Knowing Your Enemy

Knowing Your Enemy

"Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherf---er in the world," goes a line in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash. "If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad."

It's true. Lately I've been feeling old, and I no longer feel like I can become the baddest motherf---er in the world. Worse, I no longer even want to. The things that frightened me as a teenager - long-term relationships, the daily commute, mutual funds - now actually attract me. And by the same token, what's "in" seems weird and scary to me.

I look at the kids of today, with their Facebooks and their MySpaces and whatever is actually popular, given what I know is already bound to be six months out of date, and I feel nothing but confusion.

I don't understand my own generation - indeed, I don't feel that they are my generation anymore. As a rather significant milestone of years approaches, I understand, for the first time, the generation gap. The feeling of seeing young people and not really understanding them. I had fun when I was young; why don't they just do exactly what I did? Why do they need to broadcast every moment of their lives? What has happened to their sense of privacy, of shame?

This is the same feeling that the anti-gaming crowd, who reared their ugly heads prematurely last week, must also feel. The fear of the unknown. The assumption that, because we don't understand it, it must automatically be dangerous. This kind of thinking is just a step up from caveman, but I think we all feel it. It manifests itself in every mud-slinging internet argument - Westerns fear Muslims. Atheists fear the religious. Conservatives fear liberals.

It's this same sense of confusion that seems to have inspired the report on videogames published last week by the BBFC, the U.K.'s film and game classification authority. While it may not be as famous as Jack Thompson and his ilk, the U.K.'s tabloid press has had a field day with violent videogames over the past decade or longer. From Mortal Kombat's cartoon gore to today's "Killed by His Xmas Game Boy" and the hysteria surrounding Manhunt following the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, the cynical U.K. tabloids know the public often sees something wrong with gaming and exploit that to their own gain.

The BBFC report, with the aim of gaining insight into videogaming issues - popularity, addictiveness, what gamers and parents think of gaming - is surprisingly balanced and honest. It should be required reading not just for Hilary Clinton and Dr. Phil, but for every parent of a game-loving child.

And while this report could first and foremost be used to educate the media, the reaction to it predictably missed the point.

"They're disturbing and addictive, but game violence is no threat," said the Times of London, which shamefully crowds the first few paragraphs of their story with as many sensationalist conclusions as they could. "Young boys report that they become addicted to games that they will play from the moment they wake!" You don't say! They also enjoy watching cartoons, eating cereal and picking their noses first thing in the morning, but I've yet to see that in the headlines.

If anything, the people interviewed seem quite intelligent and remarkably self-aware of the benefits and risks of gaming. The report comes down much harder on parents than on game companies or gamers, saying "some are illiterates in libraries, and they focus on what their children say they want, ignoring content."

Still, at least the Times reported on it. Sadly, the BBFC report was largely passed over in the media in the wake of the shooting in Virginia, which marked a new low in knee-jerk reactions. The media is very good at pointing blame, and within hours were giving airtime to unsubstantiated claims that videogames had something to do with it. But the media is extraordinarily poor at accepting blame - as Sam Leith astutely points out in the Telegraph, would Cho Seung-hui's massacre have happened if he hadn't seen news reports of Columbine on NBC?

The day will come when Dr. Phil and Jack Thompson blaming videogames will sound as ridiculous as blaming this event on the rock music he might have listened to does today.

However, as one unnamed games reviewer in the BBFC report mentions, violence in games is "the big elephant in the room for the games industry." Just because gaming violence doesn't cause people to go out and kill (and it doesn't), it doesn't automatically follow that any level of violence in games is acceptable.

As the reaction to the reaction in Virginia shows, we as an industry have a tendency to focus on the Jack Thompson lunatics of this world and respond to legitimate questions and criticism of the level of violence in gaming with knee-jerk reactions of our own. In reality, the game industry is as poor at accepting criticism as the media is.

I would once have regarded as stupid the people who found videogames to be threatening, but now I realize I no more understood their perspective than they did mine. Instead of sitting back and laughing at Thompson's ignorance, the games industry - and that includes you and me - need to do two things.

