Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Depths of depravity

According to this CBC report, a Vancouver company has produced a "How to be a bully" video game ... which the US parent company is marketing as 'brutally funny."

Ah yes, vice and violence. Those are the great Canadian values such corporate citizens promote. And of course, it's all in good fun, so why not make a buck at it.

After all, they and their customers truly, sincerely and vehemently believe that, as this article puts it, what is dumped into a kid's head hour after hour, day after day, year after year, could not possibly have behavioral consequences. No siree, the defenders of such depravity will tell you that game players are all very sophisticated and every single one of them knows it's "just a game."

So, there you have it. Harmless fun and a nice wholesome activity for the whole family.

OK then, what's next? A "How to be an international rapist and human trafficker" video game, maybe?

Oh right. We don't need a game for that. It's already a big money-maker.

(Cross posted at the Nash Holos blog.)

14 comments:

Put Kids First said...

I wonder if we could encourage retailers in our areas not to stock this game.I think it would be obscene to suggest that people are not affected by what they see and I don't think that seeing or playing this kind of game offers anything positive, nor anything even remotely funny!

Pawlina said...

I think that's a fabulous idea.

There are ethical business associations for things like coffee and investments, why not entertainment products?

It's time a message was sent to the clowns that produce and promote this garbage, and it looks like they will only get the message when it hits their bottom line.

Bryan said...

I know that this post is months old but I'm curious as to how my post that you link to is defending such deparavity and telling you "that game players are all very sophisticated and every single one of them knows it's 'just a game.'"

The post in question is about people being misinformed or lying about videogames. Moreover, while I am unconcerned about violence in the games, I am frequently vocal about the depictions of people within the games and I have never said that they are "just a game."

Pawlina said...

Wow, Bryan, you really don't get it, do you?

I just re-read the post I linked to and fail to understand your confusion.

Perhaps it is a result of being "unconcerned with violence" ... and more concerned with "depictions of people."

Well, I'm concerned with violence because, being small and female, I'm vulnerable.

But like you, I am also concerned with depictions of people.

I am concerned about the majority of females in games being depicted as prostitutes worthy of being killed. I am concerned that cops, the people in charge of protecting the vulnerable, are depicted as worthy of being killed.

I have to wonder if the reason for so much violence in video games is because game developers feel their customers won't relate to characters showing respect for authority and protecting, rather than preying on, the vulnerable.

The point of your post, Bryan, may well have been that not all video games overtly advocate rape and torture, etc.

The point of mine was that the video gaming industry is on a very slippery slope and your post, and your comment here, demonstrate that its afficionados are in deep denial.

ishmael said...

Right, play the slippery slope card. Because, God knows, it's "Grand Theft Auto" one day, and feeding Christians to lions the next.

So tell me, Pawlina, why do you promote human trafficking and sexual violence?

Pawlina said...

Right, Ishmael, just fall back on ad hominem attacks, and throw out a big fat red herring while you're at it.

You've come awfully close to flaming there, Ishmael, and I don't tolerate flaming or hostile comments on this blog. If they cross the line, they're gone.

I don't mind (and as often as not appreciate) comments with differing points of view *if* they're articulated intelligently and with at least a modicum of respect.

Yours was neither.

ishmael said...

Hostile? Moi? No, I'm just profoundly confused. Your blog is (generally) about sexual violence and human trafficking, no? Doesn't this mean that you endorse these things? Because that's exactly the logic you're applying to videogames...

Pawlina said...

Good grief, Ishamel, I have no idea how any sincere, rational-thinking, mature adult could possibly infer an endorsement of human trafficking and sexual violence from any of my posts on this blog.

My intention here is hardly to trivialize victims of human trafficking and any kind of violence, much less to glamourize their tormentors and profit from fun-seeking consumers who have become desensitized to human suffering. That should be obvious to anyone who takes these issues seriously.

If you want to promote and enjoy violence in video games, that's your prerogative. But you're not going to convince me that it's just "harmless fun" with no societal consequences.

ishmael said...

"Good grief, Ishamel, I have no idea how any sincere, rational-thinking, mature adult could possibly infer an endorsement of human trafficking and sexual violence from any of my posts on this blog."

Neither do I, in all honesty. And yet, when it comes to video games tackling controversial topics, the same kind of conjecture becomes the standard modus operandi. Very little fact, a lot of hype and disinformation, and a generous dose of moral panic.

Is it so hard to believe that, just as a game that features violent content does not automatically promote violence, a game which references schoolyard bullying does not have to endorse it? (In fact, protecting other characters from bullies is one of the objectives in the game under discussion.)

You are quick to make value judgments and throw around terms like "depravity" and "garbage," but have you actually played any of the games you are so eager to condemn?

Pawlina said...

No I haven't played any of those games, nor do I want to. I haven't been raped or trafficked either but that doesn't mean I am wrong to presume it would be a horrible experience.

I have no problem with games that are designed to help players develop social skills. I should hope that is obvious.

But is that the main purpose of Grand Theft Auto, for example? If so, then I stand to be corrected. I have to ask, tho, if it were then why isn't anyone (besides you) touting its great social benefits?

