Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shock Value

This just in --
Videogames will train your children to be violent bigot murderers!

If you're like me, you go to the mainstream media for all of your videogame news, because they're always unbiased and rational -- and would never exploit a story.


Take a look at this, from one of CNN's endless babbling talking heads shows:

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The creators of a video game called "Border Patrol" won't win any awards for graphics or creativity, but could take home a prize for bad taste.

(on camera): This isn't some expensive game for the Xbox. It's simple, free and on the Internet and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, dangerous.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It puts in the mind of the player that they should be resorting to violence.

SIMON (voice-over): The objective? To shoot and kill Mexicans crossing into the U.S. The game's targets? Mexican nationalists, drug smugglers and most outrageous, breeders, pregnant women running with children. The more you kill, the higher your score.

[. . . ]

VORDERER: If somebody knows nothing, let's say, about a specific ethnic group and the only way he or she learns about that ethnic group is through the media -- in this case, through a video game -- then this video game has a great potential of, you know, impacting that person's view about this ethnic group.

SIMON: And that fits right in with the goals of the National Alliance, a white supremacist group. Shaun Walker calls himself the chairman and CEO. He says teenagers who might not read his books instead will buy one of its games.

SHAUN WALKER, WHITE SUPREMACIST: We gain several thousand new customers immediately that we wouldn't have had contact with.

SIMON: Walker's group is behind a game called "Ethnic Cleansing." The goal? To kill anybody who isn't white. The National Alliance says it has fulfilled a niche for people who want their entertainment skewed toward their racist ideology. WALKER: This allowed all the racially conscious white people that play video games to suddenly have a pro-white video game. So it was unique, and it's proven to be successful.

SIMON: How successful, the group won't say, but the game sells for $15. As for "Border Patrol," it's unknown who created the game. But what some call entertainment, others are calling violent and racist propaganda.


There you have it. Racist groups make racist video games. Bigots sell bigoted shovelware to other pinheaded bigots. I'm absolutely amazed by that.

But think of the children!

I do. I think teaching children to respect all human beings and recognize inalienable rights, no matter the person, is paramount, and about a trillion times more important than making sure they don't play some half-assed shooter full of racist caricatures. It's not like Shadow Warrior sparked a resurgence of Yellow Peril fearmongering amongst teenagers.

I know, here I am, coming to the defense of videogames yet again.

How's this, then? That Border Patrol game is in bad taste. I wouldn't play that shit.

Of course, a few weeks ago I was playing a Flash game where I was Dick Cheney, and I got to shoot old lawyers and liberals. Let me tell you, I fucking hate Dick Cheney, and playing that game didn't make me loathe that sack of shit any less. Maybe if I were fifteen I'd suddenly want to emulate an amoral, opportunistic oil man, push a war based on phony intel and wait for my heart to beat its last coursing of pus through my veins.

Also, I curse like a sailor . . . well, like a former Marine. So maybe I'm not a good barometer of what would be in good taste.

The Anti-Defamation League does a good job. They track extremists, so they're bound to run across pathetic extremist videogames. Here, though, it seems like they're aiming just a little too low.

When doing a news story on these games, which would be more effective: Hitting the panic button with the usual "media can influence people" non-epiphany? Or examining the larger narratives, the primal fear responses and how they feed back and are further disseminated by media, especially in the current age of rapid information exchange?

A game like Border Patrol fits into a much larger picture, in which extremist elements have transmitted their horseshit rhetoric into mainstream politics, notably through the right-wing. Raving lunatics like the Minutemen are suddenly being considered for Federal funds. The Republican Party knows that to beef up their scared, white base they need to drum up fear wherever they can, and that open border to the south is a good fallback position, now that they officially no longer care about Osama and want to divert attention from the debacle in Iraq. Plus all that other bad shit that might have something to do with Presidential approval at 32%.

That cheesy shooter is but a tiny slice of the national mood. Media always reflects a nation's dreams and fears. Why do people continue to act as if games are any different?

The White Supremacist game they reference, Ethnic Cleansing, is old news. Most of my gaming friends have probably never heard of it, let alone played it. You'd probably only know about it by going over to Stormfront or Resistance or some other thug haven. As an indoctrination tool, it's probably less effective than a mimeographed copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The news report should have covered that such a videogame was probably used to sublimate the feelings of impotence, isolation and need for belonging into a localized expression of virtual rage because, in reality, most white supremacists are far too weak and scared to act out, except for lobbing a few slurs they still find novel at the local McDonald's cashier. Which makes that game just a minor footnote in the indoctrination approach, somewhere below "make a collage bashing the ACLU" and "do a macaroni sculpture of a Confederate flag."

Maybe they could have gone deeper into the feedback effect created by the ever-increasing delusion of powerlessness that those groups foster, and how those feelings are manipulated by leaders on local and national levels to increase their harassment and intimidation. They'll find those most inclined to act out in reality and push them toward more extreme actions. And then, in turn, the climate of fear spreads to less extreme but nevertheless prejudiced groups, who latch on to the bogus wedge issue and flock to political bellwethers, who thrive on the politics of exclusion.

I don't know, that's just how I might approach the issue. Off the top of my head.

But I guess I could just go with the usual "playing with things will make Junior lose his mind" approach.

What else do we have?


Chris said...

One of the hardest part of free speech for people to accept is that it means that people can make offensive art. Games are included.

The world of modern or fine art is not lessoned by the existence of inflamatory paintings, and neither is the world of games lessoned by the existence of bigoted games.

It's just a shame that the news services must always report the negative.

Ryan Shwayder said...

You know, I've been reading gaming blogs for years now, and somehow I never stumbled upon this one until today. I'm linking you up at Nerfbat so I don't forget about this one. After a cursory glance at some of the posts, I'd say this may even be worth a post on my own blog to comment on a few of the articles.

GregT said...

'Tis indeed a good blog.

But Mr Pi, you're going about it all wrong! Surely we should be banning such outrageous content, along with other dangerous pieces of racial hatred, like the film Birth of a Nation, or.. uh... pretty much any book dealing with the topic of Malcom X. After all, what would happen if a child were to get hold of one of these things and learn something about how other people think? There'd be riots, or... asploding heads, or somesuch.

Or, y'know, if they dislike it so much they could make their own (equally commercially unsuccessful) game about the importance of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. (Possibly some kind of puzzle game where you rearrange citizens on a grid to form 2 x 2 blocks containing four different ethnicities, whereupon the block clears and you score points?)