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Written By: Siou Choy

Violence. Perhaps the first thing that comes to the mind of parents, and non-gamers in general, in regards to the subject of video games. Simulated violence, they are quick to tell us, acclimates and eventually leads kids to perform real-life acts of violence. That's the way it works, isn't it? After all, current trends in "pop" psychology tell us that people per se are nothing more than "victims": mindless drones, susceptible to influence by anything they view on TV, listen to on the radio, or play on their favorite video game systems, right? In the face of such a typically cynical reactionary and totalitarian assessment, I most disrespectfully disagree. Though it may often seem unwarranted in light of our species' overall behavior and some rather disturbing societal trends as we enter into this new millennium, I nonetheless retain a bit more faith in the intelligence and capacity for individual self-determination of the human race.

Parents, politicians and the opinion-makers of the media have to give the gaming public (not to mention the people as a whole) more credit for being capable of independent thought. Concomitantly, the people have to begin to (re)learn to assume individual personal responsibility for their actions (or inaction). Anyone with any semblance of a brain is fully aware that just because Superman can fly, that doesn't mean that we can too. So why should it follow that just because the video game hero du jour guns down his virtual-reality opposition (as if this weren't common and accepted practice in television cop shows and cinema per se) the gamer is bound (by fate? by the stars? by some irresistible, unstoppable unconscious influence?) to pick up the nearest available gun and go on a rampage the next time he or she gets pissed off? Yet and still, as noted previously, we're subjected to these exact scenes being played out at the movies or on prime time television. As any Hollywood pundit could tell you, all the best, most dependable box office comes from the "action" "police" and "gangster" genres, which seem to achieve new heights of popularity in direct correlation with ever increasingly graphic displays of (generally gratuitous) violence. So why does the video game industry inevitably take the brunt of the attack? Mind you, this is not pointed out in order to suggest increasing regulation of the former industries, but rather with the rationale that the individual should be the barometer of choice; and that implies and hinges upon said individual being both capable of and responsible for self-regulation. The next barometric step outward from individual responsibility lay not with the government or the all-too prevalent delusion of the "institutional caretaker", but with the individual family unit, which unit should be the ultimate arbiter of what they or their children are (or are not) exposed to. Anything less leads to the sort of participatory surrender that has been occurring in this country since the 1980s - a renunciation of personal rights under the assumption that someone out there (media? school? government?) will "take care of" everything. The sinister corollary of such a nonsensical presumption, of course, is the complete and total lack of realism in the implicit assumption that said "caretaker" has one's own best interests in mind. In the interests of remaining concise, I won't even delve into the related issue of the lawsuit-oriented, personal responsibility-shirking childishness of the "victim mentality" our yuppified society seems to have utterly sold out to over the past 20 years. Suffice it to say that any self respecting existentialist would puke on seeing the prevailing mindset of the day.

Video games are a form of entertainment. How can people be "entertained" if the very aspects of a given thing that make it enjoyable are removed or made difficult to get? The real problem here is a fundamental flaw in the "yuppie" cultural paradigm: to wit, despite their assertions of "quality time" and the like, there is a serious problem with putting career and cash inflow above parenting. The TV is not a babysitter, nor should it be. Neither does it assume the guise of a role model. Similarly, video games are not, and should not become, de facto "parents" or "guardians" over successive generations of "latchkey kids". People, individual people, are supposed to assume that role, not advertisers, media pundits, or entertainment producers. It's high time these irresponsible "adults", who only decide to assume that role when protesting or calling for regulation over cultural phenomena they know little or nothing about (outside of sound-bite level coverage from an increasingly irresponsible and sensationalistic news media), got off their guilt-racked soapboxes and started taking responsibility for their own lives and problems, and got down to some good old fashioned child rearing. It's high time that these sorry excuses for adult human beings stopped worrying so damn much about paying for their new SUV's and fretting over their stock options, and started getting their hands dirty on a street level, in the same way their parents, or at the worst, their grandparents did, and strive to actually parent, appreciate, and set a good example for their own children. It's about time these conditional "parents" stop letting the TV babysit for them and made an attempt at raising their children themselves. But this is unlikely and too much to expect; it's far easier to find scapegoats for your own deficiencies as parents (and as human beings per se). Don't take a personal and existential responsibility for your own problems, faults, actions, and inaction; blame the TV, Hollywood, the music industry and (gasp) video games - please, Mr. Government, regulate our lives! We can't do it without you telling us what to think, how to live, what to say! Has anybody read Orwell, here, or is it just me? Such a person, with such an attitude, is and should be beneath the contempt of any intelligent, rational, thinking individual; and yet, of such (and almost exclusively of such) is our post-millennial society apparently made.

