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"The Agenda Of Fear"

The human being is a creature of habit. We like our rituals, our comforts, we respond to stimuli in routine ways… And that includes, it appears, what spurs the mainstream media to decry videogames as harmful. Statistician-come-journalist David McCandless did the maths for a TED talk, and ascertained that, on average, uproar about violent games occurs in two particular months.
First thing to note is that this doesn’t really prove any sinister pattern. As one of the months in question is November, that simply is a matter of a whole lot of games – and associated public awareness and marketing – coming out around then. The odds of a game breaking into the consciousness of someone who does not play (or understand) games is simply that much higher.

It’s the other month, April, that’s more distressing. McCandless conjectures that it’s because it’s the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, for which games were of course made the whipping boy. If true (and of course it’s not definitely true – lies, damned lies and statistics, etc) – well, it might suggest a certain exploitation of tragedy on the media’s part.

They know, unconsciously or otherwise, that April means Columbine, and that perhaps encourages finding related stories. It was an awful event and it should not be forgotten – but it should also not be used for “Pushing that fear into the agenda,” as McCandless puts it. There’s a danger that finding anti-videogame stories in that month is fear-mongering in the guise of sympathetic philanthropy, refusing the opportunity for more information and understanding in favour of repeating the same cycle of accusation.

Or perhaps there’s another reason for the April trending – perhaps Easter, and a certain sense in certain parties that Jesus and videogames are irreconcilable? Or because it’s a rain-blighted time, so more people are in playing games and/or feeling a bit moaney? Who knows. I just like looking at graphs.

Here’s the talk, anyway – the games stuff kicks in around minute four, but it’s worth watching the lot. It roams far beyond videogames, and perhaps it proves the adage that you can prove anything with statistics – highly entertainingly presented stuff, however.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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