He is too cool for school… shootings.
Robert smiled as he hung up the phone. On the other end of the conversation, his wife Andrea was doing the same. He always called on his lunch break, usually just to tell his wife and toddler that he loved them and couldn't wait to come home. On this day in particular, the family had extra reason to smile, as the boss told Robert he's got a big promotion coming, the income boost from which will enable them to move out of their dangerous neighborhood. However, this would be the last conversation Robert ever had with his family, because you are part of that bad neighborhood. As soon as Robert steps out of his car, you will use a flamethrower to set him ablaze while his wife screams incoherently and his child wonders why daddy is glowing. Cue the trophy chime.
This is not another "Are violent video games affecting our behavior?" On this site, Alex has taken care of that already, and Jim Sterling did it in particularly demonstrative style. This is different. Rather than explore the data and forward my hypothesis like the others, I want to ask a question: How far is too far?
As far as video games go, where do we draw the lines in terms of content and themes? While Jim's video points out the sizable gap between real-world violence and the video game version, the fact remains that the idea of a lot of shooter gameplay is indeed to take a weapon, aim it at another human, and shoot him or her in the head. I'm okay with this. Most people visiting this website are okay with this.
Today I want to consider a few things, as a group, and discuss them. How would you feel about a game which rewards going into a school and shooting children?
How would you feel about a game whose objective is to rape people—perhaps also including children? Imagine your favorite game, whatever it may be. Now imagine that in order to clear it, your character needs to take part in an interactive child molestation scene. Is it still your favorite game?
Have you ever thought about these scenarios? You might remember that Columbine indie game from a couple of years ago, Super Columbine Massacre, which caused a lot of controversy due to its heavy themes; I assume the fact that it was made so soon after the tragedy didn't help. Players controlled game versions of the actual killers who really went in to a school and shot the place up before killing themselves.
In my discussions with a few friends and my wife, it takes some people by such surprise that they actually turn around and get mad at me for asking the question. Hey, I'm right there with ya, such things would literally make me sick to my stomach. I am not misusing "literally" as the internet sometimes does, either; I mean my inside would squirm awkwardly and I may be heard to say "Oh shit, my shit feels like shit." Even just reading the Wikipedia entry for Super Columbine Massacre pushed me to take a time-out from writing this. So like, hang on, I'll be right back.
Heads up, Heath gets awkwardly personal.
It's kind of the same reason I get a little queasy when I see certain models of schoolgirl outfit lingerie on sale. I mean, I get the appeal of pleated skirts and stuff, and I can see how that's kind of a sexy look, but the ones that make me seriously uncomfortable are the ones that are exact replicas of the ones that the students wear at the junior high school wear I work. A friend and I were in a goofy shop in Akihabara once, laughing at certain things and rolling our eyes at others, but I got a jolt of physical sickness when I saw a uniform that looked like the ones my students wear.
The "bad girl" fantasy is one thing, but the idea of actually having intercourse with an adolescent is uncomfortable and unpleasant. This is kind of the idea Sterling was discussing in his video; video game violence tends to be over-the-top, often cartoony, and therefore not having nearly the same impact on us as the real deal.
So let's think about what Grand Theft Auto is for a minute. It's a game series in which players control a character with no regard for legal authority or even humanity, as the game fully allows players to shoot innocent civilians in the head, run people over in cars en masse, light people on fire, blow up cars, and more. We do it and we call it fun because we don't know their stories. Since the man on the street isn't "Jeff," but rather just some guy, we can light him on fire and score points for this, and we, as a society, have decided this is okay. I, as a gamer, have spent money to engage in this activity, and I will probably do it again. But what if that person on the street suddenly has a name? What if that anonymous bit of pixels is given a backstory?
What if you find out that his name is Robert Paulson? And that he has a wife and two kids, ages 5 and 2? Let's imagine that after your flame-based murder of Robert, his wife and kid come running to their slain husband/father, and you take aim with your pistol and blow their heads off, scoring extra points and cash with each hit. Can you do it? I'm not doing that douchebag thing where a guy asks a question thinking he already knows the answer. I'm really asking because I have no idea. I'm interested in talking about this and seeing your various answers.
Let's take the Grand Theft Auto idea one step further and add a school mission into such a game. Imagine that GTA asks you to go into an elementary school and kill a minimum of 100 kids within a time limit. Most of them have different character models, the school has kids' artwork and ABCs on the walls, the teachers look just the way you remember your teachers looking, the works—can you pull the trigger and paint the place with their blood? What about rape? If winning a game involves approaching a character model of a young kid, removing his/her clothes and engaging in detailed sexual intercourse, would you play it? Whether you would or wouldn't play it yourself, would you be okay with such a product existing, receiving a commercial release and being advertised in your local stores and on TV programs that you watch?
I expect a lot of affirmative answers because, after all, these are not real people, they are electronic polygons drawn up by artists and programmers. Their stories are not real, but written by someone being paid to do so. The kids hypothetically being raped aren't actually getting scarred for life like a real kid would; they're just colored dots on a screen giving consumers a show.
While my own answer is currently that I would not play such a game, I have to give unexpected credit Spec Ops: The Line for crossing boundaries that most games didn't dare approach before, and might not in the future. Reading around online, I've seen tons of testimonials about players not being able to physically handle playing that game for more than half an hour at a time, due to its detailed story, intense narrative, and serious themes. I won't spoil anything, but it takes gamers in a direction they're not used to going, and while not being "fun" at all, delivers one of the most memorable experiences of our generation (but more on that in a future post). Despite the unexpected quality of Spec Ops, however, I still don't think I will ever be comfortable playing a kid molestation simulator, and I don't think I'd be in a hurry to do any child murder simulation missions in a game, either.
So, what about you?