Ethics Dunces: The Videogame Burners of Southington, Conn.

book burning

On January 12, they are burning “violent videogames” in Southington, a Connecticut town not far from Newtown, scene of the Sandy Hook massacre.

Is there a more irresponsible, historically ignorant, un-American, First Amendment-offending, foolish, ignorant and ugly act than burning speech and art because you object to their content? They burned rock and roll records  in the Bible Belt during the 1950s—that was stupid, disgusting and frightening. Hitler, you may recall, burned books; the USSR too. In 2013, consigning electronic media like videogames to the flames is indistinguishable from burning books. I would expect American citizens of normal intelligence to immediately realize that.

I guess I would be wrong.

The local group organizing the bonfire has put out some rationalization for it. I could not care less what sad reasoning and warped values motivate their book-burning. It is a symbolic insult to freedom of thought.

No question: book burnings are legal and protected speech. It is also conduct redolant of mob rule, ignorance, intolerance, fear, hate, and Ray Bradbury novels. Some activities have earned permanent revulsion, legal or not, in American culture because they are the traditional tools not of democracies, but of totalitarian governments,  the enemies of democracy and free thought. Book burning is one of them.

And burning videogames is exactly the same thing.

Update: The news accounts eventually make it clear that the group will collect the various forms of violent entertainment in a dumpster, which will also include movies and recordings, and that the actual incineration will be performed by city workers, as part of their rubbish disposal duties. Is this better? Worse, because now the town government is participating? I don’t think it is useful or enlightening to play parsing games. I see this event as indistinguishable from a book-burning, and while The Guardian’s description of it as such could be called misleading (or inflammatory?), I salute them for correctly diagnosing what this is in its essence.

18 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The Videogame Burners of Southington, Conn.

  1. I live in Connecticut, and have never heard that this collection would be a “burning”. The Guardian, from OLD England, seams to have exaggerated this detail.

      • The news reports calling this a “burning” are exclusively out-of-state papers that seem to have misunderstood ordinary trash disposal.

        Almost all trash in Connecticut is incinerated in one of five regional “trash-to-energy” facilities. The town of Southington is only providing use of a single dumpster, which will be emptied into a truck and taken to one of these facilities. This is a courtesy, as emptying costs are charged by the ton, and video games weigh only a few grams each. The contents of the dumpster must first be “smashed”, to discourage kids from climbing in to retrieve the games. It is hyperbole to state that the video games will be “destroyed” and “burned”.

        This “buy back” program was inspired by a twelve-year-old boy in Newtown, whose friend lost a brother. The boy started a video game collection program at his school in Newtown for kids sick of violence following the tragedy. The businessmen in Southington are starting a similar collection, adding a tiny bit of compensation to make up for the lost resale value of the games. Is collecting video games particularly useful in preventing future violence? No! However, the goal is to get rid of games that are antithetic to the grieving process, and the event should be judged according to its actual means and goals.

        Its goal was certainly never to stage a symbolic burning of the cause of childhood violence.

        • I think the British reporters liked the sensational aspect of burning; I also think that gathering up records, games, and videos for destruction/disposal is tantamount to book burning in every material way. The news footage will show tons of games being thrown into a pile or a dumpster, obviously on the way to destruction. How different is the message?

  2. I would be more sympathetic to Jack’s sentiments if this was the action of a civil authority. If it is just the action of a mob and it doesn’t involve coercive means to gather the fuel, it is as Jack points out, free and protected speech. I may think it is the wrong way to go, but it is only symbolic in scope.

    • But of course, it CAN’T be done by the government. This is as close as we can get to book burnings in America, and however close, it’s too close.
      By the way, my all-time favorite episode of “The Waltons” is when John-Boy shames the pompous young preacher (played by John Ritter) who helps organize a burning of all German books during World War II.

      • This planned burning just seems more like a cathartic for the participants (removing from their midst what is within their power and perhaps perceived as threatening), than any intended communication of any threat(s) by participants to non-participants. But of course, like a mob of recovering alcoholics staging a mass bottle-shattering and shouting “YES WE CAN!”, there seems to be a manipulative, evangelistic sanctimony on the part of the bonfire-organizers at least: “WE are doing what is RIGHT and BEST; anyone not joining us is against us, and wrong, and stupid, and part of the problem.”

