Saturday, November 28, 2009

Modern Warfare Two Much?

As a gamer I have never shied away from violent video games. Doom, the ground-breaking "first person shooter" of the early nineties had me running around on a Mars science station, blasting the hell out of demons escaped from a portal to Hell.

More recently, I spent hours in a compelling WWII drama (Brothers-in-Arms) that was so rich in storytelling and character development that it could have been turned into a heartbreaking film about loyalty and retaining one's humanity in the midst of the insanity that is war. I know some will raise their eyebrows, but the game was that good.

Any yet there have always been other games that have made me pause and guiltily admit to playing them. The Grand Theft Auto series is in that category. I played part of one and decided I didn't like shooting police, beating prostitutes, and glorifying street thugs. I despise gangbangers. The idea of the noble criminal, the Mafioso with a heart of gold,has always been insulting to me. It disturbed me to see how gangbangers across the country elevated Al Pacino's pyschopathic character from "Scarface", heroworshiping him. If you want to be truly sickened, rent the anniversary version DVD sometime and listen to the gang associated rappers in the "extras" explain why the character touched them in a special way.

And now? Now I've just played through a scenario in a game which is guaranteed to be under Christmas trees across the country this year. A game that parents will benevolently bestow upon their children: Modern Warfare II. Don't get me wrong, I love the game and will play it to death, but I have to ask the creators why they decided to include this scene in the game. Essentially, as a deep undercover operative you follow a handful of Russian terrorists into a crowded airport and watch as they gun down over a hundred people. If you want, you can probably join them in the fun --- I was too appalled to fire at the innocents. On the other hand, I did try and shoot the terrorists and was in turn shot by them.  If you want to see this scene, you can click on the embedded video. You'll notice the person playing this segment enthusiastically joins in the killing of civilians.

Some people will argue that to drive home the horror of terrorism that a person should be unflinchingly exposed to its brutality. Perhaps that would hold on a news show, but in a video game?

I'm not going to follow the argument that video games desensitize people and therefore contribute to violence in the community, but I think this sort of use of violent imagery should give us pause. Some would argue that the it's part of real life and therefore the game is really a reflection of that. Really? Really? So should we then have a game where a person plays a child abuser? Or a serial killer who goes into a school in Colorado and blows away a dozen children?

Another person will point out that buying a game is a voluntary process and that parents don't have to buy this for their kids. The idiocy of that statement is that people won't know about the violence of this game and even if they know, they will be beaten down by a teenager who wants to play what every other kid is playing on the internet.

I'm not suggesting that children will watch this and run out zombie-like to gun down a group of innocents. I'm just expressing some thoughts on the matter and wondering about whether or not a line may have been crossed, or if indeed, whether or not a line can be crossed any more.

My next post: "Writerly Responsibility" (it sort of a companion piece to this one)


Jo said...

I had trouble watching that. I have wondered about the correlation between video games and violence as well. We have a huge problem with gang warfare here in Vancouver, and innocent bystanders have been shot. Thankfully, most of the gang leaders were arrested this weekend, and they are steroid-taking body-builders. So I wonder about that connection too.

In addition, we have the 2010 Winter Olympic Games coming up in Vancouver in a couple of months, and I wonder about terrorism targets. I think I will keep a low profile for a while -- just in case...

What a crazy world we live in. I used to think the middle ages were barbaric, where people were regularly disemboweled, beheaded, and other horrible things. We really have not evolved from those days at all. I am beginning to think human beings are inherently violent and brutal.

I was reading an interesting article in Psychology Today about the rise in all things cute (Hello Kitty) that has evolved as an antidote to all the violence.

Anonymous said...

Modern Warefare 2 has been banned in Russia (big surprise).

My personal favorite in the category of tasteless video games is Redneck Rampage. You have to drink beer to 'power up' while driving a pick-up truck and annhilating things with your shotgun. If you drink too much beer you vomit and pass out. It's all about finding that fine balance between drinking and still being able to drive. Pretty warped!

Jon said...

I have never played a game like this, or even seen such a snippet. The first thing I don't get is this: the shooter, he's the good guy? Supposed to stop the bad guy, right? Am I missing something, or being stupid? Why doesn't he just kill the four bad guys?
Also disturbing is the fact that with all of the killing, there is little suffering. The murdered people just fall over motionless. Bang bang, you're dead.
Now, to be perfectly honest and totally politically incorrect, I found it boring. Trot trot trot, shoot shoot shoot. Yawn.
As to training a generation of sociopaths, there may be a little something to that, but probably not much. I mean modern gangbangers could watch Maqry Poppins twice a day and not become compulsively nice. I don't think....
And the Mafioso films? Down deep I don't think it's the criminal aspect that's the concept of family, as warped as it may be shown. Family and respect.
I guess I'll just stick to Sim City.
One final thought about the clip. When they shooter goes through the metal detector, it doesn't even beep! No wonder they got in!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Having trouble watching this scene means you still have nerve endings and that your humanity is intact. I am starting to think that saying violence in art is a reflection of violence in our time is inept.

There have been many inappropriate games. I believe a niche market will always buy them. However, I think this goes past that. Still, a wonderful game. I hate to say it, but this is a magnificent game.

The people are suffering...I followed one woman as I played and watched her crawl off trailing blood before collapsing.

As for the protagonist...well...he is a good guy although I am fond of the saying: a villain is a hero in his own mind. The point of this scene is to frame the American for the act of terror. And I've tried killing the four bad guys and it's not possible. This scene has to play out to move the game forward. It's the motivation for a sneak attack on the United States. As I am writing this, I am in the middle of defending a suburban Virginia neighborhood from assault.

SQT said...

I do believe in the desensitizing argument. I've had some interesting conversations with my father-in-law (2 star General) about the similarities with these games and military training programs. My kids don't play violent games-- but they're very young still. At least I'll know to do my research as they get older. I really have no problems saying "no" to inappropriate games and movies. Sure they'll be exposed to it through their friends. But at least they won't be holed up in the bedrooms at home playing these games all night long.