I Am Error: Video game controversy
|September 14, 2011||Posted by S.A.Perkins under I Am Error|
Video games have come under a hell of a lot of criticism over their brief time (I say brief in relation to things like movies and books, so put the torches and pitchforks away and sit down). Whether you’re talking about the old ‘hot coffee’ incident in our good ol’ friend, Grand Theft Auto - and by friend, I mean the kind of friend you like to beat until he gives you the pack of skittles you wanted but he took – or the massive, overblown nonsense that surrounded Mass Effect’s totally infamous and ungodly sex scene, people tend to recognise that video games are surrounded by controversy; however there is more to it than the simple truth that video games can have polemic subject matter. Let’s discuss it shall we? By which I mean I’ll stand in front of you and talk (by which I mean rant) and you’ll sit there and listen… read… whatever. Yes, sit, lest I break out the crowbar.
To some extent, the fault for massive video game controversy does lie with the video games themselves, and the developers, publishers and creators… whoever sits in the dungeons of Eidos, Ubisoft, EA and Barad Dur *ahem* I mean, BioWare, churning out these titles. Take Rockstar, and the ‘hot coffee’ incident. The problem with that incident was that it was put in by the developers themselves, added directly to the game for the purposes of deepening the content – and I use that word very loosely in relation to any GTA game – included in San Andreas. The fact that they removed it from the main content, but left it completely open to being revealed by skilled hackers and game mod creators, just tells people that they wanted it to be found. In fact, I’m pretty sure that you can’t really mod a Playstation, which is what the content was exposed on, so what the hell did they do? Was it some kind of back-alley transaction, with a Rockstar employee casually slipping the codes to unlock the content to some sex-depraved gamer (I know, we are such a minority) like some kind of narcotic substance? I wouldn’t be surprised, I mean, this is Rockstar. Yet when people accused Rockstar of being irresponsible, and the gamers stood up and yelled back that it wasn’t the developer’s fault, you have to think… they created the damn thing, surely the fault should lie with them? Well, not all of the fault, but we’ll cover that later. Although, in fairness to Rockstar, the content wasn’t that explicit, as far as memory serves. I mean, if I wanted to see a bunch of badly animated oblongs rubbing up against each other – and I’m referring to the characters, not any particular anatomy, so stop with those dirty thoughts – I would have played Minecraft (yes, it hadn’t been invented yet, but work with me on this). If you thought whatever the hell those characters were doing in San Andreas was particularly explicit towards your teenagers, clearly you haven’t seen their internet search history. But I suppose a counter argument would be: what about small children? Let me countermand that argument.
If you are letting some 12-year-old, or younger, child play a game like Grand Theft Auto, then clearly you shouldn’t be allowed to make any decision that involves another human being, be it about a video game or, well, anything. I’ve heard children giving their parents every excuse in the book to try to get them to buy an overage game, and if they fall for those lame arse excuses, they only have themselves to blame. If you buy your child a game that contains an off-screen sex scene, repeated acts of violence, hedonistic use of vulgar language (I for one love swearing, but I’m not a good example to anyone, let alone children), drug use and prostitution… everything bad you could imagine your child being exposed to, and then only throwing a paddy when someone exposes a code that allows your child to perform an interactive and, let’s be honest, comedic sex mini-game, there is clearly something wrong in that skull of yours – and I say skull because you probably don’t even have a brain – and the fault rests on your shoulders. If you buy your child a game with an 18 rating on it, you can’t exactly get mad if it has sex in it, because you exposed them to it. If there was a film with an 18 rating, which told you it had gratuitous violence and sex in it, you wouldn’t take a nine-year-old into the cinema with you on a Saturday. Yet people buy children video games with the same content. Just *CENSORED* it.
The parents aren’t the only party to blame apart from the developers. The media also need to calm the hell down, and so do uneducated arseholes who continuously blow things way out of proportion. I call your attention to a certain case, involving the *ahem* rarely mentioned Mass Effect (if you haven’t clocked onto the fact that I know everything about this game yet, you haven’t been paying nearly enough attention). I refer to a certain man, Kevin McCullough, who went online and posted an article that was both completely unfounded and outrageous. He claimed that the sex scene in Mass Effect - I won’t lie, a bit of side boob and a bare arse barely deserves the term – allowed players to “sodomise whatever, whomever, however, the game player wishes” and that within the game “virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away”. Now, the main reason that people hated this *CENSORED* idiot was that he actually had no knowledge of the game. That’s right, none. The game hadn’t even been released yet and this guy had seen none of the early working content. He was making stuff up straight from the top of his head. Of course, the gamer community and BioWare attacked McCullough, and even Jack Thompson, infamous anti-game lobbyist, called the guy an idiot, but that didn’t stop wider audiences seeing his article and assuming he was right, banning their children from buying the game from the fear of what it contained.