        I just find it ironic that participants are being egged on to enable a form of destruction that is violence indistinguishable from the imagery, depictions and enactments of violence which the participants are presumably saying they detest in the belief such are among the root causes of senseless violence including the Newtown mass murders. But, I am a firm believer in the power of suggestion; I am convinced that in my lifetime, the seeming constant ratcheting-up of the amount and graphic degree of violent depictions and enactments, combined with increased ease of access to such material, have coarsened what culture there is in the U.S., and have increased the threat of acts of mass murder, even as overall actual occurrences of such violence may have decreased thus far.

        • Noun-and-adjective mix-up, sorry: In my first paragraph above, I meant “sanctimonious evangelism” instead of “evangelistic sanctimony.” (That’s probably 6 vs. a half-dozen, for what it’s worth…)

  3. I say, let them exercise their First Amendment rights, as long as they recognize my right, my God-given right, to exercise my Second Amendment rights. However, I don’t think that this particular group is likely to see the connection.

  4. What bugs me the most about this are two things:

    1) When the Nazi’s burned books, they were physically destroying ideas and knowledge. Unique items were or were almost lost in those burnings. Although dissenting ideas may be wrong and foolish, the suppression of free thought is WRONG.

    2) When the Connecticuttians (Connectites? Connectistanis?) burned violent video games, they weren’t ‘destroying independent thought’, they were striking out at a boogie man, burning in effigy an imaginary foe. This kind of symbolic destruction is primitive. Despite the touchy-feely notion that it allows for closure of pent-in emotion, it only closes minds to really addressing the real source of a problem. Further allowing sheep to pretend like wolves do not exist.

    • I regard the best quote from the linked article:

      “The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

    • There are lots of ideas and knowledge in videogames, the violent ones included. The latest Assassin’s Creed is a treasure of Revolutionary War history, plus social commentary and satire, for example. You can learn a lot from videogames.

      • I know that. I’m submitting that Connectish (Connecto-Saxons? Connecticans?) were striking out at a symbol in anger, not striking out against different ideas and knowledge.

        • I actually do think the video-destroying Connecticutians (following “Lilliputians”) are striking against ideas. I suspect a motive of sanctimonious evangelism as I mentioned earlier, in addition to whatever else (like simple anger) might be motivating the destroyers to experience whatever catharsis that their actions might be for them. So I can’t fault Jack for his alarm going off; my alarm vibrated, but didn’t ring.

          P.S. “Connecticuter” seems the accepted name for a resident of the state, but I don’t like it.

  5. The game industry is fast becoming download concentric. Big box retailers are carrying less and less games. I couldn’t find this one, Spec Ops: The Line, anywhere but on Steam. I grabbed it because it’s based, sort of, on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ll be playing it today.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spec_Ops:_The_Line

    All the hoopla about burning video games reminds me of the comic book scare of the 1950s.

    • The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

      From Publishers Weekly
      Starred Review. After writing about the folk scene of the early 1960s in Positively 4th Street, Hajdu goes back a decade to examine the censorship debate over comic books, casting the controversy as a prelude to the cultural battle over rock music. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the centerpiece of the movement, has been reduced in public memory to a joke—particularly the attack on Batman for its homoeroticism—but Hajdu brings a more nuanced telling of Wertham’s background and shows how his arguments were preceded by others. Yet he comes down hard on the unsound research techniques and sweeping generalizations that led Wertham to conclude that nearly all comic books would inspire antisocial behavior in young readers. There are no real heroes here, only villains and victims; Hajdu turns to the writers and artists whose careers were ruined when censorship and other legal restrictions gutted the comics industry, and young kids who were coerced into participating in book burnings by overzealous parents and teachers. With such a meticulous setup, the history builds slowly but the main attraction—EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines’s attempt to explain in a Senate committee hearing how an illustration of a man holding a severed head could be in good taste—holds all the dramatic power it has acquired as it’s been told among fans over the past half-century. (Mar.)
      Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    • Sorry, just one more link, which I think may ad to the discussion here.
      “Game critic Brendan Keogh wrote a long-form critical analysis of the game entitled Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, analysing his experience of playing it and the game’s core themes of violence in video games, American military interventionism and wars conducted via proxies.”

      Excerpt – http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/11/read-an-excerpt-from-killing-is-harmless-a-book-sized-reading-of-spec-ops-the-line/

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