Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Geeky

First post in a while and it's off-topic! Well, it's my blog, so I suppose I can write about what I like. And this is a subject that's quite close to my heart.

I, my dear readers, am a geek. I am addicted to the internet, I play video games and I make jokes with friends about the latest updates to Slashdot, b3ta and my blog list. I have more blogs and journals than you could shake a stick at, and my idea of a fun night is sitting around until 3am with a group of friends, eating pizza, drinking beer and playing Taiko Drum Master and Dance Dance Revolution.

Like most gaming geeks, Jack Thompson is a name that makes me roll my eyes instantly. Jack is an ambulance-chasing lawyer who is so against video games that he seems to foam at the mouth at the merest mention of the evil media. He is utterly convinced that the pushing of buttons to control pixels on a TV is responsible for the downfall of youth in modern culture. The Wikipedia link gives a few examples of the kinds of suits he has filed against game manufacturors, and also highlights just how frighteningly crazy this man is. Almost all of his cases have been thrown out of court. It should also be noted that he has not actually played any of the games that he files against; in fact he often cites "evidence" that is confused or completely wrong due to his lack of knowledge of the media he is so against.

But this is not a rant about Jack Thompson, in fact it is about a documentary that he participated in. Moral Kombat (a play on the title of a game named "Mortal Kombat") is a documentary created by Spencer Halpin supposedly taking a candid look at violence in the video game industry and how it affects youth culture. The propaganda trailer can be seen here. Tell me if you see the balance there, because all I can hear are anti-video game warnings amidst the dramatic piano music and swooshing graphics. And as Tycho of Penny Arcade stated, "to dredge up that fruity "9/11 Terrorists Trained On MS Flight Simulator" stuff to score rhetorical points in a completely unrelated discussion is (I have chosen to be polite) weak sauce. You'd better have a Goddamn good reason for invoking that day, and "so I can sound like a smart motherfucker on the teevee" ain't gonna cut it."

Video games are not all for kids. A great number of very popular titles (Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, Brothers in Arms, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Siren, Bully, etc) are aimed at an older audience and are rated as such. Parents should take the same care in purchasing video games for their children as they do with movies; if you wouldn't buy your child a copy of The Exorcist, why would you buy them a game with this cover?

The concerns of those who criticize the gaming industry so openly are that the violence displayed in games aimed at an older audience will warp children's minds and encourage them to enact such violence in the real world. I call bullshit. I have played many of the games they list and let me tell you, they don't inspire me to follow through on my pixelated character's actions. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, you play a Mafia member who has just been released from prison and who performs deeds and missions for people in the city, bumping off those in power and eventually growing to become a crimelord. You steal cars, shoot people down and generally do what you like. One misconception often cited by Jack Thompson and the like is that you are "rewarded for killing cops"; while it is perfectly possible to kill a cop in the game, the only reward you get is more cops coming after you to arrest you! And yet despite the hours I've wracked up in this game, I've never had the urge to steal a car or start shooting people down in the street.

The fantasy world in a video game is just that; a fantasy world. If someone is inclined to reproduce the script of a movie or video game in real life, then they would have to have a pretty slim grasp on reality in the first place. Silent Hill is a series of horror games in which the protagonist is trapped in a demonic town full of monsters and nightmares. Yet I am able to play this game and go to bed content with the thought that nothing is waiting for me in my closet. I am safe in my knowledge that it is a game, it is fantasy and not reality. Mario Brothers has never inspired me to jump up and down on turtles and mushrooms, Sonic the Hedgehog has never inspired me to steal gold rings and Pacman never inspired me to pop pills.

If you are so inclined, check out the comments to the original blog post I got this from for some articulate, intelligent and well-formed responses from the gaming community at large concerning the fears of those in the documentary.


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