Two things I need to get out of the way before I get started here:
First, I am not of the belief that people are inherently good or evil; nothing I am about to say is an attempt to paint people or their actions as good or bad. It’s merely action and reaction, no moral compass to be found. I think that people are people and they simply do what suits them. Their freedom to do so forms the very basis of society. What I am about to say, the opinions I will express, and the conclusions that I draw are all things that apply to my world view alone. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind on any subject I discuss, I am merely expressing my views. I'm not trying to preach, just talk.
Second, if you are offended by anything that follows, that’s fine, but I’m not going to apologize for anything I’m about to say. If it bothers you, take it for what it is; the opinion of someone you probably didn’t know existed yesterday, and won’t give a shit about tomorrow. That’s the glory of the internet, basically nothing anybody says here really matters in day-to-day life.
Also (I know I said two, but this one’s a small one): This is probably gonna be a long read, so if you’re gonna stick in it ‘til the end, you should probably make yourself some popcorn or something, or at least prepare for a bathroom break halfway through.
Now, with all that said, let’s get started here.
There’s a list of phrases I absolutely hate. This ranks in at number two: “They’re gonna do it anyway.”
This phrase is a prelude to a painfully foolish argument. What this phrase amounts to is a justification for either being too lazy, too stupid, or just too damn self interested to exhibit some backbone and some discipline.
The argument is brutally simple. “They’re gonna do it anyway, so why try to stop them?” It usually comes out of people talking about raising children. Usually from people who have no idea what they’re fucking doing with children. “They’re gonna drink anyway, so why not let them do it at home, where I don’t have to worry about them going somewhere dangerous to do it?” “They’re gonna have sex anyway, so why not get them some condoms, so they can do it safely?” “They’re gonna play violent videogames no matter what I do, so I might as well just buy them.”
Here’s what happens when you apply this argument to something else. Let’s go ahead and do society. “People are going to kill each other. I mean, they’re going to do it. You can’t stop them. You really, really want to, but you can’t. So why try?”
Do you understand how amazingly stupid this is now?
This phrase, and its argument, is the product of a generation of “freedom” in parenting. Parents who were either too self-interested and career-driven to spend their valuable time raising their children, or too freedom-loving, bucking the trend of the corporate society by raising their child free of boundaries. The latch key kids who walked home alone from the bus stop, made their own lunch, and sat down to watch TV alone for a few hours while they waited for the parents to get home, only to be ignored just long enough for dinner to get cooked, and then it‘s off to bed because mommy and daddy are tired.
Most of them turned out as pretty decent human beings. A tribute to the human will to survive and succeed. They treat others with a reasonable amount of respect. They go to work every day, they keep good friends, good relationships. Just generally good people on the whole. The problem is, they wound up with no idea how to raise their kids. There was little to no discipline in their lives, and as a result, when it’s time to put a family together, it’s a Goddamn crapshoot. The sense of morality, right and wrong, and understanding of society they gained with classmates in school during their generation’s upbringing isn’t there today to shepherd their children into adulthood. Schools are a mess, over budget, under funded, overpopulated and chock full of kids who have to learn most of their values on the streets, not in the home. Potentially good kids wasted not because nobody cared, not because their parents didn’t love them, but because the load-bearing structure of our society that cradled their parents into decent human beings wasn’t prepared for the next wave’s weight too.
The parents are clueless; they’ve got no idea how to discipline their kids. They’ve never seen it before in their lives. Their parents didn’t do it, the books can’t teach it, and they’re lost. They don’t know the first thing about keeping their kids safe and molding them into law-abiding, productive citizens. From this, we get about half a generation of use-it-or-lose-it men and women who spend more time trying to find a shrink to make all their problems go away than actually confronting those problems like reasonable adults.
It is from this God awful mess that we get “They’re gonna do it anyway.” Two generations of misshapen, misguided, misunderstood, and generally sub-par parenting techniques culminating in one big pile of “Who gives a shit what happens to my kids, nobody gave a shit what happened to me and I turned out just fine.”
It’s my belief that this is what’s most responsible for putting violent games in the hands of kids. Children make demands and under-equipped, limp-wristed, weak-kneed parents who are practically children themselves, give in. It’s not that the parents are well informed about what they’re doing. It’s not that they understand what’s occurring to their children. It’s just that they aren’t steeled to their children’s screams. Nobody gave them anything, so why should they deny their child now if it will make them happy? They care about their kids and what happens to them, they care so much that they’ll give them anything, they just don’t know that it’s a profoundly stupid thing to do.
Let’s be clear here: I don’t think the content is that awful without context. But it’s a context that needs to be provided by a loving parent, or at least an adult that is aware of what’s occurring. It can’t simply be presented and left; you can’t throw a kid in a pool and then walk away and expect them to learn how to swim, can you?
And now, we come to the heart of what I really wanted to talk with you all about.
There has been a lot of talk about the role of violence in media for essentially as long as any form of media has been available. It spans from the first printed media, books, newspapers, art, photographs, film, television, music and today’s supposed “hot button” issue is videogames.