Apart from *CENSORED* McCullough (if you can’t tell, I’m adding in these censors, but believe me, my editors would add them in if I didn’t do it myself) you also have the news to blame for being such colossal nincompoops – an insult I am totally bringing back. The American news is one of the worst outlets for this, and I particularly love Fox News’ “balanced debates” over the subjects, and to highlight this I might turn to Six Days in Fallujah, a game about the Iraq war, which was intended to be something of a documentary about the war and was actually asked for by the troops themselves, before being backed and counselled on by the US Marine Corps, who guided the developers. It might have been a combat simulator, but Call of Duty has been doing that for a long time now, and no one bothered with that. But people began to call it disrespectful to the people who fought in the battle, which seems odd considering the soldiers were the ones helping the developers, and they claimed it was in bad taste. Konami, the game’s publisher, pulled out because of the pressure, and the game was never published. Yet before the game died, Fox news broke out a “balanced debate.” The game developer stated that they intended to make it as a way to expose the battle to the younger audiences, and the Marine Corps Captain who had served in the battle and was the advisor on the game said he felt it honoured those who fought there, but the news caster slandered the game and asked questions deliberately styled to make them lose their credibility, and cut off a response to one of her comments on how distasteful the game was by ending the interview. Is that balanced? Does it give people an actual view of what the game portrays? Does it make people more confident that video games are a good thing? Or does it make video games seem akin to the Jabberwocky, or the Nazgul? Something evil to be avoided and hated (or destroyed with a Vorpal Sword, but I like to think video games can only be felled in the fires from whence they came, and who the hell knows where that is)? If you don’t believe me, watch Fox News’ debates, on any subject.
And of course, blame must fall on you, the gamer. That’s right, you. My finger is pointed at the screen as I write this, but unfortunately my dread visage would break most unprotected computers, so I can’t visualise this. If a gamer picks up a game with controversial material, let’s say violence, and then goes off to their school or workplace and takes a shotgun to their boss/teacher, then something is wrong with the gamer, not the game (if you don’t like the bluntness of what I say, imagine the word ‘shotgun’ to be replaced with ‘rainbow gun’ and ‘boss/teacher’ to be replaced with ‘rabbit farm’). I’m not saying that the game itself is entirely faultless, but games are designed to be immersive, captivating and influential, like movies or books. If you go to see a good movie, like Lord of the Rings, you are moved and influenced by it (you know who you are, Paolini). This is the same with games. A game is designed to inspire an emotional response and move somebody, engrossing them within the world the game creates and making them involved with the characters. Blaming the game if a gamer starts to imagine that their virtual reality is a real world, or allowing an imaginary character or situation to influence their real-world actions, is not only wrong, it’s kind of stupid. Yes, you heard me. Often the reason someone turns to violence after a video game is because of a deeply rooted psychological or emotional issue. Saying that the Norwegian killer used Modern Warfare 2 as ‘training’ is just downright idiotic. The guy was mentally ill, so blaming a video game for a psychological issue is like me saying, “Oh, I suddenly have a desire to cook a pizza. I blame unicorns.”
There are more people I could blame, all the way down to the blind parents and people who don’t want to admit that they’ve been ignoring their friends and family who have then gone on to do some crazy shit, violent or otherwise, and instead of admitting their own ignorance they blame video games, but I think I’ll leave it there. I think I’ve covered all the bases, but I’d like to ask one simple question before I end this rather long and not too bias-free (work it out, I’m a gamer) argument. If a video game can be accused of being controversial because of its subject material, why can’t a film, or a book?
Films have been doing everything that video games have been doing, for longer. In fact, often in more explicit detail. Films contain all the sex, violence and unicorns – sorry, I seem to be set on unicorns today, but you get the idea – and do a lot of the things that video games do, but they come under nowhere near as much scrutiny. If a film portrays a gratuitous sex scene, people tend to ignore it, or call it “artistic”, when half the time it really, really isn’t. To draw your attention to one particular example, who wanted to see that slow motion banging scene in Watchmen? I know I didn’t. Well, sort of. I mean, she was hot and all… let’s not get off topic. Not only that, but films portray many subject areas that people call distasteful in a video game, like war, or sexuality. To take Six Days in Fallujah as an example again, people called it disrespectful to soldiers fighting overseas, but The Hurt Locker, acclaimed worldwide, received almost no criticism (what criticism it received wasn’t about the fact it was set during the war), and received a gazzillion awards for its effort. Does that seem like a fair contrast to you? I think people view video games as a whole other medium, one which deserves to be feared because it might influence their spawn and progeny, or because it is more interactive than a film or book. To be honest, that kind of approach and thinking is somewhat immoral, and hateful. I’d call it segregation, but that word might not apply. Assuming that video games must be viewed more critically and carefully because they are different – more interactive, perhaps, or maybe more immersive – than any other medium is a rather dumb way to look at things, so here’s hoping things change. Soon.