Thursday, July 28, 2005

My Final Words on Video Game Controversy...I Promise!

I had a thought today.

Now that the whole GTA ‘Hot Coffee’ scandal has reached epic proportions, I started to think. What actually makes a game, movie or TV show ‘controversial’?

I mean, after all, GTA features violence, theft, murder and prostitution. Basically, if there’s a crime that can be committed, it’s in the game. So why is it that a little sexual content is the thing that has the parents groups, politicians and do-gooders getting hot under the collar?

The GTA series has always been a little controversial, but apparently, a mini-game that shows sex between two consenting adults is much worse than the fact you can carjack a car, then use that car to run over the original owner.

Hmm…vehicular homicide is bad, but sex is much worse!

It’s strange the things that the politicians and parents groups flip out over. Some are understandable, others…not so much.

I think the original ‘Doom’ was the first game that caused mainstream controversy. This was because it was the first incredibly popular game that you got to shoot things from a first-person perspective. In other words, it was realistic.

However, ‘realistic’ has to be used as a very loose term. The visuals, while incredible at the time, are simply laughable now. It was played ‘through the character’s eyes’, but it was about as realistic as a comic book.

Unfortunately, the first person perspective put Doom in the ‘simulation’ category for a lot of people. Whereas it was fine to control a character in a side or top-down view and blast aliens, the first person perspective (called ‘virtual reality’ by a lot of the papers at the time), made things all too realistic for the parents groups and politicians. (Including our friend Jake Thomas, who won a case where apparently a young boy ‘trained’ on Doom to become a more ‘efficient killer’)

Now to the video game layman, this made a lit of sense. They’d read the papers, and a young boy had played a ‘killing simulation’, then went on to kill. It’s logical. It makes sense.

Of course, to actual gamers, it was ridiculous. Using the keyboard’s cursor keys to move, and the ctrl key to fire, is not exactly ‘weapons training’. From my own personal experience, I played Doom a hell of a lot back in the 90’s, yet when I moved to the USA, and had an opportunity to fire a real rifle…I didn’t have the first clue how to use it. I knew the principles, but someone had to show me how to load, cock, take of the safety and fire the weapon.

My poor performance also showed that years of playing first person shooters had not improved my aim one tiny little bit.

In other words, parents found themselves in a tricky position. They could either agree, and blame Doom for everything…or disagree and be branded ‘irresponsible’.

They also entirely missed the point. The ‘Doom’ connection was only established by the fast that the boy had owned the game. The ‘evidence’ was completely contrived and entirely circumstantial. Blaming this murder on ‘Doom’, is like blaming a ‘jump’ suicide, on the fact that the jumper had seen ‘Superman’ and thought he could fly.

Like I said, the entire point was missed. Thomas was so busy pointing his finger at ‘Doom’, that her forgot to ask one simple question:

Where in the hell did a young boy get his hands on a gun? He couldn’t have bought it!

There’s only one reasonable explanation. His parents were irresponsible gun owners, who owned a firearm, and didn’t keep it in a safe location, with the ammunition locked up.

If a child got hold of my gun, and used it to shoot someone, I’d expect fingers to be leveled directly at me, not at the child’s X-Box.

The game’s to blame. Not the parent who allowed his child to take his gun and use it on another person.

First person shooters are not the only games to cause controversy. After Doom, the second game to cause major controversy in the mainstream was ‘Mortal Kombat’.

This was a side view fighting game. Now, there had been other fighting games before this, but they had slipped entirely under the parent groups radar. This was basically because, before Mortal Kombat, you controlled characters that looked like cartoons. There was also no blood or gore.

Mortal Kombat, however, was different. The characters you controlled were real people. Actors had been videotaped, and their images digitized. (I should point out that the result wasn’t as realistic as it sounds. The characters were extremely blocky).

There was also a lot of blood, including very graphic and ‘over-the-top’ deaths. (You could pull people’s hearts out, punch their heads off or impale them on a spike.)

