time before 9:30 am EST, Adam Peter Lanza, 20, shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, four times in the head before leaving the house. He then drove five miles to Sandy Hook Elementary School. At 9:35 am, using his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, Lanza shot his way through a locked glass door at the front of the school and marched straight in.

Before he entered the school, Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were holding a meeting with other faculty members of the school. At that moment, when they heard the gunshots from outside, Hochsprung, Sherlach, and lead teacher Natalie Hammond left the meeting to see what the commotion was. As they left, standing before them was Adam Lanza, staring them down the hallway. One of the faculty members attending the meeting heard the three women shout, “Shooter! Stay put!” At that exact moment, Lanza opened fire and killed Hochsprung and Sherlach. Hammond fled to the meeting room and pressed her back against the door to keep it closed. Lanza fired into the door, wounding Hammond in the arm and leg. The sound of gunshots rang through the school’s intercom.

For the next twenty minutes, he moved from classroom to classroom, killing anyone that stood in his way. It was reported that he frequently reloaded his gun dozens of times, even when he only had half a cartridge left in his magazine. When police arrived to the scene, he fled from them, and shot himself in the head with a Glock 10mm inside one of the classrooms he was in. In those twenty minutes, Adam Lanza killed six staff members, twenty first-grade students, and wounded two people in his rampage.


A young mother discovers the fate of her child during the shooting.


During an investigation of the massacre, detectives searched the Lanza’s house for any clues as to what happened. As they searched the house, they searched one of the bedrooms and discovered more than a thousand rounds of ammunition, and a trove of various rifles, including a .45 Henry rifle, a .30 Enfield rifle, and a .22 Marlin rifle. The guns were legally owned by Adam’s mother, who was described as a gun enthusiast. When they searched the basement for additional clues, they discovered a pile that contained “thousands of dollars worth of graphically violent video games”. When this tidbit of evidence was found, dozens of news outlets were in uproar that video games were involved in a mass shooting that claimed the lives of so many people. And then we move on to the present issue.

The News Outlets

In recent times, various news networks, like CNN, Fox, ABC, etc. have been on a quest of sorts to demoralize video games, because of the violent nature these video games are to others. They go out of their way to unjustifiably denunciate video games with the “fact” that they are a link-up to crime and violence in recent memory. Fox and Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck spoke to a group of panelists about the shooting in Washington D.C.’s Navy yard, and how the killer was known by a friend to have played video games. “Are more people susceptible… maybe more susceptible than others to playing video games”, she spoke, “Is there a link between a certain age group or [demographic] in twenty and thirty year-old men, perhaps, that are playing these video games than in their violent actions?”

Later in the discussion, she looked at the “possibility” of video games being monitored through frequency testing.

“What about frequency testing? How often has this game been played? I’m not one to get in there and monitor everything, but if this indeed is a strong link to mass killings, then why aren’t we looking at frequency of purchases per person? And also, how often they’re playing and how many—maybe they time out after a certain hour.” It seems like whenever news of a crime or murder occurs somewhere in the U.S., the news outlets will go out of their way to immediately point fingers at and shift the blame to video games. One reason why they may be doing this is because it’s easier to blame something big than to blame something petty and small, because it gets attention—and, sadly, that big, attention grabber is video games.

“People like to make a causal link and say video games cause violence”, Cliff Bleszinski, former Design Director of Epic Games’ Gears of War and Unreal Tournament said, “It’s like, ‘Well, let’s see. So, there’s more crime in the summer, and more ice cream has sold in the summer—therefore ice cream causes crime.’ That’s not how legitimate scientific research works.”

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 4.46.17 PM.png

Elisabeth Hasselbeck and two other men discussing violent video games.

