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Scapegoating - are we doing ourselves any favours?
Posted on Thursday, March 12 2009 @ 09:49:28 Eastern

Any gamer should be aware of their favourite media being used as a scapegoat for... everything. We have been at the sharp end for every school shooting ever featured on the nightly news, for the perceived increase in knife crime, for the cockiness of teenagers today and now, for childhood obesity. This advert is one I saw in the local Metro, free to pick up from any form of public transport here in England, but I forgot about it until I read the GR manifesto.

There are various situations certain individuals would love to explain away with the evils of video games rather than accept life is more complicated than that. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just say that troubled young boy shot up the school because Grand Theft Auto told him to? Knife crime would be simple to explain away if only Kratos with his cool ass weapons and stabby ways were somehow solely implicated and the sexual corruption of youth would be a little more palatable if Jack Thompson was right in bashing the Hot Coffee mod so vehemently. Of course, real life is more complex and, while not many people (if any) are claiming video games are totally blameless, there are far more factors involved and games could hardly to be separated out for culpability.

There are many arguments against the likes of Jack Thompson; video games are but one element in a rich tapestry of modern culture, the average human does not resort to murder after playing The Getaway, games are certified against minors playing them, and so on and so forth. I particularly like the age certification argument. GTA is an 18, Killzone 2 is an 18, Fallout 3, Gears of War and Dead Space are all 18, hell, even Fable 2 is the proud owner of a 15 certificate, presumably for the sex ‘scenes’. Think of that kid who shot up the school, which one? It doesn’t matter. Chances are they were playing a game not designed with them in mind, couple this with the fact that some people are just plain unstable and we have a recipe for disaster which would result in the same foul cake if we replaced ‘violent video game’ with ‘violent movie’, ‘violent music’ or even ‘violent book’. More to the point though, why are kids able to play these games that are meant to be restricted against them? I remember advising my hairdresser not long ago to secure her child's Xbox 360 against games of a certain certificate, an ability she had no idea existed and this lack of understanding is one element I believe needs to be addressed.

Of course such sane arguments are not enough for the insanity of the more vocal of critics and we need to deal with studies like this, and please be aware that I’m using the descriptor ‘study’ loosely. It is a weight games seem to need to bear at the moment that they will be considered the source of most problems. But do games really deserve to be overlooked? Is the industry helping itself in all cases? Do not get me wrong, I have been playing games since my early memories, I recall going shopping with my dad for 50p C64 games and waiting for as many minutes while the tape slowly turned and loaded the simple affairs into the computer’s memory before I could play them. I remember getting my SNES and loving every second of Super Mario Bros. 3. I have lived through the PS1 and PS2 days and love the moments gaming has given me. But are we helping our case that games are, overall, harmless?

One game triggered this thought. RapeLay, even the name conjures up a desire to stay the hell away. In this... game you play the role of the rapist, premeditating and executing. I feel no desire to become more intimate with the details of this particular example of depravity but I do wonder about the rest of the industry. It’s obvious that RapeLay and so called eroge push the boundaries of what is acceptable as an interactive work of fiction and does nothing to help the public image of the gaming industry as perceived by the uninitiated. However, this shadowy genre is not the only thing potentially harming the image. There are countless games that allow the player to storm their way through countless enemies and, in the days of HD entertainment, many of these games depict antagonist deaths in a very graphic manner. The amount of (relatively high profile) games that allow the player to engage in consensual sex could probably be counted on the hands and feet of a person. Admittedly this fault doesn’t just lie at the industry’s hands but it is the industry bowing to pressure from the lobbyists to not include what is arguably the most natural part of life in their games. Only in today’s media is it more acceptable to perforate a person with bullets than it is to gently caress them into the night.

I have nothing against the violence in the media. But despite Grand Theft Auto earning every bit of its 18 certificate so many kids know about it, want to play it and, worse, have easy access to it. This state is doing no favours to the gaming industry and makes it that much more simple for tragedies like this to be blamed on the video games the kid was playing. Those of us privy to gaming culture can clearly see there are millions of people playing violent games who do not shoot up a school but there are plenty of naive rule makers who seem to feel a generation’s source of entertainment should be extinguished because of the instability of the minority. Instability, I add, which would present itself regardless of gaming.

There exists beautiful aspects of gaming which serve to not only add to our entertainment but also demonstrate we are not a group of simpletons suffering from bloodlust. While they have little effect on the blinkered views of Jack Thompson and Fox they do serve as a wonderful reminder that gaming is capable of encapsulating enigmatic, charming scenes. Games of this ilk include Flower, fl0w and Braid. There is no combat in these games yet they all fill the player with joy with their gameplay. Of course not all games can be fluffy, colourful and nice, but that doesn’t mean they have to possess senseless brutality. BioShock, which is filled with violence, possesses more than vicious scenes and fleshes out the violence with a reason for its existence.

Gaming as a whole is fine - containing a mix of violence and non-violence - its rating systems are, on the face of it, adequate but non-gaming adults need to be instilled with a greater understanding of the reasons behind the ratings. Non-violent games show the medium is more than a way of picking up a gun without actually firing one but until the world’s news vendors acknowledge their existence those without their ears to the ground will remain unaware (and possibly uninterested) that their favourite scapegoat isn’t all that bad. Unfortunately I can’t see Fox or CNN covering a story on the elegance of controlling the wind in Flower when given the choice between that and another school shooting committed by a lonely gamer and games such as RapeLay do nothing to help the image of gamers as a whole, let alone the underground subcultures whose desires cause the games to be made in the first place. Who cares about those freaks though?

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