Analysis: Violence Part II
Analysis – Violence Part II
I’ve played violent video games, I’ve suffered from depression, I’ve been house bound from injury, and I haven’t killed anyone. Yay, me! And Yay to the 99% of that demographic that can say the same! If “violent video games” were being blamed for several crimes or shooting per week, then I’d agree that something has to be done. Then I’d put it up on the same platform like anti-gang and anti-drug efforts. But for now, I’m going to say they’ve done much more good than harm, not just video games as a whole, I’m going to talk about the violent ones, the fighters, the shooters, the murder sims, and the gore desensitization, the ones that make the news.
I mentioned in part 1 of this analysis that there was a distinct lack of what I called “insiders” in the conversation. There was no one intimately familiar with the sub-culture, no one even pretended to be. There were criminal psychologists and addiction counselors, but no actual gamers except for 2, neither of which blamed games. One person was excellent at gaming and gave it up to play football. He set the controller down and made his choice. The other decided to commit murder for reasons that don’t add up in the official story, but he did not blame games. I consider myself an insider to the gaming sub-culture. I know the jargon, I know the material, I know the sub-sets of gamers, I’ve hosted gaming parties, I’ve played them most of my life and have a relatively large collection. I’ve played the fighters, the shooters, the murder sims, and the gore-fests.
I’m very familiar with the Mortal Kombat series, Manhunt, The Ship, Mass Effect, Diablo, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, Grand Theft Auto, and lightly acquainted with the Hitman series. I’m even going to be a nice guy and throw the opposition a few bones and mention a particular moment in Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Hopefully, me, being familiar with these games, having played them, read about them, or see them played through, will qualify me to speak on the subject. Katie Couric, has no such qualifications. Until she decides to embed herself at PAX, QuakeCon, or w00tstock, she had no reason to talk about something she doesn’t understand.
People need to be aware, that other people suck. Violence will be inflicted upon you weather you ask for it, or not. You cannot be protected from it or shielded from it. You cannot choose when this will happen. You must be prepared for it, as best you can, when the time comes. This, I believe, is a parent’s responsibility. Raise your child to be strong enough to handle the world he or she will inherit
I was a very isolated child while growing up. I didn’t associate with many of the neighborhood kids or even kids at school. Later on, when I had moved out, I found out why. People suck, particularly the people in the area where I was raised. Looking back I can see, they were actually terrible terrible people to be around. Associating with them was actually toxic to my well being. So, I had an escape, I had video games. Here I was, isolating myself, withdrawing, no parental interference, when it was actually for the best.
When I mentioned violence happens, I mean that it’s happened to me. I played a fighting game obsessively when I was in 3rd grade and thought I became really good at it. In 3rd grade I was also attending public school. Any 3rd grader in public school knows that at some point, someone will pick a fight with you. When it happened to me, I took some punches. My parents told me not to fight for any reason. This led to a recurring cycle of abuse from my attacker. When the day came that I had had enough, I launched into a combo I’d memorized from my favorite fighting game. This violent video game helped me defend myself, protect myself, protect others, and end a cycle of abuse. It might have saved my life. And it wasn’t the only time that would happen.
There were other solutions, but as any victim knows, they aren’t real solutions. Tell a teacher or a parent, call the school, they’ll do something about it. Well, that never happens. The type of people I had to face, bullies, are predators. They seek out opportunities, they hunt, they prey on weak individuals. They strike when no one is looking, in the bathroom, in the locker room, in the crowded hallways obscured by a sea of other students, surrounded by a circle of onlookers. There’s nothing the staff can legally do unless they catch a student in the act. I was on my own.
This situation reminds me of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them?” Suffering only leads to more suffering. Growth comes from taking up arms, opposing, and ending them. After I stood up to my bully, I was left alone. New bullies came along, I tried to be peaceful about it, I tried talking, I tried understanding, but there are some occasions where people will hate you for no reason. You have the right to protect yourself. You have the right to live free of fear. You sometimes have to do it yourself. Fighting games taught me how to fight.