Fox News

Sometimes, the news outlets would needlessly steer the narrative and comment that the video game was involved in the crime for the sake of garnering more hits. On August 26th, 2013, an article on CNN was posted about an eight-year-old who shot and killed his grandmother. The culprit? Grand Theft Auto IV—not the kid, a video game. When it was posted, the news article was immediately slammed by various commenters for contributing nothing to the story, and was nothing more than a blatant attention grab. One commenter, James Black, commented on the article, asking, “Why did an eight year old have access to a gun? Good job America and way to go CNN lets find anyone to blame but the people directly responsible.” Another comment was made of the same news article, this time from Seraphna on Kotaku, where they asked how an eight-year-old was able to play Grand Theft Auto IV. “So my two questions remain: 1. Why the hell was there a gun just laying around!? 2. Why was an 8 year old allowed to play that game?”

And it isn’t just the news outlets that do this; it’s also various talk shows that condemn violent video games. On May 2nd, 2013, Katie Couric, known for her work on The Today Show, Dateline NBC, 60 Minutes, and her talk show Katie, did an hour long exposé on the potential risks of addictive and, most notably, violent video games. The discussion focused on two specific events: the 2007 news story of Daniel Petric, a teenager who murdered his mother, and shot his father after they took away his copy of Halo 3 when they were worried that he had become addicted to the game, and Quinn Pitcock, the former Indianapolis Colts draft pick who gave up his career after falling into a bout of depression and compulsive gaming.

While it attempted to be rational and sympathetic about the subject, it boiled down to nothing more than shameless scare tactics meant to paint video games under a bad light. Kotaku journalist Chris Person described it as “essentially a maudlin, fear-mongering and clichéd piece of television meant to provide easy answers and scapegoats to very real, complicated problems.” The editors of Katie used every trite imaginable: Flashy edits, eerie and pensive music, framed shots of gameplay featuring a gun, and shots of someone’s hands violently wrestling and pounding on the controller in a very stereotypical manner.

Introduction to the aired episode.


A day later, Katie posted a tweet on her Twitter account (@katiecouric), asking, “Passionate gamers upset w convo whether violent video games can contribute to v behavior. Tweet the positive side of violent v games? Thanx!” When her tweet was shared to the world, it was met with marring comments that told her out—but not in the traditional gamer way of spewing pointless death threats: the comments ranged from the self-referential (“I'm a 40 YO college professor & dad. I play all games for mental stimulation and good stories. Violence is part of our world” –@casparnic, “Friendship and Comradery. The people I played those games with as a child remain some of my closest friends.” –@DeathbyHappy), the scientific and informative (“Studies have shown that certain games can help establish quicker reflexes, better vision, and also think faster.” –@SidtheKid323, “A lot of them involve a good deal of strategy; teamwork in multiplayer mode. And they're fun. Clean way to relieve stress.” –@UVaKareBear), and even very rational (“Many excellent stories do involve death and pain to add to the realism and emotional drama - why should games be any different?” –@TinyPixelBlock, “To the people who say ‘video games perpetuate violence’; please tell me what video games were being played 500 years ago.” –‏@IrregularDave)

Some even go as far as making wild and erroneous assertions and assumptions of video games by using buzzwords that get across their “points”. On June 21st, 2013, Fox Business aired a discussion on the John Stossel Show about the recent crimes that have been a result of people playing video games. On it, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and the CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was discussing about Jesus (he’s one of those types of people), and how he “understands violence.” When he started discussing about violent video games, and how people are playing them and then grabbing their guns and go around, shooting people, John Stossel raised his hands to his chest, and motioned him to stop, saying, “Whoa whoa whoa.” He followed with this statistic:

“You talk about all this stuff… but crime is down; Youth offences are down. Maybe it’s good for kids! We don’t know!”

After that, Franklin responded with this statement (guess which part of the quote is the aforementioned “buzzword”):

“I would say it’s not good for anybody to watch murder. These video games, to me, are murder simulators, is what they are—and it’s very dangerous.”