Now I’ll be the first person to admit that the reaction to this game was, if not entirely justified, at least reasonable. While entirely unrealistic, not many people wanted their children playing a game where a single punch would result in a huge splash of blood. This game gave birth to the ESRB, which functions to give games a rating system, pretty much identical to the rating system in place for movies.

A rating system for games was inevitable. At first, computer hardware was not powerful enough to render realistic visuals. Therefore, nothing considered ‘graphic’ could be shown. As video games became more sophisticated, with visuals bordering on photo realistic, it was inevitable that games, at some point, would have to be age rated.

This is something that has caused the major problems for the videogame industry today. People still assume computer games are solely for children. To most people, an adult who plays games is childish and ‘refuses to grow up’.

The result is a child asks his parents for a video game, and the parent buys it. Computer games are for children, so there’s no need to pay close attention. The parent goes into the games store, tells the clerk what game he wants, and for what system, and then the clerk hands it over. After all, why wouldn’t he?

The law states that it is illegal to sell M-rated games to children, not to make sure that a parent isn’t mistakenly buying an M-rated game for a child.

The video game industry’s responsibility ends the second the game leaves the store. After that, it’s parent country.

So the parent takes the game, puts it into a bag and takes it home. They don’t stop to look at the rating, they don’t read the back of the case to see what content the game has. Many parents don’t even know games have a rating system…because, again, games are for children.

Then the controversy breaks in the news and the parent recognizes the name of the game. Then he confiscates it, shouts at his child for playing it, then the parent’s group battle cry rings out:

“Who are these sick perverts peddling this filth to children?!?”…Which makes about as much sense as blaming the Auto industry when you leave your 6 year old unattended in your car, who then takes off the parking brake, and rolls into the front of your house. The fault would be with the parent. Not the auto industry for not fitting the car with a child-proof parking brake.

Parents groups basically complain because companies don’t do their jobs for them. They won’t be happy until they don’t have to watch their kids at all. The TV and games console should do all the parenting for them.

I’ve had personal experience of this. I once went to a cousin’s house, and found my 15 year old cousin playing GTA 3. His exact words were “This game is great, you can pick up a prozzie, do ‘er in your car, then kill her and get your money back!”

I told my Uncle that the game was unsuitable, and got the reply “What?” (Shrug). “It’s only a game!”

Now I have enough faith in my own family to know that my uncle knows that playing a game is not going to turn his son into a psychopathic hooker-slaying killer, but his attitude is matched by countless parents worldwide. Parents who will demand that the games they bought for their children are banned the next time a big controversy comes along.

Now I’ve stated that ‘realism’ is one of the main problems with game controversy. I mean, Space Invaders involves a lot of death and destruction, but it’s hard to get worked up about it, because the spaceships being destroyed are made from about 8 pixels, and don’t look very realistic at all.

That’s the part I don’t understand. It’s backwards. What’s more likely to confuse children? A fighting game where you can get the crap kicked out of you, and not get so much as a bruise? Or a game that shows graphically what happens if someone actually does slash you with a sword.

It’s all complete fantasy. You see, it’s not actually possible to punch someone in the chest and rip out their heart. It’s not actually possible to jump 20 feet into the air and land 20 punches before you land, unharmed. Games that supposedly corrupt and teach kids to kill, are so over the top, they couldn’t even begin to be called ‘instructional’. If a child actually attempted to jump 50 feet into the air, and kick someone while upside down, they’re in for a surprise.

Children are children…they’re not brain-dead morons.

In fact, I remember reading a review of ‘Medal of Honour’, a World War II first person shooter. The reviewer, commenting on the realism, said “If this game teaches you one thing, it’s this: never go to real war…ever.”

The ‘realism’ argument is flawed. I’ve played Splinter Cell extensively, and did very well at it. However, drop me in enemy territory with a bunch of gadgets and a silenced pistol…and see how long I actually survive.

However, when it comes to ‘realistic’ games, I’ve discovered quite a large hypocrisy.

