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A more recent and more pointed example: Most criticisms of TV violence in the '60s argued that showing people killed and injured had a traumatizing effect on kids; networks and producers responded with the cleaned-up action of the '70s, when Wile E. Coyote was never shown actually hitting the ground and exploding grenades would only send the A Team rolling unhurt through the dust. Immediately, the anti-violence critics (often including the same individuals) began arguing that the most harmful TV violence is the kind that suggests that there are no real consequences - in other words, the very stuff that they'd been encouraging. But once the more explicit consequences of violence found their way back into TV, then we're told again that seeing blood and death is the problem. The argument changes like a reverse chameleon, so that it always stands in contrast to what's out there. It seems as though the initial impulse is to be alarmed about the media, after which the object of alarm is found and the argument is reverse-engineered into being.
Interestingly, this is also a classic addictive pattern. The addict's old rationalizations for acting out break down, so new rationalizations are created to keep the addict in the same relationship to the desired object. Someone tells himself he drinks because he's broke, then he gets a lot of money - but he doesn't quit drinking, he just rejiggers the excuse for drinking to match his new circumstances. Suddenly he says he drinks because of the pressures of having money. Addicts will continue to respond to stimuli in the same way, even when they see repeatedly that their response hasn't worked. I think there is a compulsive quality to these attacks on media violence that has a great deal to do with an obsession with violence and a discomfort with one's own obsession.
I haven't seen any evidence whatsoever that greater "realism" has any effect on a viewer. And the argument against realism didn't exist until the earlier predictions about games had all fallen short. In the absence of any evidence, I think this has to be dismissed as another case of a preexisting fear and hostility looking for something new to prop up its untenable ideas.
And I don't think game realism has any effect on what I said about movie emulation and game emulation. Which I still feel is sound. Sitting in a movie theater it's not so hard to wish you were Will Smith blowing away nocturnal virus-zombies. Who wants to be that little guy in a game who jumps every time you push a button?
EH: Self-reflection and approaching both kids and ourselves with a "Why?" approach in response to things we don't understand (rather than immediately condemning or rejecting) seems to be a big theme in Killing Monsters. In the gaming community, there is much immediate and emotional response to the criticism of game violence. How would you recommend game enthusiasts engage in the kind of internal reflection you talk about in examining why we find game violence compelling? Where do you begin?
GJ: Game fans and people in the business definitely need to outgrow the knee-jerk response. At one conference, Craig Anderson told me about the emailed threats and obscenities gamers sent him. Which is obviously stupid and insane. You're mad at the guy for saying that your videogames make you hostile, so you're going to send him a death threat? I did a college debate with Jack Thompson earlier this year, and one of the students yelled at him and flipped him off. I know Jack's done a lot of provocative and irritating things, but still: What a perfect way to undermine your own argument and perpetuate the image of game-players and under-socialized and dangerous.