Years later, the sequel to that fighting game came out. It was supposed to come out with mod tools that would allow you to design your own fighter, your own arena, your own power-ups, modify almost the whole game. Since I was a fan of the franchise, I was ravenous for information. Just for that game, I began learning about 3d graphics, art, animation, and I discovered a hidden passion. I can plug away at polygons for hours before I notice, I probably should have eaten today. This passion is present to this day and is one of the best ways for me to relax. Because of a violent video game, I learned an artistic skill that I want to turn into a career.
Katie Couric mentioned Manhunt with a single sentence description. Since she’s unable or unwilling to do her job, I’ll help. Manhunt is a murder simulator with more points awarded for more violence and gore. You stalk the streets, confronting other computer controlled(no multiplayer) killers, luring them in with decoys, making noise, throwing rocks, and kill them with assorted weapons like glass shards, pipes, 2x4s, plastic bags, and firearms. It doesn’t quite matter as much that this player character is kidnapped and placed against his will into a (nominated best movie of the year!)Hunger Games-style killing game, but with grown adults, not children.
Manhunt is not the only “murder sim” out there. It had a sequel. I played The Ship in which every character on a cruise ship has a portrait of someone else and has to kill them, while someone has your picture, but no one knows who. The graphical depictions are all very Pixar-ish and cartoon-like. If that’s a problem, then Looney Toons should be added to the ban, and anvils. The Ship has a sequel called Bloody Good Time which takes place in a movie studio, same theme. These games and their lessons have served me greatly in my military career. No, I’m not some black op ghost assassin, but I was volunteered to perform risk assessments for bases. I sought out vulnerabilities and came up with measures to mitigate or eliminate them. It served me in a kind of “To catch a thief” sort of way. The faster paced Ship and Bloody Good Time games taught me to be resourceful in a scrape. While I’m glad I have not had to use those lessons, I’m still glad I have them.
Writing this, I’m reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Spock is recovering in the Enterprise’s sick bay after reaching out and touching V’Ger’s mind. “It knows only that it needs… but like so many of us, it does not know what.” Children need. When parents cannot deliver, children can seek out and find whatever it is. If they have no friends, then an imaginary friend can fill the void, maybe now it’s video games that can serve that purpose. The on-line games where you can play with real people, definitely fit that description. If a child is never taught to fight or to stand up for himself, then a fighting game can be that teacher. If children are not being intellectually stimulated or challenged, then video games like Spec Ops: The Line or Mass Effect can fill that void.
I know Mass Effect wasn’t one of the “violent” video games in question, but it did make the news a few years back for being a game about lesbian pornography. That story really broke my heart to see because I never even played Mass Effect, but I knew it was being taken out of context. In a world where homosexual marriage is becoming more and more accepted every month, this story is already outrageous. What it really reminded me of was the story of Christopher Reeve on Capital Hill testifying in support of stem cell research. A ban on stem cell research was put in place despite Mr Reeve’s pleas. After the vote, he went around to someone who voted against it and asked why. The only answer the rep could give was that the committee he appointed to do research into the matter said, “no.” When the process was explained to the representative, he regretted voting the way he did. In the Mass Effect scene in question, it is a touching lovely passionate scene that makes sense in the context according to what goes on, better than most Hollywood movie hook-ups. Yes, your character can choose to share this scene with men or women, and your character upon creation at the beginning of the game, can be male or female. This entire sensational story could have been easily defused if someone bothered to look into it in even the slightest way, or ask someone who has seen the scene with knowledge of the context.
Early in my military experience I saw many young enlisted men and women go down and blow half their paycheck at the bar while I played video games up in my room. I spent less money than them, and it definitely decreased the chance of me doing something stupid or getting into trouble. It was what we did every weekend. In that regard, playing video games, violent or otherwise, reminds me of fishing, or going to the bar. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re going, but who you’re with. When you go fishing, does it matter if you catch any fish? Or is it just an excuse to spend time with people close to you? Sure, some fish might be nice, but that’s never the main reason, is it? Is it? Maybe I just don’t understand the super competitive world of sport fishing. When folk go down to the bar with their crews, what’s the point? Is it to drink? Or is there a social reason? Then again, I could never stand the taste of beer, so maybe I misunderstand the reason for drinking. Either way, violent video games are used as a bonding tool, or a way to keep someone from going out and getting into trouble, there is a strong social aspect to some games, and it’s a better use of money.