A few years ago, a First Person Shooter, labeled as ‘hyper-realistic’ hit the market.

It was realistic in the way that you could kill enemies with only one or two shots, the visuals and in-game physics were incredibly close to life. Now while I would still say that it was a long way off being a ‘killing simulator’ (using simulation in the true sense of the word), it was as close as a game could get.

Instead of the guns being ‘point and shoot’, you had to take things like windage and bullet drop into account. You also weren’t slaying demons from hell or aliens either. You were shooting other human beings. You followed real world tactics, using real world weapons, in real world settings.

Now If I described this game to a parents group or a politician, their eyes would light up with law-suit ‘make a name for myself’ glee. After all, it is a game that comes very close to actually teaching you to kill. The weapons aren’t sci-fi plasma cannons, they’re normal, everyday guns.

So now the politicians have worked themselves up into a frenzy, I will release the name of this ‘killing simulator’:

It’s called ‘America’s Army’, and was commissioned and paid for by the United States Government.

‘America’s Army’, while being fairly entertaining, was nothing but a badly camouflaged Army recruitment tool. The game was full of links to the US Army website. The general feel of the game was “If you think this is fun, why not give us a call and try it for real?”

Of course, it didn’t work. You see, most gamers like to confine their ‘killing’ to the PC, in a place where you can ‘kill’ someone, and them still be around to laugh about it later. A place where if you get killed, you just wait a few minutes and respawn.

There’s the hypocrisy for you.

A game where you get to play a hero, saving the world from rampaging monsters with fantasy weapons is bad. A game where you control an 8 foot tall, bright green skinned, orange haired hulk-lookalike is bad.

A game that is actually trying to encourage you to join the Army and shoot people for real is just fine.

I will end today with something I wrote a paper on for Media Studies class at college.

If computer games, movies and TV shows will turn you into a rampaging killer, why aren’t the censors all maniacs? After all, their full time job is to watch and play unrated games and movies. They get subjected to the worst the media has to offer.

If there is a valid link between Movie, TV and Video game violence and real world violence…why aren’t they all psycho-killer rapists?


OzzyC said...

About the censors... I suspect that, deep down, they really are maniacs. Either they started out that way, and the movies provided a "healthy" channel for all of their anti-social tendencies, or else the movies made them nuts but they're too scared to take their agression out on the crappy filmmakers that produced the worthless drivel.

But on to my real point... you danced around the root issue as if it was RiverDance. You pounded the turf surrounding the real problem, but didn't touch the core. It's an issue of personal responsibility. Somewhere, somehow, Americans got the idea that nothing's their own fault. (You can refer to my blogs about "Our Litigious Society" and "A Little About Political Correctness" for a more in-depth analysis of my opinions). It absolutely disgusts me that we somehow fail -- or refuse -- to take responsibility for our actions. We expect the good to be handed to us on a silver platter, and expect the bad to magically be swept away from us. We don't earn anything, we're entitled to it. Funk dat!!

Paulius said...

The reason I didn't write about it is because, like you, I have already written extensively on the subject.

Check my post 'The Dumbest thing in the history of the world - official'. It's all about how we refuse to take responsibility for our actions.

If you go back through my archive a little fursther, you'll find 3 other posts on the videogame debate.

That's why I titled this one the way I did.

Long story short, I didn't mention self-responsibility, because if I did, I would have been repeating myself for the bazillionth time.

OzzyC said...


OzzyC said...

and when I say "gotcha," I mean I understand, not ha-ha-ha, fooled ya.

Paulius said...


An 85 year old woman is attempting to sue Rockstar Games over the 'Hot Coffee' scandal.

Why? Because she bought it for her 14 year old grandson, and stated 'she wouldn't have bought it if she'd known about the 'sex mini-game'.

Apparently, buying a mature rated game for a 14 year old doesn't factor in.

Grandparent buys M-Rated game for minor...then sue's game company for creating the M-rated game.

I would like to sue her...for being a complete f**king moron.