It’s important to note that videogames are the latest in a long line of widely available mediums consumed by the public; when the subject of content and videogames comes up, it is often stated that this “happened” with music, television, movies, and so on. It is just as important to note that, while the majority of the attention about certain types of content is typically focused on one particular medium or another, the criticism and proposed censorship on other types of mediums does not simply go away. Example: Do you read Stephen King novels to a 10 year old as bedtime stories?
While we do not often see discussion focused on the potentially violent content shown on television programs, it is still uncommon if not unheard of to see graphic footage of actual violence, death, and war on television programs. The occasional story is covered, and footage is sometimes shown of actual violence and events, but very rarely is it shown in entirety, and never, never, never without surrounding context. Even the most horrific of crime-focused programs are censored for the public; the concern about such content reaching the viewer has never receded. It has dulled, perhaps, to include certain allowances, but it has never (and likely never will) disappear, because the content itself remains offensive and potentially dangerous. We have merely adjusted our social practices to accept the information, and interpret it in a way that is not harmful.
I feel it is deeply misleading to simply state that videogames will follow in the same vein as these other mediums without fully exploring what has occurred. People think, “Oh, well, I remember people getting into a lot of arguments over music some years back. Now I don’t hear that much anymore, unless something’s really offensive. That’ll probably happen to videogames. Let’s just say that.” And while it is a fair assumption that videogames will be added to the list of “approved content not destroying our children”, it’s not accurate to believe that this will lead to less scrutiny, only that less national attention will be paid to it as attention drifts elsewhere.
I also feel that this is a pretty horrific cop-out, and it’s taken advantage of in the gaming community far, far too often.
Simply stating that videogames will be (or already are) like TV/Music/Film allows us to distance ourselves from taking a serious, hard look at the content contained within, and how it should be considered. Tossing videogames in with other forms of mass-consumed media is like writing a blank check to yourself: “I don’t have to think about this anymore, it’s the (media/government/active group/lawyer)’s fault videogames are getting all this negative attention. It’s not my fault for demanding more/being desensitized to more obscene content. It’s not my fault for allowing my children to view/play it.”
It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for the gamer to not have to take these things seriously; because if we did force ourselves to take it seriously, we might not actually get the kind of content we want. We might actually have to take a hard look at ourselves and we might not like what we see. As long as violence has no impact in media, it has no impact on us, and it doesn’t matter if we demand it to be satisfied. If, instead, we throw up our hands and say, “it’s the nature of society, it’ll be over eventually,” we can keep getting what we want while making a convincing argument and letting people “bitch and whine” about it in the background, on the periphery.
It’s pathetic to take such a hands-off approach on something you claim to love so much. If you love games, then I call on you to be the voice of reason. Turn yourself into a gaming interpreter. Teach friends, family, and even strangers how to understand this medium of digital entertainment like we do; show them the cynicism we approach these products with. Don’t just buy the new releases when they come out and hole up with them. Take them to your friends, take them to your family. Take them to your parents, your grandparents, and their grandparents if you can, and while you’re there, why don’t you ask them if they’d have let you play that damn game in your hands when you were 10, 11, 12, or even 15.
Forcing yourself to believe that others are simply ignorant of what you hold in your hands is the act of a fool. Instead, teach them to interpret games as you do. Show them the good that comes out of this medium that we love. The communities it compels us to build, like this fabulous one here at Destructoid. The companionship we share in our love (and sometimes hate) of videogames. Teach them that it’s never about just one game for us; it’s a living archive of experiences we can call upon at all times. The satisfaction of that hat-trick of headshots in Team Fortress 2, the crescendo that chimes in at that perfect moment, that wonderful sensation of completion after getting that 100th feather.
If you can’t even muster up the courage to do that, then I think you already know what they’d have to say about the content in your games, don’t you? If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your best shot at a high score in Mad World with your mom, but you can both sit down and watch Cold Case Files together and not bat an eye, then why the fuck is it okay to throw the content of videogames in with what happened to TV? If you can’t scream “YOU FUCKING NIGGER FAGGOT” in front of your grandparents while playing some Modern Warfare 2, but you can both handle some rock & roll, how is it reasonable to compare the predicament of videogames to what happened music?
I’m not saying anyone should feel bad about playing the games they like to play. Once you’re an adult, you can drink, you can smoke, you can do damn near whatever you like so long as it’s legal. And just like you wouldn’t want to sit down with your great-grandparents and watch some hardcore porn, you probably wouldn’t want to show every game to everyone. But don’t allow yourself to be complacent, and don’t pretend to be a fool. Do not just scrutinize the content in your games. Cast those piercing eyes upon yourself, and your own impact on the system as a consumer; what do your purchases, your comments, and your thoughts say about what you want out of games, and the industry as a whole. Do you demand more violence? Do you get excited about more realistic gore? When buckets and buckets of blood are spilled, is it awesome, or gruesome and horrifying? What words come out of your mouth when you’re seething at the Television because the same guy knifed you for the third time in a row? Always be aware that you are having an impact on what gets produced. What you buy is what they make. The more you buy, the more they make.
Think long and think hard about what they make, and what that says about not just you, but all of us.