This conversation went via email, and was spurred b/c of an article on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that Aaron sent to me.( http://tinyurl.com/6gweh ) His words are in bold.
I read the essay. It makes a good point. I wonder, however: by putting YOU, the game player, in the role rather than an observer, as traditional satire does, does it also subtly subliminally legitimize and prepare YOU for violent behavior if, in YOUR opinion, it is a strike against injustice? As we used to say in the anti-warrin' Viet Nam days: Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity. Satire is supposed to expose the hypocricy of the ruling class not legitimate similar behavior by the underclass. It's supposed to make us understand why the oppressed act out violently not condone the violence.
Those are good questions-and I don't have answers.
I would ask this: when you played Cowboys and Indians as a boy, did it prepare you in a subconscious way to oppress? Does Monopoly prepeare us for a life of debt?
I don't expect answers, especially since this is a new form of media, in many ways that we're talking about, and the lessons of Taxi Driver, or Rage(the S. King short story about a boy who takes a gun to school and starts killing people) or games in general, may not directly apply.
There are a lot of things happening in GTA games, and one can just get in a car and drive, listening to the radio, looking at streetsigns and the like. There's a whole world that's being commented on, via the creation of a fictional one. But as with so many forms of art, the lessons are there for those open to them. For everyone else, it's just a fun game.
I've only just started GTA: San Andreas, and I enjoy it quite a bit. I've played GTA3, and I picked up on the scathing nature of the commercials and how they commented on America at large.
I also saw the company Fudge: Packers for you, and thought that was funny.
There are two things that come to mind. 1) Yes, cowboys and Indians did prepare me to be an oppressor and a violent one at that. Fortunately my Catholic education prepared me to love as Christ loved. When It became clear to me that there was a conflict of interest I chose the latter. Obviously, not everyone did/does. 2) The technology of video that mechanically sends signals into the brain at the very frequency that promotes beta-type brain activity (which is the activity associated with hypnotism and subliminal suggestion that prepares people to act upon "hypnotic suggestion") was not part of my childhood play. Also, my play was not simultaneously re-inforced with "propaganda" that justified my play-thinking. Remember that play is the work of childhood: it prepares you for your attitudes and behaviors in adulthood.
I don't think there are easy answers. I think it's important to raise the questions. It's not morally responsible to use the technology without asking the questions. So, I think that it's probably ok for a well-educated and sophisticated thinker such as yourself to play those games (although you too have a responsiblity to watch where it takes you) but I wonder about those who are not skilled at distinguishing between the play ideas and the real life ideas that they live by. After all, the Republicans count on the fact that many many people can't make the distinction between their "gut" feelings and the propaganda they are fed.
Well...I guess there isn't much room for: hey, it's just a game here. Granted I don't want to ignore the dangers of any particular technology, story, or game. (If people had been reading what the neocons were asking for in 1992, none of us would've been surprised by Bush's presidency). At the same time, I feel that it's important that we're allowed to just have a good time, you know? I don't want every activity in my life to be a crushing moral decision, which has weight that could affect me for months or years.
But as I said-I don't want to ignore the dangers either. You're right to ask the questions, but you've told me of said 'hypno-state' before, and I've asked: does this apply to games? Since one isn't passive during these situations, and must make decisions, solve puzzles, etc, etc, I really have to ask how much this affects a person playing a game? I know you don't have an answer to that, but I feel it's something we should take into consideration, since it may be and apples and oranges situation.
Nonetheless, I would agree that games like Grand Theft Auto are not meant for children-and I wouldn't set anyone under, say, 14 in front of that game. The makers of this game have explicitly said in interviews: this isn't for kids. It's for us. The attitude makes me think a little of the old Warner Bros cartoons; they made those things to be funny to them, but those cartoons also had a social commentary going on-and a subversiveness to them that may have made some people very nervous(I'm thinking of all the times Bugs was in drag, here not to mention the 'buried' cartoons, which were racist as all get out). Granted, children did see those cartoons, but were they meant to?
I guess if we want to call making games-any game-an art form, then it's dangerous for us to say-you can't make this or that, for what I would assume are obvious reasons to you.
And, in an educated society, or one that gave a proper damn about the citizens, that body of people would be provided with tools to help them understand the potential layers of meaning to games. In Deus Ex, the player is asked to make one of 3 choices at the end, that could result in anarchy, totalitarism, or the status quo. The game is also filled with conversations you can choose to have, that center around what the role of government should be.
It also is a first person shooter that allows you to do some very violent things, or avoid them, as you choose. But the game itself is incredible, and I was confronted with some diverse ideas on the subject of government.
Now not all games are going to be as complex as GTA or Deus Ex. But what do we say about them? That they aren't worth playing? Or making?