First, we must make our case understood, without getting sanctimonious or arrogant, without thinking that every person who opposes violent games is as deluded, stupid or cynical as Thompson and his ilk.

And second, we must examine for ourselves the good and bad of the industry, and accept that there is legitimate criticism to be made. Examine why games seem to be split down the middle between cartoonish and violent, between "kiddy" and "mature." Why, as the game reviewer quoted above notes, "if you look at games where you play a person, the overall likelihood is that what you'll be doing in that game is killing people." Why developers fall back on the lazy design equation of "problem = enemy," "solution = killing enemy." Why publishers fall back on the equally lazy marketing techniques, publishing ever more and more gratuitous games because they shift copies easily.

Comic books, another medium misunderstood and demonized in a bygone age, at least often taught good moral messages, had heroes that could be respected and looked up to. Spider-man taught about power and responsibility. The X-Men spoke about the wrongs of prejudice and bigotry.

Can gaming make the same claim? And if it can't, isn't that something we need to examine? If gaming is to be mainstream, it must accept its own civic responsibilities and realize that not all criticism is ill-informed.

Permalink

"If gaming is to be mainstream, it must accept its own civic responsibilities and realize that not all criticism is ill-informed."

Why?

"Can gaming make the same claim?"

Not always.

You are looking at this entire situation from the same bad angle the mainstream press does. Let's assume that games can cause people to act violently, that still would not give the federal government of the USA the right to regulate the sale of video games. As long as they are protected under the first, which should always be the case, then congress's power to regulate commerce cannot be construed to be used to deny the rights of others whom are trying to express themselves.

I can say things that can cause violence in other people, that does not mean my act of saying them is the criminal offense, and it can't be.

Actually, FatHed, I don't think inciting violence is protected speech. It really depends on the context and what is said. Things are lot more difficult now as far as protected speech goes in this "Post 9/11" world, as everyone has so fondly taken to calling it.

Also, he didn't say that the government has the right to do anything of the sort. He simply stated that gamers and game makers need to be aware that there are perfectly valid arguments to be made on the other side. And, hes absolutely right.

I was on GamePolitics.com the other day. They posted an article about how research showed raised levels of aggression in children after they played games that included that type of behavior in the virtual scape. The comments that were included under the blog post were pretty much the same. Everyone there had almost no idea of what the study included as far as tests go or how they measured the results, but they all knew that the results were absurd. The reason they knew was, well, because they wanted them to be so. Instead of standing back and accepting the possibility that games can cause people to be more aggressive just after playing a game that is heavily violent, they reacted in a stereotypical defensive way.

It's silly to discount empirical evidence because it doesn't support the one point that seems most accurate from a very biased perspective. There are definitely things worth looking into when it comes to game content. To say that there aren't is due to turtling and refusing to face reality. It's not that games should be censored by the government, but we should know the actual effects of games.

I think it's only fair that that I know exactly what gaming is doing to my mind, for better or worse.

FatHead: I suggest you read the article before you comment. I think the main point is very well summed up in this sentence:

Just because gaming violence doesn't cause people to go out and kill (and it doesn't), it doesn't automatically follow that any level of violence in games is acceptable.

There is not a single "violent games cause violence" or "games should be censored" or any other that type of point in the whole article. Instead, the article warns gamers and gaming industry about becoming the Jack Thompson of video game defense - unconditionally and ignoringly attacking everything and everyone who do not regard violence in videogames as something that has absolutely no effect whatsoever.
When the loudest spokesman of an opposing opinion is someone like Jack Thompson, it's very tempting to disregard and just plain throw out the window anything and everything he/they have to say on the matter. When actually there might be (and is) quite a valid point there, hidden well behind and under the sensless agression, overreaction and exaggeration that they use to get their own twisted version of that point across.
And I think this article does a great job of doing that - looking (or at least pointing) calmly and rationally at the other side of the argument. The actual other side of the argument, not the stupidity Jack Thompson and mass media are making it out to be.