Never mind that most of the people complaining about violence in video games have never seen, much less played any of the games in question (whether or not such games are actually resting on their children's shelves). All they have to see is a screen shot or two of (just as an easy example) zombies attacking people and that's the end of it; these suddenly highly moral activists are off on a crusade to save the world from the "evils" of video games. While it is true that there are some violent games out there, such games are generally clearly marked (if not already apparent from the cover photos and blurbs) as not intended for younger audiences. So next time, before you let your seven year old walk into a store to buy a copy of Resident Evil, and later decide to attack Capcom and the video game industry for making such an "abhorrent" game, you had better think long and hard instead about how your kid got that game in the first place. Those ratings on the game are there for parental information and consumer guidance (they're certainly not for the kids, who could care less), just like those on Hollywood films (and are, in fact, more accurate; in my experience, swearing and sex are not to be found in the equivalent of a "PG" rated video game).

I believe it is an absurdity that the consumer is no longer "allowed" to use a light gun in home video games (despite the fact that their arcade progenitors use and require the same) because it will somehow magically force gamers to harm others or "copycat" what has happened on the screen. I admit, I love shooting a 2 or 3D polygonally rendered zombie as much as the next person, but I also enjoy testing such skills in goofy, lighthearted games like Point Blank, which I find just as much fun if not more so. I don't remember people being in an uproar when Duck Hunt first came out for the Nintendo. Weren't people worried there would be a sudden rash of duck shootings? Or was that in a time when people had more common sense? Perhaps that was in a time when the media chose to focus on real issues, rather than pseudo-"liberal" regulatory nonsense and an overarching agenda to remove, one by one, the rights of Americans by convincing them that they "need" official legal and governmental regulation; after all, one can't do anything for oneself, right? Such thinking (and more importantly, resultant legal and political action) is as much a sin of omission (sitting back and letting it happen) as commission (making it happen), with the ultimate result being an effective sociopolitical/legal denial of the average person's capability for independent and rational thought, much less action, does anybody else smell a dictator coming? Or at least a military state? Whatever the trappings and ostensible credo of the forces influencing the gullible of society towards such ends, the end result is the same. There was no greater "Hitler" than Stalin. Tienamen Square was the handiwork of Maoists. The "usual suspects" are not the only enemy in this (or any) regard.

Not surprisingly in such a climate and social milieu, video game software and platform makers have been forced under the thumb of such "irate parents" and "concerned" politicians. Sega decided against releasing it's own gun for the U.S. release of their Dreamcast, in a rather sad and sorry attempt to take the diplomatic route against "gun violence" (or more realistically, to keep a small but vocal contingent of pro-regulatory activists quiet and happy). Similarly, other companies have taken the same route and removed the gun from shooter games that are available, in their arcade form, in Japan, but not here. Not only is this abject nonsense, but it destroys the entire premise of such games. How can you make a shooter that doesn't use a gun? Why bother making the game at all? As good as a given controller may (or may not) be, it just doesn't cut it for such a game. What next, take the steering wheel away from our racing games, since racing games could produce aggressive drivers? Using the same (ill-)logic, doesn't it follow that a racing gamer would leave his virtual race only to get out on the roads and play "pole position" for real? If people are smart enough not to drive like they do in video games (admittedly, this seems to be less the case each day, but still), I would say it's a safe bet that those same individuals should be rational enough to not go out on a shooting spree after playing a given survival horror or shooter game.

And yet, all this being said, and despite all the attacks on violence in video games, the first person shooter, of all things, has achieved an amazing high in popularity of late. Perfect Dark became a fan favorite a very short time after its release. Likewise, similar games like GoldenEye and Duke Nukem have remained consistent favorites, gaining new fans continuously to this day. These games, mind you, do not use or require the use of a light gun. Is this somehow "better"? Again, don't let me be misconstrued here as if I were attacking such games; this is brought up merely to prove a point. Such games, as Freud would have said, are cathartic; a fun and more or less harmless way to release some aggressions and stress that the gamer may be feeling. A bit of common sense: it is far better to beat up a "bad guy" in a video game than to take it out on your boss or whoever else might be the source of your stress and anger at the moment.

People attack the video game industry because it's an easy target. It's out there, it makes money (making it a prime target for lawsuits) and it's very public; more importantly, at least insofar as software, it remains mainly the domain of teenage computer geeks and silicon valley types (and thus doesn't seem to have the established clout and high-powered legal backing that Hollywood does). More, just in general, it's far easier to blame a given industry, indeed, any given scapegoat, than to take responsibility for societal issues and problems ourselves. I firmly believe that if parents would actually bother to take the time out of their all important, artificial and self-created "busy schedules" to actually take an interest and become involved in what their kids are doing, such children will in all likelihood never become some sort of gun toting maniac or the like. But to take the current tack of ignoring them, while simultaneously taking away all the privileges and rights that they, and we, had as kids ourselves, we only succeed in turning previously innocuous objects and events into charged ones, making them somehow "bad" and "taboo". And this, far more than any innate qualities of said objects and events, is VERY likely to push those same children into becoming the very thing it is feared they might. Isn't it time for people to stop all this nonsense and take a good hard look at themselves before they start pointing the finger at everyone else?

Posted: 2-13-01
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