With handgun-related homicides making the national agenda, allow me to jump the gun on the forthcoming revival of the video-games-and-violence debate.
It's only a matter of time before someone makes the connection between real violent acts and the violence found in entertainment media. So let me head that off right here.
I don't believe video games cause violence.
It bothers me that they're still blamed for it, but they always are. I suspect it's because it's an easy story for an out-of-touch generation to repeat in the news, demonizing a culture they don't understand.
The fight between pundits and gamers escalated last year when Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and prominent critic of video gaming, offered to give $10,000 to the charity of choice of anyone who designed a game based on his concept.
The concept, as described in A Modest Video Game Proposal, featured an outraged father cutting a path of gruesome, bloody vengeance through all levels of the video game industry. A few enterprising designers called his bluff by actually producing the game (including models, though it was never manufactured). Thompson refused to pay out.
However, the creators of the gaming Web comic Penny Arcade took an entirely different tack, donating $10,000 in Thompson's name to a charity they created called Child's Play.
"If you are like me, every time you see an article claiming that video games are training our nation's youth to kill, you get angry," wrote Gabe, one of the creators of Penny Arcade, in an online editorial. "The media seem intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs just waiting to go off."
Penny Arcade is a strip by and for gamers, commenting on the latest releases and trends as well as the kind of jackassery that only the most hardcore fans can get up to.
And it strikes a chord with its audience, drawing an incredible 45 million page views a month. Tycho, the other creator of the strip, likens it to a "kind of steam valve people want to see someone with a podium stick up for their perspective."
So instead of just parodying misconceptions about gamers in their comics, or conceding to the terms of the debate set by the mainstream press, Penny Arcade did something radical.
For Christmas 2003, they founded Child's Play (www.childsplaycharity.org), a charity that donates new video games and other toys to children's hospitals. It works through Amazon.com, allowing potential donors to choose games and toys from a selected wish list.
"One of the things that distinguish child's Play from other types of charitable giving is that and this may be a strange way of saying it it's very personal," says Tycho. "I think the main thing that appeals to people is that you can pick out a toy yourself and have it delivered to a local hospital."
The gifts were initially delivered and distributed by the Penny Arcade team to their local children's hospital in Seattle.
After collecting an overwhelming $250,000 in toys and cash that first year, they decided to do it again, this time expanding their reach across the United States.
In 2005, supporters and volunteers helped take Child's Play international. It now includes two destinations in Canada: Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
"Personally, I had no preconceived notions about gamers or the gaming community," says Jennifer Butterly, the coordinator for donations and entertainment at Sick Kids. "However, the overwhelming response I witnessed suggests to me that they're very generous."
The hospital received 362 different packages, some with more than one gift, which included books, DVDs, Sony PSPs, Nintendo DS systems and, naturally, tons of games. Packages came from all over Canada, the United States and from as far away as Barbados, Switzerland and Malaysia.
"This donation was amazing," Butterly says. "I felt like a kid at Christmas, being the one who had the privilege of opening the gifts. All of them were shared with children in both in-patient and out-patient units. The gifts are made available for the patients to use while they're here, and can therefore benefit thousands of children."
Games are perfect for kids on the mend, cuz if they're stuck in a hospital bed they need something fun and familiar to keep their spirits up. So far, this season's new international Child's Play has raised $590,000, and apparently it's still counting.
In the last three years, over $1 million was raised for children's charities by the gaming community.
And the end result of the throwdown with Jack Thompson?
"A whole lot of nothing," says Tycho. "He offered up his abhorrent, morally bankrupt challenge to the gaming industry and we called him on it. Haven't heard from him since."