I did read the article, thanks for suggesting it though.

Blaxton:
Actually, FatHed, I don't think inciting violence is protected speech. It really depends on the context and what is said.

Yes, and no. The Supreme Court has incorrectly ruled that some speech is not protected. If you read the 1st, and look carefully at the word abridge, then you'd see that even our highest court can be wrong. According to the following words, all speech, regardless of context is protected.

or abridging the freedom of speech

Did you see anything about context? Now, read the 9th and the 10th. There is no way that the combination of those 3 amendments to our constitution can be construed to say that some speech is illegal. It does not matter if that speech can cause harm to people or not.

Blaxton:
Also, he didn't say that the government has the right to do anything of the sort.

shadowbird:
There is not a single "violent games cause violence" or "games should be censored" or any other that type of point in the whole article.

FTA:

Just because gaming violence doesn't cause people to go out and kill (and it doesn't), it doesn't automatically follow that any level of violence in games is acceptable.

That implies that regulation of violence in games is needed.

He was not clear in stating that the government cannot do this, and he implies that regulation will be necessary. That was the basis of my first post.

Don't get me wrong, I think that games can and do alter how people do different things. There was a study recently stating that racing games can make people drive more erratic, and I agree with that study. If I play a game like Burnout, I want to drive faster when I am in my car.

I agree that people shouldn't just throw out everything that Jack and Dr. Phil say, but I get extremely nervous when people mention that we should listen, but don't clearly state that it really doesn't matter what either side says, since it's unconstitutional for our government to do anything about it in the first place.

As a side note, the report button is not the reply button, I'm sorry shadowbird, I reported your post on accident.

Fathed, the first amendment is two sentences long, there is certainly room for interpretation. The Supreme court can't really be "wrong" as they are the governing body that decides what the constitution means. They are supposed to symbolize the values of the country as they change over time, and if they rule one way or another it is because that is what they believe is right at the time. Even so, it's off the point.

There is no debate about whether he was saying there should be government regulation of games. The article isn't about regulation. The article is about taking a level headed and logical perspective when dealing with criticism.

FatHed:
FTA:

Just because gaming violence doesn't cause people to go out and kill (and it doesn't), it doesn't automatically follow that any level of violence in games is acceptable.

That implies that regulation of violence in games is needed.

I see it clearly stating that we should not automatically dismiss every "games affect behaviour" study like most gamers tend to do, just because they point in the same direction as Jack & Phil. Of course some game regulation is required (imagine 5-year-olds playing "Postal 2" or "Silent Hill"), but it's in no way up to the government - it's the partents' job (and the government's welcome to slap a "violent/bloody content" sticker on the games to help them do that, but nothing more). Though I admit, I assume "is acceptable" means "is acceptable for everyone at any age". If it actually does mean that the author believes some games are just too violent for anybody (and government should decide which those are), I disagree fullheartedly.

FatHead:
As a side note, the report button is not the reply button, I'm sorry shadowbird, I reported your post on accident.

Then you should probably tell this to the guys receiving the report, not me. :)

Let me clear a few things up.

First of all, any suggestion that government regulation is what is needed was mistakenly inferred, and not implied. And although I am not in favour of government regulation of games content, please do bear in mind that not everyone reading or writing on the Internet, including myself, is American and subject to the US constitution.

The point of the article was not that games cause people to be violent. I do not believe that for a second. I favour self-examination, not outside regulation. The point was that because we react, as FatHed has done here, in such a knee-jerk fashion to the very suggestion that games might cause violence or should be regulated, that we tend to miss the other issue. That is, is it really a good thing that so many games are so violent? Don't we have any other ideas?

I believe that the use of violence in gaming stems from a simple lack of creativity. It seems that we don't have any other thoughts for how to create or market games. And it's not that there's anything wrong with violent content in and of itself - I'm a big fan of many violent games, and my favourite game of recent years, Resident Evil 4, was dripping in gore. But while I might enjoy 24, if all TV series were like that, you'd get bored very quickly. And sure, there are puzzle games and platforming games and sports games and so on, but as the reviewer quoted said, in games where you play a person what you're most likely to be doing is killing people. I'm not saying either that games should hammer in moral messages, but art should have something to say for itself, and gaming very rarely seems to say anything.

