The World Without Games

The World Without Games
Pastimes Defining a Civilization: Videogames

Dana Massey | 7 Mar 2006 07:02
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Pastimes help define a society. The Ancient Romans were known for their love of gladiatorial combat, the English have soccer and, as a Canadian, I am assumed - correctly - to be a rabid fan of hockey. Yet, what do these pastimes say about us? Some point to the Roman practice of gladiatorial combat as a root from which the doom of their civilization was born. The mob was educated to believe the idea of killing other humans was acceptable.

Today, in our global culture, we have seen the rise of videogames, movies and television as nearly global pastimes. These pastimes, which are often violent, have been cast by both supporters and detractors as our gladiatorial games. They provide entertainment and allow people to escape and see things they could never personally hope to experience. Yet, it was not until the advent of violent videogames that the line was crossed between observation and participation.

Unlike ancient times, when distance could entirely cut off one culture from another, we now live in a world where the boundaries between societies are much harder to define. Different cultures still have their preferences - try to find more than two North Americans who know the rules to cricket - but as time passes, these differences are being supplemented with common interest. Most of the world watches American films and television. And while there are differences based on language and regional preferences, the developed world plays videogames.

Rapidly, our industry has joined the big leagues. We're one of the largest global creators of pastime content for all ages. What we create is, in part, determined by what the market wants to consume. Thus, when the world shows relentless demand for violent and otherwise morally gray videogames, it makes some question the state of our global society.

History repeats itself. That's right; I pulled out that cliché. But, if you are someone who believes this, there is a mountain of evidence that indicates we should be worried. Where Romans had increasingly violent gladiatorial combat, we as a society have had wrestling and boxing. In recent years, we've seen the emergence of ultimate fighting, which is like a combination of the two: Keep the story from wrestling and the actual hitting from boxing, then remove the protective gloves. It's not to the death, but we're getting closer.

On the videogame end, we've gone from shooting alien spaceships on 2-D arcade machines, to games that let you do virtually whatever insanely violent thing you want (think Manhunt). Our pastimes have increased in violence over the years. Enabled by technology, we've seen movies with severed limbs, videogames with mindless rampages and TV shows where we eat popcorn while real people beat each other into oblivion.

Let me be clear: I believe it's absolutely ludicrous to use Grand Theft Auto as a legal defense against a rampage. In the personal sense, it's no excuse. If someone is crazy enough to shoot up anything after playing a videogame, they've got other issues. The videogame represents the form the violence ultimately takes, not the impulse to commit it. However, the overall trend of our love of violence in all forms worries me. Trace things back only one century. In the early part of this century, it is entirely conceivable that a child could grow into adulthood without ever seeing anything more violent than a school-yard brawl. Boxing was popular, but that was about the extent of it.

Modern entertainment media means that by age six, kids are quite probably actively controlling cartoons killing each other. By their teenage years, most children have probably seen Braveheart, limb-hacking and all, and by adulthood, they've probably personally conducted an all-out suicidal rampage on their PC or console. More alarming, the above example assumes responsible parental monitoring. I have met 6-year-olds who've already reached the Grand Theft Auto stage. This doesn't mean society is on the verge of collapse, but it is impossible to just accept that all this exposure to violence means nothing and affects no one.

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