Liberals also count on that same gut reaction to confuse people, the difference being that you and I are more sympathetic to their goals.
I think though, what we're really wanting to do is this 1) Have the discussion. I'm actually thinking about putting this, properly edited, up in a blog, so other people can talk about it too.
But also 2) raise these questions to point out: hey, we've got a situation where there are a potentially large group of people who can't figure out that this is a game/work of art/fictional event, and aren't supposed to enact the fictions they see or play. Maybe something is really fucked up about that. The art isn't as wrong as the scenario that leads to us not knowing what the art is about on any level.
Two things: make that three - no - four: 1) Yes I don't know about the impact of havng to react in a beta-wave situation. Does anyone? Doesn't it need to be figured out? 2) Every activity has a moral component - whether it's a crushing decision or not I don't know. I don't believe that gambling at the level of Las Vegas is a good thing but gambling in and of itself is not immoral. The scale lends Vegas to an immoral - not activity - but level of activity. And yes, the level of one's activity can make the difference in it's morality, i.e. drinking. 3) It's not just social commentary. It's commentary that's meant to justify the immoral (even if only virtually) actions of the player. 4) In any case, I would not say that these games should not be made. I do say that serious thought must be given to them precisely because we don't know what impact they have on the psyches of people. To say otherwise is to join the ranks of those who said/say that because we have the capability to make nuclear weapons and only the best of intentions it should be ok. Wish they'd had a conversation like this before nukes were built, also before they started using pesticides, anti-biotics, and other technological wonders that we are now discovering to have had hidden dangers. We simply do not know what effect this kind of game-playing will have on kids especially, and on the unthinking adult. Add to the technological aspects of computer games the supposedly satirical/benign framework which may not be benign then the questions should mount. 5) In an educated society it is not up to them - mostly because we know THEY won't do it - it is up to us to develop the tools and the thinking to help people with discernment. However, if the technology affects the discernment, then what? 6) I don't accuse the Republicans of confusing people but of using marketing techniques to get people to do things that are not in their interest. The fact that Liberals do it too, does not make it ok and I am in no more sympathy with that kind of manipulation by liberals than I am by conservatives or anyone else. I loathe it. That is partly why I raise the questions with you: people who likes these games and the premises of the games should be the ones asking the hard questions. Otherwise, it seems like only old fuddy duddies like me, troglodytes, reactionaries who don't like any kind of progress or creativity, especially if it makes them nervous, are just trying to ruin everyone's good time.
Gosh. This is a lot of heavy thinking. It's kind of fun.
Some part of me agrees with you. I have a discomfort level with games based on WW2 events. I apprecate the effort that goes into making such a game, but I just can't get behind fighting actual battles in a first person shooter format. And I would say it matters quite a bit if games put people in a hypnotic state-or affect them on that kind of level. If for no other reason than knowing this makes these conversations far more meaningful-and allows me to make some choices about what I should play, or at least be aware of how they affect me. I know what happens when I drink 10 beers. So I don't drink 10 beers. If playing GTA for 12 hours straight bends my moral compass, then I'd like to know that, so I quit at 11:59.(heh)
In addition to that, I would say that it's the height of arrogance for videogame players to say that these games have no impact on them. I've heard tales, and while it so far has shown to be true that those games do not cause violence, I fear the day when someone does 'prove' such a thing. Mostly because it will lead to us trying to 1) Blame the artists 2) Censor the art, instead of addressing the issues that would cause a young (odds are) man to do something violent, such as unrecognized mental illness, persecution, or some other event. In the end, it would come to not having people take responsibility for their actions. And I think that a lot of the defenders of videogames are afraid (rightly so, considering the political winds right now) that something they love will be altered forever, like comic books were, because someone is afraid of, or wants to scapegoat videogames for some reason.
Most videogames allow for people to do things they'd never get a chance to do otherwise, from football to life as a dog or a soldier or gangster or epic hero etc. I think that the primary responsibility of those gamemakers is to make a good game, but I also think that not all games are for everyone. And that should be explicitly stated and discussed, so we're able to have games for all ages and kinds, just like we have movies for all ages and kinds. There should be games for children, the elderly, the confused. and the average. As long as that's kept in mind, and people make decisions knowing that there is a bigger picture to deal with occasionally, I figure we'll be ok.
One thing about the games that do push this envelope is that it's been opening up other games; games where you play the role of hero, but you have choices about how you can accomplish a task. They usually aren't presented as moral choices, (and I use that term undrestanding that we're still in the vitual world) but they do challenge the player in new ways, asking for different kinds of thought. That's been a powerful thing.
So...what does everyone think?