Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GTA and Censorship: "Hot Coffee"

There has been a controversy recently (sorry for the relatively late post) over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' "hot coffee" mod, wherein a player can have crudely simulated sex with the main character's girlfriend, Denise. I hope that the ridiculousness of taking Rockstar Games to task for material that must be unlocked by third party software is transparently obvious. Can I sue Id Games now for players making nude models to shoot railguns with?

Of course, this is just another aspect of the "Our kids are being corrupted" crusade that has been launched in recent years against violent media, video games, the Internet...

Tell me: Is anybody more concerned about the fact that a kid can, with a little Internet savvy (and most kids nowadays have it in spades), unlock an almost infinite tract of hardcore bondage, rape or snuff porn, not to mention graphic videos of helicopter pilots shooting innocent people and the effects of a shotgun blast on a person? And that they can do so even with the protections that some parents purchase or implement to protect their kids from such material?

Of course, despite this, I would not propose banning one pornographic picture, which brings to mind a discussion that is often simply passed over by folks like Thompson, Clinton and Lieberman. People have the right to produce objectionable material. You may complain all you want, sirs, but aside from giving parents more tools to protect their kids (and even that must be balanced by children's rights), government has very little public policy reasoning to ban video games.

My position is much less extreme than other video gamers like Scott Ramsoomair of VG Cats or Mr. Buckley of Ctrl-Alt-Delete, though when push comes to shove I side with them in a second. For one thing, while many parents are very derelict in their duties, to "blame the parents" is very uncompassionate and ignores the complex issues at play. Many parents simply do not have the time to monitor their children, as to support them they have to work overtime at awful and draining jobs. This is not their fault, but the economy's, by demanding that more and more productivity be done for less and less wages, such that two parents spend 40 hours a week outside the house at the least. Further, older generations do not have the tech savvy to compete with their kids' abilities to trick them. So they must take responsibility, but so must a whole host of others.

For there are many advocates (Ralph Nader among them) who fully respect the free speech issues and nonetheless feel that it is a sad tribute to a militarized culture that game after game is released that stresses violent and sexist solutions to problems. What do I say to those people?

1) Violent video games do deal with violence, yes, but they do so in a far more open and silly way than even Looney Tunes. Far more violence and serial killing has undoubtedly been caused by kid's cartoons or the Bible (the latter of which includes, in the Old Testament, descriptions of slaughter and debauchery that is being honored).

The question of, "What is the impact to kids?" is an empirical one. Note that millions of gamers have been playing games since Pong, and an infinitestimal minority, probably less than would be expected statistically, kill others. Further, in an increasingly fragmented culture, video gamers often meet each other through a shared experience. Friends of mine have met through Doom. Serious studies have found that, while there may be some bad influences on already disturbed kids (but that is reverse causal: disturbance causes video game playing, not video game playing causes disturbance), the vast majority of gamers are actually more healthy. Let me repeat that: The cathartic effect of exercising one's fantasies of violence, which will occur to pretty much anyone (and especially in such a militarized culture), is very well documented, and helps form healthy behavior patterns. Angry, lonely kids will exist in our culture (and I will get to why) no matter what. The question is, will they shoot up their school? Solve their problems with drugs, alcohol and street brawls? Or will they play Doom and get that rage out? I have seen my generation do all three. The latter are the best off.

Imagine if Bush, instead of resolving his daddy issues with Saddam by killing 100,000 people, had done a Counter-Strike match. Heck, he could even have played Counter-Terrorists.

2) What do these advocates say about the fact that our media regularly says that blacks are inferior, that they riot and "play the race card" and do all these things, but is silent about white behavior? What do they say about the fact that the media outlets take it for granted that jingoist subservience to state violence is considered the honorable norm, and that the media regularly imply that it is okay to bomb other countries for no especially good reason?

3) Video games are not homogenuous. Yes, GTA may stress carjacking and killing, but even it also tests a wide variety of skills (and may even make better drivers: after all, the linkage between video games and hand-eye coordination is very well-established.) Role playing games like Fallout, Arcanum, Final Fantasy and similar often contain adult material, but they also stress conversation, puzzle-solving, and a variety of outlooks to solve problems. Further, many of these games have interesting political, personal, or cultural philosophies and expose kids to advanced concepts. Many games make kids feel like heroes, something I think parents should be encouraging.

I wouldn't mind the crusader-like mentality of folks like Hillary Clinton if it wasn't transparently obvious sleight-of-hand trickery for what they are trying to do, in cahoots with the neo-cons, to this country. The moral sanctity of America is far less threatened by kids playing Halo 2 than by the fact that we are among the most militarized countries on the planet, regularly threatening the world with predominant military might, while millions starve in the most affluent of nations.
But to crusade against those things would harm Clinton's true constituencies, and that would be taboo. So good little liberals must focus on fantasy, as people before them apologized for power and wondered about the effect that mass printing or novels or radio or television would have on the moral fabric of society.

The fact that Hillary Clinton and her cohorts don't care about children is drastically shown by their general support for empire, of whom the victims are typically the young both in other countries and in our military. It is shown by their refusal to pay teachers anything remotely like their professional cohort would justify. It is shown by their inability to acknowledge that people like them have contributed to our society becoming fragmented, poor, socially immobile (and even The Economist notes that people will stay in their caste far more often than not in this country), alienated, isolated, and angry, with no hope for a better future. It is shown by the polls that ask both children and parents "Do you think the children of today will be better off than the previous generation" and getting substantial pluralities or majorities saying "No" (see the August 8, 2005 issue of Time among others).

In short, Hillary Clinton: You, and your husband, and his predecessors and successors in the White House, and the whole elite culture has created the hate, the alienation, the anger, the apolitical and apathetic attitudes. Until you take responsibility for that, I'll put you and your minions' models on enemy bots in my Quake 3 games.




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