Thursday, 2 August 2012

Computer game violence: Hate the player not the game

Skyrim: Fantasy Sword play
Last night I killed a man. I don't know his name, where he came from or if he had family, all I know is that he died at the end of my blade gasping for mercy as he laid on his knees.

He did start the fight to be fair, he attacked me first wielding a two handed sword and rushing out of the long grass at me as I looked for an easy way into the castle.

I should point out I was playing the fantasy game Skyrim and not wandering the streets of Rochester.

I've grown up on computer games starting with an old Amstrad 1512 back in the very early 90s when PCs only had CGA graphics (4 colours) and by the time I went to University I was susceptible to a good looking game. It was back on that first PC that I killed my first computerised German serviceman in the classic "Ace of aces" (I think) in which you fly a Mosquito fighter-bomber over Europe. Now some twenty years on I hate to think how many German Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen I have killed. Mostly it has been watching their aircraft burning and heading to the ground over the skies of Kent, or in key battles of World War Two like Dieppe, Falaise gap, Stalingrad and the Bulge in a rifle shot. There have been other games - Goldeneye on the N64 ate ALOT of time in my first year of Uni, Perfect Dark, Medal of Honour, Commandos, Sudden Strike, Age of Empires and of course the classic Grand Theft Auto.

It is a game that has attracted a lot of criticism from parent groups, members of government and well meaning people but it is a game that has also attracted a lot of fans. I've played most of the GTA games (except the newest one) and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Yeah, they can be violent - I used to start riots in the streets, aggravate the Police - I even shot a man dead in the street because he insulted me- but it is fun. 

The point is;  for me, and all the gamers I know, the game and violence ended when I switched the Playstation off. It was a great stress relief. Nothing beat coming home from a hard day at work than opening a cold beer and taking out my wroth on the people of Liberty city with aggressive driving and lawless abandon. I'm not an aggressive person, in fact many have commented on me being a walk over who is uncharacteristically even tempered for a redhead. Also coming from a family tradition of Policing and Law meant that I would never consider breaking the law. It is escapism and fantasy, a world you can do what you want and hang the rules.

Critics would argue that these sort of games encourage violence among young people and that they become attracted by the violence of it and want to try it out in reality. In some cases the border between reality and fiction become blurred and some idiot will go out to try an enact what they have done in game.

Maybe this is true for some people, a small minority who tar the rest of us gamers with the same brush. 

I will admit that some games are worse than others. I once played Manhunt which was blamed for a murder and I was horrified at the methods of killing and the needlessness of the violence. Personally I like a good reason for combat - generally fighting the forces of evil (or good if it is a Star Wars game) rather than the helpless. Maybe the gaming industry should look at the premise of some of the games but as I'll come to in a minute, there are age ratings for a reason.

The same criticisms can be levelled at movies and even literature.  I've been weirded out by the honest Medieval savagery of the Game of Throne's books but I've not taken to rape and pillage. Violence has been part of popular culture forever - look at Shakespeare, Canterbury tales, the classic kid's film Watership Down that scarred my generation. Look at the body counts in movies like Where Eagles Dare or all the ketchup spilt in Battle of Britain. So why blame computer games when other forms of escapism are just as violent?

The last thing to say about it is that... These games have a rating for a reason. I was once introduced to one of my Mum's friends who complained to me that he'd watched his son playing a game that included beating a prostitute to death and stealing a car. He'd bought it as a 13th birthday present. It was GTA - I told him to check the rating, its an 18. I believe that it was duly taken away from him!
 So parents, you should keep an eye on what your kids are playing.

As for the rest of us? Well some of us like sports, others like good books (I do love my reading), model making (you should check out my spare room), hard drinking, clubbing, walking and others enjoy computer games. As long as gamers aren't going out and recreating games/fantasy in the real world then who are we to tell them that they cannot enjoy themselves? After all recreation and committing a crime is a conscious choice made by an adult and is not the fault of a game.

1 comment:

  1. The only shoot-em-up game play is good old DOOM, of which a very good port to the Acorn/RISC OS platform was released some years ago.

    It's timeless, and with all those pWADs on the CD (hundreds of them, some full episodes!) I never run out of new or mostly-forgotten levels to tackle.

    Works for me!