Somehow, I rather doubt that facilitating the development of responsible social skills is a priority for either game developers or players.

If you can present proven educational and social benefits to games like Grand Theft Auto and the bullying video that prompted this post, then I'd certainly reconsider my position.

But to the contrary, studies have come to out to prove just the opposite.

So again, you have failed to win me over to your point of view.

Your position is based on justifying a self-indulgent, "fun" activity that has not been proven to be harmless, much less beneficial to society.

Mine is based on justifying self-restraint to prevent the possibility of cultivating indifference to human suffering and contempt towards authority.

This is a difference of opinion that is as old as time. It is found in the Book of Genesis in the Bible (the story of Cain and Abel ... "Am I my brother's keeper?") and it still is far from being reconciled.

I appreciate your passion and your ability to be civil when called to. But we may have to just "agree to disagree" on this issue.

ismael said...

Well, then, allow me to retort. Since there a plenty of statements in your post that I have to take issue with, this will be fairly long (but hopefully not rambling).

“No I haven't played any of those games, nor do I want to.”

Truth be told, I’ve been anticipating exactly this kind of response. I must say I find it very disturbing how facile it is for many people to denounce or outright vilify cultural products without making the slightest effort to familiarize themselves with their content. Would you dismiss a movie in the same way, without having seen it? A book, without having read it? Based on what? A sensationalist news report written by someone who hasn’t read it either? In a democratic society, even defendants guilty beyond any suspicion are still allowed a fair hearing…

Think how shocked and irritated you were when I willfully misconstrued the contents of your blog in my post (a rhetorical stunt for which I apologize, but I felt it was necessary to get my point across). Video games, like cinema, literature, and theater, are not “just entertainment”—they are also a means of expression. We may not always agree with what they say, or how they say it, but at least we should form our opinions about them based on actual content, not on groundless, overblown accusations.

“I haven't been raped or trafficked either but that doesn't mean I am wrong to presume it would be a horrible experience.”

Indeed, you’re not. You are wrong, however, to conflate actual acts of violence and fictional, mediated representations of such acts. Real violence and fictional depictions thereof are not the same, nor do they have the same meaning. Which is why getting hit in the face is not at all funny, but the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons are.

“Somehow, I rather doubt that facilitating the development of responsible social skills is a priority for either game developers or players.”

Should it be? I don’t know how familiar you are with art history, but works whose primary function is to educate hardly ever have much artistic merit. Didactic literature of yore is a good example here. Now, don’t get me wrong—most works of art have something to teach us. By and large, however, it is not their express purpose. Good art does not tell us what to do or not to do; it stimulates our thinking, raises questions, promotes debate. I think our exchange here testifies to the fact that video games are more than capable of accomplishing these goals.

“I have no problem with games that are designed to help players develop social skills. I should hope that is obvious. But is that the main purpose of Grand Theft Auto, for example? If so, then I stand to be corrected. I have to ask, tho, if it were then why isn't anyone (besides you) touting its great social benefits? . . .If you can present proven educational and social benefits to games like Grand Theft Auto and the bullying video that prompted this post, then I'd certainly reconsider my position.”

It would be useful if we could move this conversation beyond the reductive binary logic of “good vs. evil.” The world is not black and white and the simple either/or distinctions rarely stand up to scrutiny. We cannot divide media texts into “good” and “bad” ones. Think about the Bible. It inspired some of the worst atrocities known to humanity. It has routinely been used to justify slavery, racial/ethnic hatred, gender and sex discrimination. At the same time, billions of people have been finding consolation in its messages of love, hope, and forgiveness. So, it is good? Bad? Neither? Both? Something in between?

My point was that video games (even of the violent kind) are not the folk devil the alarmist rhetoric of media watchdogs and other self-proclaimed guardians of morality paints them to be. Just because a media text depicts violence, it not necessarily “harmful,” “evil,” or “depraved.” On the other hand, I did not claim that they are the best thing since sliced bread (something your sarcastic comment about “touting their great social benefits” seems to imply). They do have their fair share of problems--and I’ll be the first one to admit this--but hasty generalizations based on half-truths are hardly the way to respond to these.

Having said that, I do believe that even violent entertainment does have its social benefits, and if you’re genuinely interested in exploring this point of view, I can certainly point you to some sources. Lynn Ponton and Gerard Jones’ Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, would be a good place to start. For proof of the social functions of the Grand Theft Auto games see the essays in The Meaning And Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays, as well as Shira Chess’ “Playing the Bad Guy: Grand Theft Auto in the Panopticon” in Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer. (Both collections edited by Nate Garrelts.) As for Bully, the game is still too recent to have produced any scholarship, but I do remember reading an article discussing its benefits as a therapeutic tool for bullying victims. The citation info escapes me, though.

As you can see, there are people out there willing to “tout the benefits” of such games. The problem is, few people are willing to listen, since a) when it comes to violence in the media, everybody and their mother is an expert, and b) such works are careful not to jump to unjustified conclusions, don’t offer easy answers and single-step solutions, and are generally low on one-sentence soundbites—which, regrettably makes them less likely to be featured on the 9 o’clock news than the latest high-profile lawsuit against game development company or yet another “definitive” study. Which brings me to my next point…

“But to the contrary, studies have come to out to prove just the opposite.”