I don’t want to swear, but seriously? What the fuck is wrong with people making these absurd statements? If they were really “murder simulators”, how come these publicly traded companies that make these “murder simulators” have not been arrested? How have they been publishing these “murder simulators” for over 40 years without any trouble from law enforcements?

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John Stossel, pictured left, telling Franklin Graham, pictured right, to stop.


Anyway, moving away from my utter diatribe, John continued with his use of statistics, this time pulling out a statistic showcasing the crime differences between North America and Japan, and how even though Japan has more video games than the U.S., firearm deaths in Japan is actually dramatically less there than it is in North America.

“In Japan, they watch twice as many of these video games, and the murder rate is a fraction. You look at crime per hundred thousand people—ten firearm deaths in the United States, less than one in Japan, and so on. There’s just no evidence that playing the games causes people to run around and shoot people.”

At this point, Franklin is simply faffing about, and even agreed with him, but he states that the President and Congress need to fix this country, and that violence is an epidemic. John, continuing his streak of pulling out information when it’s needed, discusses the similar treatment of video games today to comic books in the past.

“In the 1950s, the villain was the comic book. The Senate claimed comics were causing juvenile delinquency, and in one hearing, a so-called ‘Forensics Scientist’ said, ‘One comic promotes sadistic fantasies to kids.’ That comic was Superman.” John ended the discussion by saying, “I can’t imagine what more study we could have other than the fact that the games are more popular, and crime is down.”

Many people in the gaming industry have even come out and defended this industry with their own comments about the news industry demonizing video games for the sake of earning higher ratings for their network, and to earn higher profits in the process. In the still-in-production, crowdfunded documentary, Video Games: The Movie, many well-esteemed voices in the industry speak their minds in the segment about this very subject. One of them, Rob Pardo, Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard, discussed the very fact that there are violent video games out there, but it’s not what defines the medium. “There’s always a lot of media talking about violence in video games, and certainly, there are violent video games, but that’s not how you describe the medium of gaming.”

Many people in the industry have discussed back and fourth how all these people are blindly harassing video games, when the real problem is staring them dead in the eyes. “It’s weird how when you watch the people—they go to Congress, they’re angry and, ‘Our kids are being corrupted!’ Yeah, exactly—your kids”, Mikey Neumann, Chief Creative Champion at Gearbox Software said, “They’re your children; you should be not corrupting them. ‘I leave ‘em alone, ten hours a day and he’s getting corrupted by thi—’ well no shit, dude. It’s like finding your dad’s Playboys under the bed and then blaming Playboy.”

It’s so bizzare how these people have no idea there’s a rating system on the front and back of the box that highlights everything in the game. You can’t purchase a video game without being reminded of the rating on the box by the man/woman at the checkout line. What’s even more ironic about this is that the people who spite video games have probably never even played one at all—and here they are, calling them “murder simulators”. But, you know what’s more ironic than this? The Supreme Court is required to play video games to understand what they are, before they are ruled by them. It’s as if 1993 never happened…

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Do people not take notice of these very important letters on the box?


And while we’re back on the subject of the ESRB, Karl Stewart, Creative Director of Crystal Dynamics, addressed concerns that these video games are blatantly pushed out without reviewing the content in the product. He also mentions that they ensure that the game is confined to the rating the whole way through. “We put measures in place. ESRB are our guidelines. We make sure that we build our game to the rating. It gets checked on a regular basis.” Strangely enough, ESRB ratings are actually a better means of evaluating the content in the product than the MPAA ratings, because the box office doesn’t fully explain what’s played in the film—besides a letter and, maybe, a few numbers in there. And it’s even worse on the movie boxes themselves, as the front rarely, or never mentions the content in the film, and the back is just a cluttered mess of names scattered throughout.

“The interesting thing, I think, with games is that we actually have an even better rating system than movies”, Rob Pardo stated, “But there’s this misunderstanding with the elder generation that, somehow, all games are like Grand Theft Auto.”

