We examine the effect video games are having on our society - are they really the cause of all our ills?
If the media is to be believed, we live in violent times. Perhaps the most violent times of all. Everywhere we turn it seems the shadow of death, destruction and violence is cast over us. Yet our generation seems to be one of apathy. A quick shrug of the shoulders and a throwaway comment about how the world is gone mad are about all the majority of us can muster when it comes to even the most shocking of acts. Have we become so brainwashed by our choice in entertainment that we accept these atrocities? And more importantly, are video games playing a part in our increasingly unshockable culture?
If you listen to the views of notorious anti-games attorney Jack Thompson they might just be. Thompson is a man who has dedicated the last decade of his life to his attempts to take down the video game industry, because he believes it to be the cause of unmentionable evils. “Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it” according to Thompson.
He doesn’t stop there. “You just watch. There is going to be a Columbine-times-10 incident, and everyone will finally get it. Either that, or some video gamer is going to go Columbine at some video game exec's expense or at E3, and then the industry will begin to realize that there is no place to hide, that it has trained a nation of Manchurian Children”.
Ironically for a qualified lawyer, Mr. Thompson's greatest achievements have only been to court publicity on a regular basis with bizarre outbursts against video games at every available opportunity. In one attempt to legally shut down the availability of Grand Theft Auto IV following a shooting in the States, Thompson made it as far as court only to be shut down in no uncertain fashion by Fayette County Circuit Judge James Moore:
“Mr. Thompson's actions before this Court suggest that he is unable to conduct himself in a manner befitting practice in this state”.
Ultimately Thompson was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for inappropriate conduct, including making false statements to tribunals and disparaging and humiliating litigants, but his quest to further sully the name of video gaming continues unabated.
But is it possible that Thompson is on to something? Could it possibly be that the endless barrage of immoral behaviour, theft, crime and violence we immerse ourselves in regularly through our gaming preferences are manifesting themselves in a gradual acceptance of the more horrific side of our species or, dare we say, even encouraging them?
Well... no. Not so far as any well rounded individual could say surely. If you want the most realistic representations of graphic violence available in the mass media, where do you turn? The news media, be it print or broadcast.
At no other time in the history of mankind have we had such readily available access to so much global current affairs material. You can't turn on a TV without being bombarded with imagery of the latest religiously motivated terror attack, or monetarily motivated hostage situation. If you really want to see what makes the more homicidal amongst us tick, then it's at your fingertips. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Those so quick to lay blame for the most recent school shooting at the feet of the latest shoot 'em up seem incapable of asking themselves the question that really cuts through the double talk and delivers perhaps the most damning indictment of the human species of all.... where were video games when Hitler was growing up? Where were video games during the reign of Genghis Khan? What part did video games play in the violence of the Old Testament?
Surely if we're going to blame any form of entertainment available to day it has to be the arrival of the news entertainment culture. The lines have well and truly been blurred, due in no small part to the “reality TV” feel of news broadcasts in recent years. Neither the truth nor tact seems to matter any more in a world where selling papers or on-air ad time is deemed more important than human life.
One need only look at the media circus surrounding the death of Jade Goody for an example of how far removed the problems of modern culture are from the escapism of video gaming. A talentless “star” of Big Brother who contracted cancer suddenly receives more column inches than the humanitarian abominations taking place all over the world, purely because it's what the gossiping housewives eat up? Surely something is very wrong with this picture!
And they want to lay the blame at our doorsteps. It's the fault of video games that our generation seemingly don't give a damn about the injustices in the world and nothing to do with the fact that we’ve grown up in a society where a single celebrity's life is worth more air time than a thousand lives in a developing country. Well I call shenanigans!
Games are an easy stick for an archaic, and frankly out of touch, minority to beat us with. Video games with mature content are made for mature gamers. If parents buy Grand Theft Auto for their six year old kid then that's not the developer's problem, no more than it's the problem of a horror movie director if a parent buys his movie for their child.
We've been a scapegoat for far too long and it's time people realised just how tiresome it's becoming. If minorities like Jack Thompson want to make the world a better place then they should start looking a little closer to home and not bothering decent hard-working folks who can differentiate between real life and fantasy. Or perhaps he'd like to ban movies, books, music, theatre and television first, after all they've got a bigger catchment area than games do.