A Question of Manners

Videogames have been mired in controversy ever since their conception, providing an all-you-can-eat buffet of flavorless nourishment for the Thought Police to gorge themselves on, before spewing forth self-righteous subjugation in Mr. Creosoteian proportions.

And no bad thing, I say.

If videogames provide the sanctimoniously pious with fodder for grievance, it follows that players must also be enjoying a certain freedom of entertainment with which to annoy them. Keeping an eye on what’s got the lobbyists up in arms can be an effective method of deciding on the next game to play.

Were we to remove all vestiges of luxury and pleasure from our lives (aside from an ostentatiously bound Bible or Quran, perhaps), think only Puritan thoughts and wrap ourselves tightly in wool, would it finally silence the twittering voices of those who would have dominion over us?

But people’s reasons for protesting about the content of videogames can’t be as one-dimensional as having irrepressible control issues. Games, movies, books and TV are a major part of our influences, and shallow as it might sound, these things matter. They have a profound impact on our day to day existence and people have a right to worry about them.

But what’s so offensive about someone else enjoying the violence of a computer game? Is it a heartfelt concern that we (the players) will become so immersed in these fantasies that our perceptions will break down with axe-wielding consequences? We hear all the time how inadequately expressed grief and depression cause psychological fatigue, and even damage. So, why wouldn’t stifled violent tendencies do the same? Maybe suppressed happiness would cause psychosomatic hemorrhaging if it weren’t so acceptable to laugh out loud. Spock certainly had more than his share of emotional problems, didn’t he?

The main argument for tighter control of our videogames always seems to stem from a concern that playing out violent or decadent behavior on the screen could ultimately lead to living out similar behavior on the streets. Dick Cavett is well quoted for posing the wry question:

“There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy on the streets?”

Well, kind of. Yeah. Who hasn’t re-enacted a funny scene, or retold a joke, or quoted a catchphrase from a film or TV program? It’s only reasonable to surmise that videogames also have an impact on a player’s behavior. The mistake is in not granting people the credit to be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy; after all, if the distinction between the two was so easily blurred, wouldn’t the censors themselves be blood crazed, flesh hungry psychos after screening everything they wanted to ban?

Neither does the gaming industry do itself any favors with feigned surprise and knee-jerk contrariety, claiming all the events, stories, gameplay and gore in videogames is “within context” or “demonstrative of consequence,” raising no issue of commerce over morality. These weak, head-in-the- sand arguments don’t fool anyone, and serve only to lend weight to the lobbyist’s arguments. A videogame developer cannot talk about ongoing commitments to their customer’s psychological welfare while holding a chainsaw shaped controller behind his back. These are nebulous wiles that insult the intelligence of players, lobbyists and the public in general. Who wouldn’t think more of a developer who stood up and admitted they make violent games because we buy them, and they are not obliged to justify their actions to anyone? Another quick word from the sagely Mr. Cavett:

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“As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it.”

Now, I don’t think these controversial games are “crap”; quite the opposite. I am happy to admit that I enjoy, nay love, the violent behavior I live out when playing Double Dragon, Resident Evil, Virtua Fighter or Spyro the Dragon. I also get considerable gratification from being drunk and having sex for non-reproductive purposes (or any combination of the three). I find them all very enjoyable ways to pass the time and make no excuse for doing so. If only the industry was less defensive and more candid about their policies, arguments proclaiming the evils of videogaming would be far less persuasive.

I think the campaigners’ problems stem from a fear of realizing the human condition is not based in a just and moral world, yet to sit back and avoid acting on the principle that some form of cosmic justice will make things right is a luxury far more decadent than any amount of time spent on a depraved videogame.

And the inherent principle of censorship carries severe problems of its own, easily outweighing the consequences of our youth being entertained by blood and mayhem. You needn’t look far into history to see the types of people and organizations who made considerable use of censorship, and many of them undoubtedly believed they were acting for the greater good. The freedom to make, play and protest about such controversial forms of entertainment is part and parcel of our quest to become a more advanced civilization; it’s no use complaining when it tastes bad.

It’s quite clear that restricting people’s privilege to disagree with each other is wrong. Coupled with the fact that players and anti-gaming lobbyists are never going to convince each other to see reason, common ground must be found. Luckily for the free world, I have a solution. It’s so simple and so easily implemented, no one’ll ever go for it, but here it is anyway.

Whether we like it or not, none of us have (and should never have) any control over the beliefs of others. The plus side is, so long as our willpower is fortified enough to mind our own business, neither do we have any responsibility for other peoples’ actions, issues or demands. But it’s of vital importance that we do take control and responsibility for ourselves and all the cumbersome emotional baggage that accompanies a fully developed personality.

It’s all a question of having good manners. If a person exhibits a pleasant demeanor to the people around him – despite the fact that most of the time it will not be reciprocated – many of the most destructive and antisocial elements of modern society become impossible to enact, such as intolerance, oppression or hatred. And other than the way in which you deal with people, having good manners won’t affect your own beliefs or your way of life one bit. Let me give you an example.

Take the witch hunters of years gone by, who would burn heretics alive in order to “cleanse” their souls for the crime of non-belief. Once again, it’s too convenient to portray all these people as malicious, twisted malcontents out to murder and maim for their own sense of self-satisfaction. (Kind of like videogamers of today!) Many were deeply religious people who believed what they were doing was an act of charity, even though it effectively put their own immortal soul at risk.

Let’s assume for a moment that everything a witch hunter believed was 100% correct: If you didn’t follow the correct religion and led a decadent life, you were doomed to an eternity of hellfire and torment. Knowing full well it could jeopardize their own chance of getting into Paradise, they save the everlasting spirits of heretics by burning them at the stake. For someone who is a devoutly religious person, this would be an extremely difficult act to see through and would take a tremendous toll on them. So, assuming everything they believed was factually correct, their actions were of kindness and self-sacrifice, even though the people they were saving would never thank them for it.

But, had the hunters followed an additional doctrine of showing good manners to the people around them, matters would have been completely different.

“Is burning a heretic alive an act of kindness?” Yes.

“Is burning a heretic alive the right thing to do?” Without question.

“Is it good manners to burn someone alive against their will?” Absolutely not.

Regardless of personal belief, the certainty of the facts or the nature of the consequences, the unequivocal answer is “no.” By applying that simple question to the everyday events of your life, “Is it good manners?” all number of problems and conflicts are solved preemptively, including how other people (be they gamers or conscientious objectors) conduct their social activities.

Common ground becomes the only place to exist, leading to the realization that your only responsibility is to ensure you behave in a polite and appropriate manner to everyone you meet, and to follow your own perceptions of what constitutes an enjoyable life, regardless of what others may think.

If you find sex and violence entertaining, make no apologies for it. Just be aware that no matter how immersive the gameplay can be, you must always behave in a courteous and good-natured manner to everyone you meet. Any subsequent arguments that your choice of escapist entertainment is harmful to society will be proven unjustifiable by your smiling, agreeable, good mannered self.

Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.

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