But all of these media outcries are not solely pressed on video games. It was also a problem with other forms of media: Music was in the same boat for many decades. Many Christian parents condemned Elvis Presley, KISS, ACDC, and many others as being, “music from the Devil himself”. Television was also criticized for being “the lazy man’s entertainment”, and was the center of attention whenever a child would harm someone, because they watched the content on television and tried to reenact the events on the show. The news outlets would immediately point the finger at television and damn it all for causing violence. And who could also not forget the famous term, “Couch Potato Head”?

As discussed earlier, comic books were in a similar situation to video games. They were criticized as being too graphically violent for kids. Look back at the example of Superman. The man fires freakin’ lasers from his freakin’ eyes, has frost breath, super strength, and can fly! Yet, look at how iconic he is today, despite the controversy surrounding comic books. The moment you notice his blue suit, his red cape, boots, and tights, and the giant, red “S” with the gold background on his chest, you immediately recognize him. After all, he’s neither a bird, nor a plane.

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Don’t be cruel; you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.


Sadly, our very existence is born from conflict. Our ancestors spilled their blood for wars and other battles, big or small. The very fact that every form of media has violence or conflict in some form reinforces our desire to pursue them as entertainment; you know why this is the case? Because conflict sells. I bet we wouldn’t be watching an action flic if the entire movie had the performers drinking tea the entire time. We’re always fascinated with violence, because we’ll never see it—or even attempt to do it. We’re interested. We get excited about it. We fantasize about it. “Violence, unfortunately, is a part of human nature”, Tommy Tallarico, Founder of Video Games Live said, “And last time I check, Cain didn’t bludgeon Abel with a Gameboy, Genghis Khan didn’t have an Xbox Live account, and Hitler didn’t play Crash Bandicoot.”

Perhaps the reason why video games have not yet been accepted as a form of entertainment is because they’re “games”. It’s a game to kill someone, even if it’s a virtual silhouette of a person. Perhaps that’s the reason why people aren’t yet comfortable with calling video games a form of entertainment. And maybe that’s why people are demanding that people should not play video games. “It would be like saying, ‘We don’t want anyone to watch movies, because all movies are violent’”, Rob Pardo said, “But people don’t say that, because everyone understands movies as a medium.”

Another aspect of video games that is seldom discussed is the involvement of multiplayer in crimes, and how the men in the suits rail on competitive multiplayer games for incentivizing killing people with small awards, such as, “DOUBLE KILL!” or, “KILLING SPREE!” While they have a good stance, my counter argument to this, is that the Gladiators of Roman times were of today’s equivalent. Gladiators would battle to the death to determine who was stronger; a sort of Natural Selection, if you fancy considering it artful. For Rome, the Gladiators were the Roman equivalent to American Football—or European Football: it was a national sport for them.


The Gladiators of yesterday are no different to today’s competitive multiplayer gaming.


Solving the Real Problem That the News Outlets Don’t Understand

Let’s cut to the chase: There’s clearly a problem going on that is fundamentally at the heart of crime in America and other nations. It’s a widespread and universal acknowledgement that there’s something wrong with these people going out and committing these atrocities. We try so hard to find the real culprit to all this needless killing, but what we all do instead, is take two steps back and blame it on something petty and feeble. It’s time we stop dilly-dallying and find the true perpetrator and try to put a stop to it, hopefully once and for all—even if that sounds hopelessly optimistic.

I’ll start by saying what I think the real problem is. To start, it has nothing to do with gun safety regulations. The Second Amendment, The Right to Bear Arms, protects us as Americans. We are born with the right to arm ourselves, should our lives be in the path of danger. If someone chooses to do evil with their hands and arms, then they will be rightfully punished for their arrogance.