Now I want to talk about some violent games that don’t get enough attention, Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Neither of these games are known for their violence, however they use the act of violence and killing in the story in a way to add an incredible amount of weight to it. There is a tragic scene in Final Fantasy VII where the player, as the main character is given the choice to murder an innocent woman in order to save the planet. This is a person who the player has come to care about, not the main character, but the player. The player has to press a button for each action, drawing his weapon, raising his weapon, and then press a final button to strike. The game puts players into a very uncomfortable position. This is the game that many will be the first to say, made them cry, or is a legitimate work of art.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a super spy espionage stealth thriller set during the Cold War. The player, in the end, is forced to kill someone he is very close to, so the Cold War doesn’t become hot. The game does not end until you pull the trigger. The main character Snake has to kill his mentor, his teacher, The Boss. As the story progresses you learn about the complex history these two people had and what they meant to each other. There’s no doubt that these two were intimate. I don’t mean sex, but definitely intimate, something more akin to parent and child. It’s unfair to say you can ever “win” the game, the end is not a reward. The player should feel an incredible feeling of loss.
These two games are just two examples of how violence is used in a deliberate way to upset and disturb the player, not as a visceral visual reward. I would add Spec Ops: The Line, but I haven’t played through it yet, I just know about it’s reputation. These are games that, on the surface, have just as much reason for the “violent video games” protesters to single out, but because no one protesting is an insider, they go unnoticed.
First person shooters seem to be the target of most of the controversy, with Halo and Call of Duty in the spotlight. They’re not the first, they won’t be the last, and there’s already plenty more where they came from. I compared them to the “grind house” level of cinema. One game series from iD software, Quake, could fall into that category, but it elevates itself to something more than that. The first Quake was a leap forward in computer gaming graphics. It was popular enough and that it spawned a whole sub-sport of speed running. Quake also spawned one of the first and one of the largest computer gaming events, QuakeCon. Make no mistake, quake is violent, but if all you focus on is the violence, you’re missing so much more. You’re missing the real worth.
Some games are designed to draw you in with gory graphics and violent imagery. It is attractive to some, and a lot of times, it’s superficial. Action RPGs like the Diablo series, depict rooms full of mutilated bodies, burning crosses, and satanic imagery, sure to draw in any angsty teenagers. Just beneath the surface there are complex mathematical formulae that create a game within a game. I’ve been fortunate to have been blessed with wonderful teachers throughout school, but trying to get kids interested in math is tricky. The students need to find their own motivation, gaming can be that motivation. It involves percentages, fractions, multiplication, probability, statistics, algebra, and possibly geometry. The benefits of the math heavy action RPGs are also many of the same benefits provided by pencil and paper dice-rolling RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, but we all know what parent groups think about that. Robbing kids of an effective tutor, because you don’t like the packaging, without finding something to replace it, does only harm. Will parents even bother to look past the surface to see it? Is that too much to ask?
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Grand Theft Auto series, the game that lets you have sex with hookers, kill them, and take your money back. First of all, this game is meant for a specific audience, an audience that should be able to handle the fact that it is all imaginary. Just because a kid plays cops & robbers, doesn’t mean he’s destined for a life of crime or law enforcement. Secondly, the Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most modded games out there. It encourages people to program their own game, their own characters, their own models, their own everything. Some people have even been hired by major developers and made a career out of tinkering because they made a mod of a popular game. GTA made the news over something called the “Hot Coffee” mod, repeat, mod. Someone modded the game in such a way that someone complained and it made the news. The developers originally planned for it to be in the game, but decided to remove it. Someone tinkered with the game and put something in, the developers are not responsible for that one.
Wrapping up, what have we learned here today? I’ve listed problems of bias and shoddy work in reporting real issues and causes of violence unfairly blamed on violent video games. I’ve given positive examples of how violence can be used to affect a story and have an impact on the player, the opposite of desensitizing. I’ve recounted my personal experience and lessons that violent video games have given me. I’ve proposed a solution to prevent any more controversy by having an embedded journalist report back, and by suggesting parents get involved in their kids’ lives. From here on out, no one can ever say that there are no benefits, and no one can ever blame the game. The information is here for anyone who cares to look.
Thank you for reading.