[In our new feature, Ansh Patel explores a popular opinion of an issue -- whether it's long-time or current and examines it from various angles to determine exactly how much truth there is in it. By removing the layers of superficiality and bias and examining it from different perspectives, this feature aims at determining what exactly is the "Truth" and what is "Illusion"]
Violence is a product of one of the most primal emotions known to humans – that of anger and rage. For more than a century, entertainment media have given us plenty examples that celebrate or abhor actions borne out of such emotions – be it War and Peace in literature or A Clockwork Orange in films. No culture has been a stranger to violence and such books or movies have utilized it to entertain or enlighten us for decades.
In the view of the recent Sandy Hook tragedy, senators and law-makers across America have raised their voices against games with President Barack Obama himself asking for an investigation into games and violence. This can be seen as an escalation from the times when Jack Thompson regularly bashed the video-game industry for years for its apparent glorification of violence and sex. He rallied many such conservatives across USA for years, but it has never led to such a strong look of disapproval as games are getting from these politicians and activists all driven by National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyists now.
So, where exactly have we gone wrong? What have we done differently from the older, more established mediums like literature and films which has led to such scrutiny over our beloved games? And of course, are video-games really to blame for the mess they have landed themselves in?
It’s Easier to Bully a Kid
Let’s assume for a moment that these activists and politicians are bullies. Video games are a younger medium compared to films and much younger compared to literature. It’s much easier to bully a kid and shift the blame on a medium which is not only young in the history of world’s culture but is also known for being popular among a certain age group of 16-24. At such an impressionable age, it is very easy to associate the effect violent games have on its players’ mind and rally an entire generation of parents who need a scapegoat to blame for their bad parenting.
A Point Against Us – “The Need to Attack”
Video games aren’t exactly a saint and completely faultless in this either for landing themselves in a mess that they could have *probably* avoided with a little care and thought. Just for a moment, sit back and think – most of the games we come across are designed on “the need to attack”. Games often associate players’ action to removing enemies from their path – either with or without blood. Platformers have done it for ages and the modern action games and shooters are merely the gory, exaggerated representations of it.
By reducing enemies – be it Goombas or a Nazi into mere obstacles, all of them dig on the psychology of the player to progress forward at the expense of enemies. Sports, racing and puzzle games are the most obvious exceptions to this rule but when you see the sheer number of games that utilize this and then compare it with movies – which have plenty of genres that don’t involve violence or literature which has an even greater percentage of that.
What I’m saying is that with the sheer volume of games that focus on killing or removing enemies – bloodied violence or not – might give any non-gamer, especially one that’s already hell-bent on pinning blame on games additional fuel and belief that they are right and games are indeed the “spawn of the Devil”.
Part of this can also be attributed to the decline of the “non-attack” oriented games particularly with the demise of the point-and-click adventure genre at the turn of the millennium. All of our major hits have revolved around a one-track association of players’ action to their “attack enemies and clear a path” mentality and maybe this has made video games a much easier prey for the “wolves”.
The Wolves Are Hungry
The wolves are hungry. They get hungry only when their backs are against the wall and they are under the scrutiny of the entire forest. That is when they get hungry. That is when the entire pack of wolves go hunting. Their favourite prey? A scapegoat. It’s when they find such a scapegoat, standing innocently in the middle of a clearing; they all pounce upon the little creature. Every sound the scapegoat makes only adds fuel to the fire and serves to make them even more enraged. But they don’t rip the little creature apart. Instead, all that the wolves do is just wipe their paws clean. Paws that have blood – others’ blood on their hands and wipe them clean by smearing it on the scapegoat.
To the world, the scapegoat is the criminal. The blood is on it and now the entire world is out for its blood.
Times are A’Changin (Anti-Violent and Indie Games)
One of the foremost signs of a medium maturing beyond what it previously was is it taking an introspective look at elements which have been clichéd and excessively used up to that point. We had films go through the “maturing” phase in the 70s when a couple of anti-war movies particularly Apocalypse Now came a mere decade after the likes of A Clockwork Orange had shocked audiences with its unabashed celebration of violence.
Games underwent a similar phase last year when we had two games – Hotline Miami and Spec Ops: The Line whose themes of anti-violence by a contradictory example is similar in vein to Coppola’s adapted masterpiece and perhaps indicated that our beloved medium has taken two or three crucial steps towards maturity.
When games like that start looking introspectively towards violence and question their own players about the reason behind the entertainment they get from hours of mindless violence – even if it is equated by us as a virtual form of brain-dead escapism, it’s then that we realize that video-games have begun understanding their players’ mindset and by introspectively looking at it come out of the close-minded mentality that everything must revolve around “the need to attack”.
This can be seen in the rise of the indie games over last few years. What began as a simple desire to make unique games has become an important revolution that has not only helped make games a lot more diverse but perhaps even a little mature to an extent. When you look at Minecraft and Journey, two popular and acclaimed games that revolve outside the basic necessity of the “need to attack” we can see that games have a lot more scope to them than we had earlier imagined. Not every action in games needs to revolve around “clearing” enemies from our path.
We’re Not Alone
Every medium at some point in their history have faced what video games are facing now – either a similar level of scrutiny or even worse with absolute censorship. History has given us plenty of examples of books being banned with James Joyce’s modernist classic Ulysses being called “obscene” for use of cuss-words and “radical” for breaking conventions of grammar. The comics industry faced some serious issues during the 1950s with the development of Comics Code Authority, something which was used as a template of sorts for the conception of Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). Films and TV have regularly gone through such periods of scrutiny and controversy but perhaps in the USA, their censorship has been softened to an extent by the good relations between the owners of production houses and the politicians.
With the obscene amount that NRA spends after lobbying, video-games were always a very easy scapegoat. Granted, we COULD have made it easier on ourselves by making the kind of games like Journey and Minecraft more common, but that’s hardly an excuse to bash video-games.
Jack Thompson now seems just like a warning bell compared to the real issue we have in our hands now – NRA trying their best to shift focus from the real problem and rally the conservatives and clueless and disgruntled (read: also plain awful at parenting) parents and clamping down on video-games.
Worst case scenario? In a country that prides itself in free-speech like USA, I’d say ESRB will become similar to what Australian’s OFLC board was recently without a R18+ rating.
Best case? The industry collectively as a unit sees this together as a storm. We don’t need any internal rivalry from EA, Activision or anyone else at times when the whole herd of scapegoats – the game industry – is under a possible attack from the pack of wolves. We need to stand united, watch each other’s back and make sure censorship never inflicts games. Not while we’re alive.
Because remember, the wolves aren’t here to kill –they just want to wipe the blood off their hands.
Reality or Illusion:
- Reality that what we’re seeing now is a part of what every medium has faced in the past.
- Illusion in that violence in video-games is extremely high in comparison to films & TV.
- Reality is that NRA wants to pin blame on us and we should be worried.
- Illusion is the world NRA lives in.