Saturday, December 16, 2006

Leave it All Behind

Alternet is up in arms over the Left Behind videogame. They urge everyone to send a message to Wal-Mart to have it removed from their shelves.

Bollocks to that. I have no problem with the game. Well, except that it's poorly-designed and the interface is awful.

Even the T for Teen rating seems justified to me. There's no overt bloodshed and, while thematically it's offensive to some, to me it's no different from any other game of a similar stripe. What makes it okay to massacre all those units in every other RTS yet this one is suddenly exceptional?

Asking Wal-Mart to take it from the shelves simply because I don't agree with the worldview it promotes is not my cup of tea. This is really no different from religious groups demanding that Wal-Mart remove Grand Theft Auto, because the objections are based upon content.

Now, by all means people should criticize the message of the game, since the makers view it as a vehicle for fundamentalist propaganda. There's no getting around that. However, I always think it's better to challenge than suppress.

And I know the GTA analogy isn't perfect in that Left Behind is a "message" game, an attempt to promote certain ideas as truth, and GTA is crime-fantasy (no matter how much some "concerned citizens" might claim that GTA urges kids to go on crime sprees), but the drive to remove them from the shelves amounts to the same thing - censorship.

Of course, to present the other side, as a citizen I think it's fine if you feel that the best way to register your objection to propaganda is through censorship.

I wonder how long it will take Hillary Clinton and Holy Joe Lieberman to condemn this game?

As for Left Behind Games, I don't have a lot of confidence in a videogame studio that doesn't seem to realize that the term "God Game" has been around for a long time.

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Here's something I had been putting together for a post on Bully that got out of control and meandered and then just fizzled out. I don't think I'll ever publish it, but here are a few bits that are relevant to the business above.

No, More Questions

If a football player commits an act of violence against a fellow student, how likely are parents and teachers to blame football?

Why is the CDC not investigating competitive sports for their link to violent behavior?

Is aggression necessary at this point, or should we actively discourage any kind of aggression?

If you see your child playing Cowboys and Indians, is this an acceptable activity despite its intimations of violence?

What about wrestling, with its actual contact?

What is the evidence, if any, of a direct link between video games and the activities they simulate?

If a child plays a game in which they shoot enemies, how could this function as training for the actual activity? What about other activities? Will a medical game turn your child into a doctor?
Why were the Three Stooges allowed to have a TV show in which they constantly inflicted brutal punishments on one another?

Why does it seem that cartoon violence, in which no party suffers permanent injury, is generally acceptable for children? Does cartoon violence lead to a belief that violence will have no serious consequences? Will the CDC investigate cartoons?

How healthy is it to expect that a child will never engage in any risky behaviors against the parents' wishes?

Japan produces many videogames that feature rape and violent sex, yet its overall violent crime rate is much lower than that in the US. What might account for this dramatic difference, especially considering the consumption rates of videogames is larger in Japan?

Do you feel that violent art helps to sublimate more brutal aspects of ourselves or does it encourage more brutality?

Permit me to rant a bit about the current heated rhetoric concerning video game violence.

We live in a culture in which a purportedly religious "child care expert" regularly enjoins parents to beat their children.

We live in a culture in which the President can strip habeus corpus from non-Americans and Americans alike, and give torture the air of legality, while neutered Senators aid and abet and the media fawns or shrugs.

We live in a culture in which an addle-pated drug addict can bloviate that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, beatings and sexual humiliation and even murder, can be chalked up to "frat pranks."

We live in a culture in which, arguing against the recent Lancet study of Iraqi casualties, certain people have claimed that the total is nowhere near 650,000, perhaps "merely" 200,000.

We are all primates with a remarkable history of fantastic violence stretching back to the first genetic differentiations that marked out our current species. Brutality has been a hallmark of every human society, violence of every stripe at every level.

I reference all of this to make the point that strenuous objections to cartoon violence of an interactive digital nature and attempting to draw a link to some kind of "degradation" of culture is to completely ignore the clear, bloody line of history and invent a fictitious past. The argument essentially boils down to saying that, since the media culture of yesteryear was more repressive of violent content, then the culture itself was less violent than today (where the media is more
permissive).

My references to examples of our brutal society are not meant to say, "Sure, Bully's bad, but what about this?" Rather, they are there to show that demonizing pop culture media while ignoring influential figures advocating real-world brutality is a remarkably immature and ludicrous position. Likewise, pretending that violent or sexual media should be completely restricted from children seems to be a surefire way of stunting their development, especially those entering their teen years.

This is not a call for unfettered access to all media for children, but a measured approach contingent upon parental limits and careful discussion.

I realize my bias here, in that I feel open information and exploration is always preferable to denial and repression.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Hear hear.

If you actually play Bully though, you might note that the repression you're citing is both the focus of the game's fiction, and perhaps endemic to the way it's design. Its trying to be a game about the social dynamics of school, but is merely a game about violence that happens to be set in a school.