Talking Point: Gun Violence and Nintendo is an Unlikely Pairing

Not, perhaps, for a want of trying

Yesterday we directed your attention to an extensive investigative article on Eurogamer, exploring the links between the gun industry and video games. Most importantly, the focus wasn't just on subjective debates about the relationship between guns in games and those on the market, but also explored real, undeniable links between the industries. No matter how anyone would like to slice it, money flows between game publishers and gun manufacturers, which means that the debate about violent games has an undeniable relevance.

We'd argue that shying away from this issue is a mistake, though provocative and un-constructive comments (see Ralph Nader) achieve little, apart from demeaning the issue and undermining any hopes of progress. It is clear — though critics will argue that it may be in a minority of cases — that some children/under-age gamers do play games in franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield and enjoy them to the point that they would like to own or experience the portrayed guns in reality. The Eurogamer article quotes Aidin Smith, a 13 year-old who was suspended from school for 30 days for taking a BB gun to school; here's what he said when talking about his enthusiasm for powerful guns.

I have six pellet and BB guns. These include two BB guns, modelled on the M14 rifle and M1911 pistol, and two pellet guns, modelled on the AK-47 and M16. I also own an M14 BB rifle M1911 BB pistol. And I got an AK-47 rifle, M16 rifle.

My favorite is the M1911. I shot a real M1911 when I lived in the country. I shot with my Grandpa. I love the action on it, it is like a real M1911, it recoils and springs back like a real gun. All of them are ones that are in Call of Duty. I like guns more because of Call of Duty. The M1911 is a pistol in almost in every Call of Duty.

It was a Monday and I was coming [to school] from my grandpa's. We had gone to the target range. I accidentally left a gun in my book bag. I forgot about it and took it to school. I don't know how they found it.

...The M16 has been in several Call of Duties. I got more interested in these guns from playing Call of Duty, it's fun to play them in a game... It's a lot easier to shoot in a game than in real life. My favourite gun is the MSR. It's a modified sniper rifle made by Remington firearms and it shoots a 338 Lapua round. It's a really nice, accurate, sniper rifle. It rarely misses a shot.

I think once I get old enough, I'd like to own the real things.

While the U.S. and other countries have guns as a part of culture, it's not only striking that a 13 year old is so enthused by them and actively cites Call of Duty as an influence, but also his daunting familiarity and knowledge of gun-types and brands. We're not suggesting that games with guns are wrong, as such, but that the lax attitude in video games that leads to impressionable youths playing these games, and becoming so familiar with real weapons, is a problem. We've shared thoughts on the role of parents and retailers in maintaining age ratings on games, and many will probably admit to either being under-age and playing 18-rated games, or knowing someone that is.

What this teenager's comments and the Eurogamer article show is that modern games are tying directly, through licensing deals or through familiar names, to the gun industry. The example we highlighted yesterday from the feature, GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, used fictional names that seemed suitable for a Bond universe. Yet we shouldn't forget that the game originally planned to feature real brands — video games are, lest we forget, big business, not paragons of virtue.

That brings us to Nintendo. If we choose to be idealists we can say that this debate doesn't affect Nintendo a great deal. Franchises such as those from EA (Battlefield) and Activision (Call of Duty) either have a limited record of releases on the company's systems, or the audience for these games is significantly smaller than on rival consoles. Nintendo's image is of family-friendly games, with an ethos of delivering wholesome titles featuring mascots such as a cheery plumber and, on occasions, its systems may host M-rated games that are often so fantastical and over-the-top that arguments on influencing the real world are on shaky ground — examples such as Madworld, House of the Dead: Overkill and, more recently, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge.

What's important to recognise, however, is that Nintendo hasn't been shy about pursuing the market of intensely violent FPS games; it is, after all, only earning a small part of a hugely lucrative business. A recent example was Nintendo of America's Wii U preview event, hosted by Reggie Fils-Aime in New York to announce the launch date and price of the system, made a big play of confirmation that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was a launch release. Nintendo as a whole, in its early messaging, made much of the so-called core credentials of Wii U, highlighting Activision's title alongside other launch games such as Assassin's Creed III. That effort to draw gamers more often associated with Xbox 360 or PS3 doesn't appear to have worked so far, and Nintendo's messaging in the early part of 2013 has reverted to targeting enthusiasts and those that were so charmed by Wii.

While most reasonable debate won't talk about banning violent games with guns, for example, action is clearly needed to address the application of age ratings, as well as ensuring that parents understand that an M-rated video game is at least equivalent, in influence, to other M-rated media. Arguments may also rage about whether licensed recreations of real guns, and the flow of related cash between the industries, is appropriate in light of the increasing realism — video game violence isn't, arguably, genuinely realistic, even if some believe it is when playing — of these games. Does that make such commercial arrangements inappropriate or dangerous?

If this topic does, in the coming months or years, evolve into changes to laws and/or attitudes, Nintendo will arguably miss most of the impact. In that respect its failure in recent times to earn a significant portion of the FPS hardcore market — for it most certainly has tried — will turn into an inadvertent and useful circumstance.