An interview with SMU Guildhall Director Gary Brubaker
Published by The Dallas Morning News — By Robert Wilonsky
Dallas, TX (August 13, 2019) — Last week, only a few days after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I had a long sit-down with Gary Brubaker, director of SMU Guildhall, where wanna-be video-gamemakers go to get their master's degrees. Because when the lieutenant governor of Texas and the U.S. House minority leader and the president once again go scapegoating games as the cause of mass murders — again — it makes sense to seek the other side of the story from someone who knows better than most how wrong, wrong, wrong that is.
I'd planned on writing up our interview as a column. But Brubaker actually made a good case for sidelining the piece.
Said the longtime maker of games, "blame the game" is a longtime National Rifle Association talking point that dates back decades, to Columbine in 1999, and was most recently a headline following the shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., that left 10 dead. Said Oliver North last year, when he was still president of the NRA, "The disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence."
That was basically the same trope hauled out last week, with President Trump and other Republicans finger-pointing the “gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace."
Except this time, Brubaker told me he noticed something he hadn't seen before -- pushback from the media, left and right and center, with stories and columns denouncing that spurious link. From The New York Times: "Video Games Aren’t Why Shootings Happen. Politicians Still Blame Them." And Mother Jones: "Video Games Have Nothing to Do With Mass Shootings. But Gamers Kinda Do." And Time: "No, Video Games Don’t Cause Mass Shootings. But The Conversation Shouldn’t End There."
And there was this, too, from the FOX News website: "Monopoly doesn't create slumlords. Video games don't school sociopaths."
Brubaker wrote that one. Which is why I called him. And why he agreed to the sit-down, though I could tell he's already beaten down by the subject. Same way musicians were in the 1950s, when parents told their kids that rock 'n' roll was the devil's music.
"What was interesting to me was, this time video games didn't catch on as a talking point as it had in the past -- or, at least, it was quickly refuted," Brubaker said as we sat in his office, surrounded by games he'd once made and those his students continue to crank out.
"And I was surprised," said the California native. "This is the first time I had seen the vast spectrum of outlets have reliable evidence-based reporting that mostly got it right. And that was what was unique and new to me."
I asked him: So, what has changed in the last 20 years? Or, since 2018?
He said it was as simple as this: The research is there, from psychologists and academics and even conservative Supreme Court justices. And, because we are all gamers now — kids on PlayStations, parents on smartphones. Generations once afeared of technology now take it for granted; video games are no longer scary.
"I believe video games are the greatest art form humanity has ever created, and I don’t say that lightly," Brubaker said. "They can express the tapestry of what it means to be human in a way no other art form can. They engage you and interact with you, and as more and people experience that, they want that. And so, that thing people always told you you shouldn’t be doing is actually healthy for you. That’s a great story."
So I sat on the column. Because it seemed the moment had passed; the bogeyman had been emasculated. And because there were other city stories to get back to. Then, a few days ago, Walmart announced it was pulling in-store ads for "violent" video games, but it wouldn't stop selling guns.
One store manager told The New York Times, "It’s kind of funny that we can still sell firearms, but we can’t show pictures of a cartoon character holding a gun."
At which point I thought maybe I'd share some of my interview with Brubaker. Because, clearly, this argument isn't over. I'm not sure it has ever really started.
"Gun control is obviously a difficult conversation, and I would rather not associate that with video games. Obviously, as someone who lives in this country and has kids, I wish we could have a more reasoned debate. But there are so many good conversations to be had about games.
"We are using games to do drug discovery for cancer cures. We’re doing things with macular degeneration, being able to identify it in early stages. We won the XPRIZE for adult literacy. And not being able to tell those stories is frustrating."
And that's on us.
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