Gearoid Reidy:
That is, is it really a good thing that so many games are so violent? Don't we have any other ideas?

I believe that the use of violence in gaming stems from a simple lack of creativity.

Saw this in the latest issue in the "Letters" section and it got me thinking: I don't think it's a lack of creativity, I think it's just the fact that games do violence really *well* you know? Maybe even better than movies--violence is all about action/equal and opposite reaction. And in a game, I actually direct the character, and the in-game physics takes over from there--the explosions, the stunts, everything you see in an action movie only *way* bigger and better, no worker's compensation claims from injured stuntpersons, and I'm more 'in' the action than even Arnold or Sly ever was.

I think it's that in a violent game the 'science' that drives the game is physics. The science driving, say, a novel about friendship is psychology, and that science is just much, much harder to get a computer to do a good job with. Games with economics or demographics driving them seem to make good games too, because those sciences mesh well with digital computers.

In fact, ever notice how few close combat games there are, and among those, that the emphasis is usually on super-human powers like fireballs and rocket launchers built into someone's arms? Even among violent games, the games skew towards projectile combat because that's what computers are good at--even Kratos gets blades that fly out at a distance, and the real 'hand-to-hand' combat is saved for finishing moves.

Your post and FatHed's response got me thinking about a lot of things: one was the above about physics vs. psychology in a game. Two, like you asked: why when you play a person are you probably doing violent things? Well, I guess because it's hard to imagine a game where even if you are in the role of one human it adds to the fun to be represented in the game. It's just more fun to use buttons to build a sim roller coaster than have a guy walk around assembling things. Or why would I need to have a 'character' in a game if I'm running a railroad empire?

My thinking is that non-violent games are just more fun when you *don't* play a person. Rather than 'let's have a game with a person' leading to the decision to make the game violent, I think the decision 'let's make the game violent (or not)' leads to the decision to have you play a person. Not so much a lack of creativity as much as game designers going with what if fun to play, violence or no violence.

Three, it got me thinking about how much more we're sensitized to violence in video games. And that's not a typo: I meant to leave the 'de-' prefix off there. Think about it: at least the zombies in _Resident Evil_ just eat you because they are victims of some virus; they don't build a house in the woods to lure you there and then capture you and fatten you up to cook you before they eat you, like in _Hansel and Gretel_. Yet people have been reading that fairy tale--and ones just as violent and twisted--to kids for years.

I mean, I really wonder if in the catalog of video games, if violence isn't *under* represented compared to other genres. I'm just thinking of myths here: there isn't much about how King Arthur ran any aspect of Camelot besides the riding around on horses and smiting people with the cool sword from the lake, right? In _the Iliad_ there's not only lots and lots of killing, but corpse desecration. Even in novels about the future, for every _Woman on the Edge of Time_ you've got a _Dune_ and a _Starship Troopers_ and so on, where there's lot of people killing each other in new and exciting ways.

I guess I just wonder if violence is *really* overrepresented in video games, or if it just looks that way because we compare them to films, tv, and *maybe* novels when really, we need to compare it to everything from _Monopoly_ to _Beowulf_ if we're going to comment on 'videogames' as a whole.

And maybe instead of thinking about _Monopoly_, we should be thinking about the catalogs of Avalon Hill, SPI, Games Workshop, etc., and the whole tabletop miniature wargaming hobby. Videogames are what--30 odd years old? Maybe the focus on violence is just a blip in the timeline, a product of low broadband penetration and a surging capability to present projectile weapon combat. Maybe as the casual gaming audience gets the kind of broadband access hardcore gamers now have, violent games will be small islands in the sea of more social games.

Or more likely, adult simulation games. Which will make this period 'the good old innocent days' in everyone's minds.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here