Friday, October 26, 2007

Stop The Madness

Again this is another article from a few months ago, I'm still transferring them all across slowly but surely. The message is, I'm sure, still relevant though...

So Manhunt 2, the new computer game from Rockstar, has been banned for sale in the UK by the BBFC. If your first reaction to that sentence is, “Oh it’s a video game, I don’t care about that kind of mindless entertainment” then reconsider for a moment. This isn’t just an issue over video games, this is an issue of censorship and as soon as that word appears everyone should take notice.

The reason given by the BBFC for the ban was the high level of “casual sadism” in the game, apparently the fact that you spend the entire game going round committing unspeakable acts of violence means that it’s not suitable for you, me, or anyone to play. I’m so sick of hearing this whole ‘violent computer games create a violent society’ argument that I now instinctively reach for a blunt instrument to bludgeon myself with every time it’s mentioned*.

The first thing to make clear is that computer games have been violent since their inception. In Space Invaders you weren’t playing the role of Ambassador of Peace to the first extra terrestrials to make contact with Earth. Instead you were the Ambassador of Dread, launching endless missiles at E.T. and the rest of his goofy buddies who had dared to stray on to your turf. And the trend has continued. Nearly every computer game involves fighting, destroying, capturing or blowing up some kind of enemy. For fuck’s sake, even Mario enjoys setting fire to any innocent turtle that strolls his way*.

The reason for this is that computer games rely on action. The reason they’re called computer games is because, wait for it, they’re fucking games*! Games of all types are based around competition and action. There needs to be something to compete against, to beat, to overcome. It’s hardly surprising then that when playing as a computer game character you have to attack or defeat something else that’s in your path. It’s possible to have non-violent games and concepts, the likes of the Sims and most point-and-click adventures, but they’re some pretty narrow genres.

But, and this is a really big but, all these people that keep pointing the blame at computer games for causing violence are grabbing the end of the stick that’s unfortunately been dipped in bullshit. Society isn’t violent because of computer games; computer games are violent because of us. Violence and death are two of the most intriguing and compelling things to humans. They are what intrigues and entertains us.

Just look at every form of entertainment if you’re unsure. Art, music, theatre, television, film. All of it involves violence or death in it somewhere. People live their lives constantly thinking about their mortality and the unanswerable question of death. Who has never walked over a bridge and felt a strange compulsion to throw themselves off, just to see what it’s like?

A combined desire to compete and a fascination with death and mortality are pretty much the two most powerful forces in nature*. It’s not surprising we’re so easily engrossed by these things and we enjoy them to the extent we do. It’s why when people play Tomb Raider they sometimes enjoy making Lara Croft hurl herself off a 100ft cliff to a messy, explosive end on the craggy floor below for no apparent reason. You do it not only out of curiosity but also because you know that a short loading screen later Lara’s going to be safely back on the top of that cliff ready to go for another 9.0 score from the judges for her triple somersault swan dive into solid ground. No consequences, no repercussions, nothing.

It’s why when playing Grand Theft Auto it’s hilariously good fun to smash over pedestrians with your car for no good reason. Why blowing a zombie’s head off with a shotgun in Resident Evil is enough to keep you chuckling for years. And why I’m sure sawing a hooker’s arm off with a hacksaw in Manhunt 2 would have been so enjoyable. Because it doesn’t matter. Never once have I paused and questioned my moral actions in a computer game. Not once have I felt genuine guilt for levelling a village of innocent people and slaughtering them and their livestock.

The fact that these violent decisions are so easy to make is what proves how little effect they have on people. The very idea of actually battering a stranger to death * with a metal pole is morally reprehensible and unquestionable. I wouldn’t hurl myself off a cliff Lara style*; I certainly wouldn’t actually run my car into pedestrians on a whim. This is the real world.

Just writing that sentence makes me feel like a fucktard for pointing out the obvious. We all know the difference. Honestly, we do. And when I say ‘we’ I’m talking about all 6,603,487,066 of us. Everyone can tell the real world from a fucking computer game. There isn’t anyone who can’t. Not even the most off-the-wall psychotic braindead Texan* could confuse a video game with the real world. If we couldn’t then surely we’d show a little more emotional connection when the body count hits the thousands as it does in some games.

But when the first Manhunt was released that kid got stabbed and the 14 year-old who stabbed him was obsessed with playing Manhunt, therefore Manhunt made him do it!

A convincing logical argument for the period it takes for the optical nerve to transmit the image from your eyes to your brain. What these special people are saying is that a kid who was violent and mentally unhinged enjoyed playing a computer game where you can be violent and mentally unhinged. So far so groundbreaking. But wait! their deductive powers don’t just stop there; using this evidence they firmly conclude that video games are what made him violent in the first place.

Now since I’ve been alive there have also been computer games, so I don’t know for sure what the world was like before then. I’m starting to worry that I missed out on some golden age that lasted from the dawn of mankind until 1971 where there was no violence. People suppressed their more aggressive instincts and didn’t lash out at anyone. Then game computer games were invented and Pandora’s Box spewed forth hate and violence into the world. Why Pong? WHY!?!

But then I stop worrying because I’m not a complete muppet. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. We were violent before computer games, we cause the violence in computer games because it’s entertaining to us simple humans, and it’s ok because we all know the difference between the magical Xbox world and this world we can actually touch. When young people go on killing sprees it’s tragic. So tragic that everyone feels guilty because everyone knows deep down that the responsibility lies with the rest of society to identify those people who are out of sync with the rest of us and treat them. It’s shockingly apparent that parents have a huge responsibility to look after their children and provide them with a stable upbringing. When these things don’t happen, sad things are often the result. But just because you feel guilty about your inaction and want something easy to blame, don’t try to ruin my innocent entertainment you pathetic cunt.

And part of being a parent is keeping your children away from overly violent imagery that may affect them. That’s why we have the BBFC and the whole rating system. These are adult games. For adults. If you don’t think your children should be playing these games then don’t let them. And campaign harder to make sure retailers are more stringent at checking IDs. Do whatever you want to fill the empty void in your lives where your sense of fun once was, but don’t let it get to the stage where we’re being told what, as rational and free-thinking, sane, balanced adult individuals we can and can not do for our own personal enjoyment in what is fast becoming the most exciting and revolutionary form of entertainment. If we start censoring now, it’s only going to get worse.

I’m off, if you want me I’ll be decapitating something helpless and innocent.

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