So anyway, if you have ever heard of her, the singer and Sri Lankan born, M.I.A. (Paper Planes) recently spoke to Connect Magazine regarding the effect of violence in gaming toward younger players and questioned its merits and the long term consequences. I know this is like 2 weeks old but that's actually when I wrote it on my own blog but I'm reposting it here.
Based on some of the responses, I'm seeing some big time ignorance and close-minded jack-assery coming from, yet again, the defenders of my beloved hobby whom (in many cases) don't appear to even have read beyond the articles title and just let their "raised with x-box live etiquette" flood of insult, misogynism and epithet spew forth. Think Family Guy: "Kevin Bacon was NOT in Footloose! hawwwwww heeeeee hawwwwww." This is very similar to the deluge of shit-talking poor Roger Ebert faced when he went so far as to express his critical opinion that most games were not art. (saying you disagree with him is fine but making fun of his lack of lower jaw, now c'mon people...to this same extend "Shut up, you stupid bitch" is not a valid retort to the M.I.A. story)
Now, I'm not a fan of MIA but she does make a decent point. There's a documentary called "the soundtrack of war" where soldiers interviewed literally say a lot of them were expecting the war to be like a video game. "I was expecting to just aim down the sight and shoot...It's a lot more gruesome than you think"
I mean look at the Desert Storm coverage of "Smart Weapons." We have better resolution versions of that today in games (The Specter Gunship levels in Modern Warfare for example) When I showed movies about the War on Terror to students of mine, they immediately were saying "wow, this is just like call of duty!" Don't get me wrong, I love war games of all types but you don't need to be a student of propaganda to see a form of desensitizing taking place, a fun and satisfying form of it nevertheless. (A hallmark of really good propaganda) This is what M.I.A's point was about, not that any game is going to make a kid violent BUT if through exposure to repeated over the top killstreaks and fatalities is going to jade someone to the actual effect violence has on real people. Dehumanization takes place, to some extent. It always did. You knew a Demon in Doom wasn't real, you know the RPG guy in COD isn't real either, but who is actually based on a real-world entity? See this? Games are now dehumanizing actual humans who they then try to make as realistic as possible. Same goes for a cop you kill in GTA. The "eh, its just a game argument" is rapidly fading in these new shooters because it's doing what it can to emulate actual real-world settings, people, physics. It's a narrow path to walk, who wants to see someone crumple in pain, cry, vomit and scream when shot through the femoral artery and not instantly die? (surprisingly more people than I probably even could guess) But does this making the enemy a sea of masked or brown faces do something to our collective consciousness? (The Russian stuff also seemed kinda like a forced in a not so suave way to throw white enemies into a contemporary shooter so they could retort "See! We aren't making a 'how to kill arabs' video game!" to any criticism) Then again, Rainbow Six: Vegas and GRAW had Latino bad guys...did anyone make a big deal about that? Did They? I didn't have a 360 so I wasn't paying that much attention. Black Hawk Down did this. Originally it was supposed to be a pretty thought-out well rounded account about the entire Somali Conflict, more causality, more back-story, questions about the futility of war, more dialogue, more characterization of the soldiers. Instead it was a bunch of army guys with random quirks to tell them apart and an hour and a half of mindless bullets. This was in production before 9-11 but once the attacks happened, Washington stepped in and ordered "This had better be a 'fight the war on terror' recruitment movie" Hence, the Somali's were black-washed to look like fanatical, war-crazy, savages without an ounce of remorse or any possibility to evoke sympathy from any audience. By the end we have the same generalized modern-warfare view of non-westerers as a psychotic herd just begging to die. Who would ever see any of these people (I'm talking women, civilians, children) in any type of empathetic light when one of your only ways to see them is by killing hundreds of them while they desperatly try to kill you?
