Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Violence and mr Thompson

Okay, so, everyone else has voiced their opinion on Jack Thompson and after the recent change in tone in the whole discussion I feel that I should voice mine aswell. It's impossible to comment on what Thompson does before taking a stand regarding the games industry and its content on a whole. Therefore that's just what I'm going to address first.

Violent games exist, and today they're obviously more convincing than ever in conveying that violence. You can actually craft a world and characters that make a gut wrenching scene do just that - wrench your, um, gut. That's not to say it's entirely believable, but it's sufficient for the message and the idea to come through in a striking way. The fidelity of sound and images we experience today, and even more so this coming generation, makes it possible for the creative vision to translate almost entirely intact from idea to fully realised games. This places a greater responsibility with the game maker in making the distinction whether the content serves a purpose or not. That said, considering how many companies there are that make games and how many games there are, there are surprisingly few that actually push any kind of provocative content. The ones that do however are often horror themed games that use those violent or upsetting images to their effect like a film does. The exception is, of course, the often talked about Postal 2 which serves little purpose besides being perfectly justifiable ammo for guys like Jack B. Thompson.

Postal 2 - sets our side back about one hundred points.

Scary stuff isn't the same as violence of course. Disturbing images don't make criminals out of kids, but I still think it's an important point to make, that those games use their artistic freedom to present those images in order to convey a certain sensation. I think it's important also to clarify that while the discussion regarding violence in games have been around for a long time, it's only recently that it's getting this kind of attention - why? I'm fairly certain it's because games have been brought out in the mainstream in the last 10 years but also because the violence can be rendered so convincingly now.

Even then there are a number of different ways to use violence for effect, and like anything anyone says or does artistically it must always be judged in the context it was presented. Turtles do little besides fighting all day long, and sure enough there are people who claim that Turtles will make ninja killers out of children but it still airs alongside everything else on saturday mornings when kids (yes, REAL kids) are watching. Two wrongs do not make a right, certainly, but I think we can agree that Turtles are pretty harmless. I'm sure even good mr Thompson agrees. It is in a sense violence, but its context and the spirit in which it's presented makes it less provocative.

Monty Python did a sketch in which a knight gets his limbs cut off and blood sprays everywhere. Does that upset people? Some perhaps, but again, the context takes the effect out of it for most of us. Lastly, Pulp Fiction is one of the most celebrated films of the 90s and by many considered one of the best films ever, period. It contains some very graphic scenes of violence, but its context.... Okay you're probably fed up with me going on about context.

My point is; why isn't GTA viewed exactly the same way as Pulp Fiction? It's clearly a fruit on the very same tree, but despite that it's taking enormous amounts of flak. Why!? Let me tell you why: I'm willing to bet my own set of testicles that the ones who are upset by GTA still view gaming as something kids do, and the console itself as a toy. It isn't. GTA was never meant for 15 year olds, that is fact. According to studies conducted by the Entertainment Software Association the largest group of gamers today are 18 years old or older, so why then is it so surprising that the content in games these days reflect that? If the problem is kids getting their hands on those games you're looking at two problems; parents don't give two shits about what their kids are playing or the kids simply download the latest GTA off the net.

Piracy and bad parenting; hardly the fault of the games themselves.

Do I believe that a violent game makes murderers out of kids? I think games, just like any other medium, have a big impact on kids in deciding what's "cool" and what's "brave" and I believe that concepts like heroism and ideals like that are definitely affected. Is it a deciding factor? No, I don't think it is. Is it a worrying trend that some kids run around thinking it's cool to steal cars and shoot cops? Yes it is. I don't think you can blame that entirely on games though, I think that's a result of our general culture. It's hardly a new concept that crime is "cool" either. Bad boyisms have always been around. Idiots have always been around. This paragraph is entirely rethorical though of course, since kids aren't meant to play GTA in the first place.

So there you have it, basically. My stance on the video game industry and its violent games.

Now, finally, my opinion regarding Jack Thompson:

I think he's a complete and utter twat. Not because of his original sentiment that kids shouldn't play games like Postal and GTA, but certainly because of every single step in his efforts to enforce it. Also, his actual knowledge regarding the games seems severely lacking. You'd think a guy who makes a fuss on this extreme level would at least sit down and play the games properly, not just read up on them. (on IGN of all places!) Calling GTA a cop killer simulator and implying that someone actually used it for practicing killing cops (must be the PC version then, or else he's got a surprise coming if he thinks real guns auto-lock on everything but the guy he's trying to shoot.) is nothing short of retarded and it's really just more evidence he has no clue whatsoever about the actual goal in the game.

Unusually blatant and stupid from the otherwise witty and brilliant Penny Arcade.

Wrapping this enormous post up, I want to stress that I don't think people should brush off the entire problem at hand. There is an issue of kids and teens playing games meant for a mature audience, and if we can come up with a solution instead of just yelling and laughing at Jack Thompson then that would be awesome. Come on people, we can do both.