I’ll say it right now that video games are most definitely not the problem here. As discussed in the John Stossel Show, Japan has more people playing video games than the U.S., yet the crime there is practically nonexistent. If this entire Mindshare has not yet convinced you that video games are not to blame, I question your intelligence and every aspect of you as a gamer/hypocrite. You will also be the butt end of every joke made for the rest of time.

But, in all seriousness, the time has come to answer what is really the cause of the crime and violence in our country. What I’m about to say will be contentious for what it is, but, for the longest time, the problem has been of three issues: the psychological well being of an individual, poor parenting, and societal pressures.

To be blunt, America’s mental healthcare programs are terrible. The price needed to pay for services is ludicrous, with average expenditures of $700-$900 per day being the bare minimum for payment for services. Some even spend upwards of $50,000 for full mental healthcare coverage. It’s in no way surprising that people do not have the budget to spend on services like that, especially given the state of the economy. And, to that end, the people who can’t afford those types of services will probably be the ones you hear in the news somewhere down the road that commit these acts against mankind.

Everyone reading has probably heard of the saying, “Guns don’t kill people—people do.” The gun doesn’t kill someone; the person holding the gun and pulling the trigger on a person is the one that kills someone. Conversely, the video game doesn’t kill someone—or anyone for that matter. Sure, a video game can be a catalyst involved in a murder, but it’s not the sole perpetrator that killed them. And no, they don’t physically beat someone to death with the box of the video game—that’s just plain silly.

In the Sandy Hook Shooting, Adam Lanza was noted for not having a criminal background, but was noted for being “mentally ill”, and was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and sensory processing disorder (SPD). While neither of these conditions are in no way considered mental illnesses, it is still worth noting, regardless of the implications. Various students and teachers that knew him in High School described him as being, “intelligent, but nervous and fidgety”. He was known to not have many friends.

Conversely tying into mental illnesses, we have the nature of poor parenting skills contributing to the cause to violence. While I’m not a parent myself, I understand two important tasks a parent is faced with: knowing every little thing about what’s going on in their child’s life at all times, no matter what, and to keep them out of harm’s way. It’s imperative that parents understand what is going on in their child’s world, as well as ensuring that their child is not doing anything that could harm them or others—like the news article of the child who shot and killed their grandmother. She was sleeping with a fully loaded gun next to her that was in reaching distance to the child; she wasn’t being precautionary in keeping her grandson safe. Combine that with the naïveté of children, and you have a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.

It also has to do with societal pressures weighing us down every day. Thousands of years ago, if you were a Carpenter, you knew what your responsibility in society was: you made sure people were wearing shoes, and were living in homes. If there weren’t a Carpenter, then people would have a lot of foot pain. If someone was a Blacksmith, they knew their importance in society: they forged weapons, armor, home decorations, and, essentially, made sure that no one could breach the inner walls. If there weren’t a Blacksmith, the village/castle would have been invaded/destroyed with little trouble. I don’t even think we’re remotely comfortable living in a world with 6 billion people populating the planet. It’s hard to find a role in society when there are people who do what you do, and are probably five times better at it than you. Some people will eventually lead a life of crime, because they can’t think of any other way to live in this giant world of ours.

What Can We Do to Stop This?

We live in a corrupt and menacing world. The very thought of chivalry is a trait of ancient past. It may seem daunting, and otherwise impossible, but we can make a change. But, what we need to do is to be strong for ourselves, and to others that follow in our footsteps. We need to speak up and let our voices be heard. When news of a crime or murder occurs, and they begin pointing fingers at video games, we need to ensure that our voices are louder than theirs.

Go to Facebook, Twitter, whatever means of communication is possible, and speak up, tell them that video games are not to blame. Be rational. Be thoughtful. Be informative. Be honest. And for God’s sake, please don’t boil it down to death threats or angry ranting. If that happens, what are we but advocates of their ideas? We have to let them know that video games do not perpetuate violence, in a mature and reasonable manner.

And if we don’t? Well, we’re going to have this happen for the rest of time.

See you, Space Cowboys.

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