Also, the older generation of gamers needs to realize, games developed as they personally matured. We grew up on 8 and 16 bit sprites that clearly were not any accurate depiction of what murder and mayhem looks like (Duke Nukem, Doom, and Commander Keen). Now the "old ultra-violence" (to quote Alex DeLarge) is taking a much more advanced look and feel for a much younger audience. Of course we know it didn't effect us, (more suicides and real-world violence is related to games seeded in the MMORP and RPG genres, strangley in South Korea) the only question is, how will this affect younger players as they age? Its like testing meds on the market, we won't know the side effects until after it is too late. There is no trial period; we are looking right at it in younger players. If the effects are visible any time you play a session of x-live and listen to some of the stuff coming out of these kids mouths. If this is a testimony to the fabric of America you would think Women's Rights, Civil Rights, Americans with Disabilities Act and the LGBT Rights movements never happened and our society simply digressed to white-supremacist neanderthals grunting expletives at each other. Sufficed to say, there is some horrible stuff being said on these headsets that would probably make even the drafters of the first amendment question its merit.
As for violence, why are video games truly at the center of this storm? I don't see people going after the Full Metal Jackets of the world and critics and viewers alike had a splooge-fest over the Hurt Locker. (It seems all you need to do to show war and get away with it is to mask it behind "war is hell" "war is futile" "this is really anti-war but we still are gonna show how bad-ass it is" messages) However, would there have been more of an outcry if kids were taking on the persona of Private Joker and putting a round through a female sniper's dying head? Interactivity, no matter how you choose to argue it, takes precedence over viewing, listening or reading because here, you get to do all three and control how you do it and how much you do it. Part of the reason Ebert said it cannot be art because the interactivity makes it disposable. (I guess he never saw a "choose your own adventure" book)
Remember people raving over Microsoft Flight Simulator back in 95 because you felt like you were there? That is what modern hyper-real games attempt to do. Its not about fantasy conflict (ergo Mass Effect or Fallout, even Command and Conquer) but representing actual real death and destruction in army sims where you are the Spec Ops guy. GRAW, Tom Clancy, America's Army, Full Spectrum Warrior really take the "fuck yeah" approach. Do you think kids would know about the Javelin, MP-44s, SAW gunners, Blackhawks without the Sam Fishers of the world? Some parent's couldn't stand when the current president (although there was no outcry against Reagan or H.W. Bush who did the exact same thing) wanted to talk to the nation's students about the merits of staying in school and working hard but yet no distinctions are drawn between obvious super-patriot indoctrination that comes from modern FPS games. We are talking "Triumph of the Will" to some degree. It's strange, it seems these games want to foster a love of all things military but the lines seem to be blurred when it comes to it being an American Military. When I play these games I never really see myself as an American killing non-Americans but more an army guy shooting other army guys. Maybe this is what is going on; the planting the seeds of militarifilia on youger player's psyches. Being as they are American gamers playing in America, what other army are you gonna love and join? The French Foreign Legion? Its a remarkable inevitability of where these minds are being programmed to go. Hence Halo, the Cog, etc.: "Seraph, Fuck Yeah" easily can be replaced with "America, Fuck Yeah!"
Now a big rebuff to this argument seems to be the age-old bullshit American argument that "eh, like there wasn't violence before games, movies, etc....what about violence in the Middle East, they are violent and don't play video games" As if this is a good thing. To some extend they do, Jordan, Eqypt, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, U.A.E., Saudia Arabia have decent game sales numbers. (Saudi Arabia actually has less banned games than Australia does!) But, to pander to that argument, maybe SOME people over there are violent because they come from a completely different background, being fostered on age-old tribal and religious conflict and wracked with internal and international war up to this day. Most of the modern borders there are less than 100 years old and that was born from the plague of European colonialism. (and we all know how peaceful that was, right?) Americans are really in no position to make any comparison. In any modern sense we haven't been invaded (so don't say war of 1812), we haven't seen combat in our backyards (so don't say Civil War), we haven't seen actual threats of annihilation or faced genocide. (Unless you’re talking about the Native Indian genocide) So what is the idea here, we haven't seen these actual acts of violence to perpetuate a violent society so we manufacture virtual violence to jade our youth to the actual consequence of real violence? I dunno, slippery slope.