"Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try."
-- Homer Simpson

Represent the seven games in a government for hire

Apparently, 60 Minutes did a piece on videogame violence last night. This is one of those issues that gets lots of attention every year or two, usually triggered by some event, like the Columbine massacre. This time it’s the murder of three police officers in Fayette, and the resulting lawsuit against the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series of games.

I wouldn’t exactly call the report “balanced”; it presents a very anti-videogame position. I didn’t actually watch the televised report, but nowhere in the web article do they even mention the ESRB. This is a rating system for videogames, much like the MPAA ratings for movies. The Grand Theft Auto series have all been rated M (for Mature), and are not supposed to be sold to anyone under 17 — while the perpetrator of the murders in question is now 18, there is specific mention of his having played at least two versions of GTA, which means he was playing them when he was 16 (and probably before that).

Let’s draw an analogy — if some kid constantly watches hardcore porn starting when he’s 14 or 15, and then rapes someone at 18, would we be all that surprised? There’s a reason why we regulate what is available to minors — as the 60 Minutes article states, their brains are not yet fully developed, and they’re not always completely capable of differentiating fantasy from reality.

CBS News interviewed Tim Buckley of Ctrl+Alt+Del fame, and he seems to be placing the responsibility firmly on parents, and I mostly agree with him. I think video game retailers need to be a little more stringent about to whom they’re selling M- and A-rated games. However, the ultimate responsibility does lie with the parents — I’ve been at an EB where a husband and wife were debating buying GTA: Vice City for their obviously-underage kid. The wife clearly didn’t know anything about the game, and the husband clearly did. The clerk was advising the pair on the extreme violence, but in the end, they still bought it — I suspect Dad wanted to play it himself (based on the gleam in his eye).

I assume this lawsuit will go nowhere, as most First Amendment questions typically do in the US. The wording of several proposed laws are truly frightening, and would severely limit the content of future games. This could also be used as precedent for expanding this kind of censorship into other media.

As an (arguably) well-balanced adult who enjoys the escapism of video games (violent or otherwise), I very much hope that cooler heads prevail.

4 Responses to “Represent the seven games in a government for hire”

  1. I did see the report and thought that it was balanced.

    Even though they end with the brother of one of the victims blubbering about how he is perplexed that people would want to make and play such games, I think the audience is suitably informed by that point.

    The funny thing is I saw the second half of the report at 7pm and the first half of the report at 10pm. I almost had to laugh because it turned out that the perp committed a crime that is quite similar to a specific level in GTA (not sure which version) where one must infiltrate and then escape a police station.

    Normally I’m with Kav on this issue and roll my eyes whenever TV, vids, movies, or music are blamed for violence (normally involving guns, normally in the US…hmmmmm). However they did show some clips of GTA that, though I was aware of the excessive violence, showed me aspects I wasn’t aware of before, and stuff that I surely did not experience while playing Vice City. I knew you could kill cops in San Andreas (maybe earlier titles also), but I didn’t know you could do it with a chainsaw. I knew you could beat up civilians, but I didn’t know you could stomp up and down on bikini-clad women as blood pours everywhere.

    Obviously games make an extremely poor defendant in cases like this. One interviewee made the valid point that it sets a precedent where it becomes difficult to draw the line of personal responsibility.

    Are there a disproportionate number of violent criminals within the video game playing community? I seriously doubt it. If there is, they were probably goons first and game players second. Being able to distinguish right from wrong is a responsibility no matter what kind of entertainment, interactive or otherwise, one is exposed to, and obviously parents play a strong role in that.

    The other laughbale issue here is that the plaintiffs are not even making the strongest argument they could. They are going on the weak-assed premise that the game ‘trained’ the perp to commit the crime, as though a police station is poorly guarded and Rockstar games let the cat out of the bag. I would be more likely to listen to them for more than 5 seconds if they made an argument to the effect of a disturbing cultural shift towards an overall desensitization towards and glamourization of certain behaviour, but then half the country would have to be co-defendants.

    Guns, people. Helloooooooo!!????!! Ever wonder why Canadian vidiots never seem to get into much trouble? If goddamn video games (and every other form of non-G-rated media) are allegedly enough to set these people off then why are guns as easy to purchase as an Xbox? Guns don’t kill people, people who play vids kill people. Riiiight. One may learn squad tactics playing America’s Army, but no game can ‘train’ you to fire a real weapon properly, as some of this morons would have you believe. And even if they did, how is that different from the free training they can receive from the local gun club?

    Although I strongly disapprove of the superfluous brutality of the GTA series, I believe video games, like porn, have been shown to be a release, a harmless form of escapism, as opposed to a catalyst.

  2. On the one hand, I think the suit is ridiculous, and if successful sets a very scary precedent for the censorship of other media. On the other hand, the media does have an extremely powerful impact on people.

    Case in point; a friend of my aunt took her 11 year old son to see The Fast and the Furious. On the way home, he kept pressuring her to drive faster, and to emulate the stunts they had seen in the movie. Because the movie did no show any negative consequences of the reckless driving (in this woman’s opinion, that is – I haven’t actually seen the flick), this kid dismissed any safety concerns his mother tried to express about reckless driving. Oh, and the undercover cop in the movie taught this kid that all cops are dishonest liars. This movie certainly did have an impact on this kid, just as TV channels showing nothing but skinny women is going to have an impact on young girls’ self esteem and dietary habits. Just as stories used to teach us how to behave, all kinds of media train us today.

    But the part I don’t understand is why the woman took her kid to see the movie in the first place. She must have known how impressionalbe her child was, and should have researched the movie better. Let’s face it; fewer of these “undesirable” movies will make money if we don’t pay to take our 11 year old children to go see them!

    Another thing that disturbs me is what was reported in the article summarising the 60 minutes broadcast; “According to Moore’s own statement, he lunged at Officer Arnold Strickland, grabbing his .40-caliber Glock automatic and shot Strickland twice, once in the head. Officer James Crump heard the shots and came running. Moore met him in the hallway, and fired three shots into Crump, one of them in the head.” Grabbing an officer’s gun and accurately shooting the target you are aiming for is much, much harder than it sounds. This kid is either a really lucky shot, or had some practice from somewhere that wasn’t a video game. He may have had a “cranial menu” of what to look for and what to do to get out, but the video didn’t teach him how to aim.

    And who exactly was it that let this kid play the game day and night anyway?

  3. It’s not OK for an undercover cop to lie to the suspects?

  4. Oh, of course it’s OK. In fact, it’s what keeps UC officers alive. But according to this kid, it’s “dishonest”. Which apparently in his mind is worse than attempted vehicular homicide…

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