Have you actually read any of these studies? Personally, I’m familiar with approximately two dozen of them, and I assure you—they don’t really prove anything except for the fact that our understanding of human psyche and the ways in which it processes media messages is still extremely limited. Naturally, they all claim they prove something. After all, “Study Links Video Games to Violent Behavior” sounds much sexier that “Study Finds Some Games, Under Some Conditions, Can Stimulate in Some Players Certain Activity in Certain Part of the Brain. Possibly.” The former just makes for better publicity, and substantially decreases the likelihood of having to explain why so much time, effort, and grant money was put into largely inconclusive research.

I could go into much detail about all the problems with such studies, but David Gauntlett has already done it much better than I would (http://www.theory.org.uk/david/effects.htm). Oh, and this is not to mention the fact that for every study that links media violence to violent behavior, there is another one that denies such a link. Psychology is not an exact science.

“So again, you have failed to win me over to your point of view.”

Truthfully, I have little hope of accomplishing that. I would be perfectly satisfied I could persuade you not to base your opinions on unsubstantiated media hype, and to substitute a little research for some of the generalization, hyperbole, hasty moral judgment you seem to have a penchant for…

“Your position is based on justifying a self-indulgent, "fun" activity that has not been proven to be harmless, much less beneficial to society. Mine is based on justifying self-restraint to prevent the possibility of cultivating indifference to human suffering and contempt towards authority.”

First, let me make it very clear that I wholeheartedly embrace the expressed purpose of your blog (even if I don’t necessarily agree with some of the particulars). Your decision to speak out against human trafficking and sexual exploitation is laudable, no doubt about that. Nonetheless, please do not assume that this in itself allows you enough moral high ground to dismiss points of view you do not share as “depraved,” “self-indulgent,” or “in denial.”

The way I see it, my position here is based primarily on my belief that sheltering children at all cost form the so-called “bad influence” of the media, while well-meaning, is also tragically misguided and, in the long run, leads to more (and bigger) problems than it allegedly solves. It also derives from a strong commitment to the freedom of expression, as well as to fostering debate rather than shutting it down. It is only through refusal to speak about human suffering that we can truly cultivate indifference towards it, and even the games you so vehemently object to can serve as great entry points for much enlightening discussion.

Last but not least, do not discount the notion of “fun.” It is far from being “self-indulgent”; on the contrary, it has significant psychological, social, and cultural functions. (See, for instance Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, Roger Caillois’ Man, Play, and Games, or Brian Sutton-Smith’s The Ambiguity of Play.)

I believe the ball is in your court.

Pawlina said...

Ishmael, thank you for all this information and your detailed response. I can't promise I will look into all the resources you list (I'm just not interested enough to invest the time). However, you have given me food for thought and I always appreciate that.

Yes, I do dismiss books and movies without seeing them, based on reviews, publicity materials, testimonials, dust jackets, whatever. And yes, I have seen some and changed my mind about some of them after being convinced to read or see them. Therein lies the benefit in dialogue and public discourse.

It's why I do this blog.

I am starting to suspect, after this lengthy exchange, that if you and I sat down face to face we would probably find that we are in agreement on more things than not.

Altho nonetheless still probably not on what level of violence in video games is a good and healthy thing.

Yes, I do see more black vs white, good vs evil here than you do, and probably always will. We're not talking about computers or robots with programmable and predictable responses, but about human beings with volatile, unpredictable and often irrational emotional responses and an infinite variety of personal baggage and habitual responses.

Our difference of opinion on this issue may be due to simply a fundamental philosophical difference, perhaps due to generational or gender differences, perhaps other considerations as well.

At any rate, this discussion can go on forever and never be resolved. IMO, it all boils down to a matter of opinion.

And mine still is that we will just have to agree to disagree. Respectfully, I hope. ;-)

Ishmael said...

"I am starting to suspect, after this lengthy exchange, that if you and I sat down face to face we would probably find that we are in agreement on more things than not."

Careful, I may want to put this suspicion to the test the next time I'm in Vancouver.

In the meantime I sincerely hope that you will continue to think about the issues raised in our little debate, and will find at least some of my points worthy of consideration.

Best of luck to you. Бувай!

Pawlina said...

Well, you have a distinct advantage. You know who I am, but I don't know who you are...

Anyway, it was an interesting exchange ... altho accusing me of hasty moral judgement was a bit mean-spirited, I thought. But OTOH on a blog like this and with a post like that, I guess I asked for it. (If ya dish it out, ya gotta take it, eh?)

And yes, you've given me food for thought but I still think excess and gratuitous violence in video games, movies, and other "cultural products" creates a dangerous slippery slope for society. Maybe if we ever do have that face to face discussion, we can go into your Wile E. Coyote and biblical comparisons... but I think we've raised the level of debate here nonetheless, and I thank you for that.

One of the wonderful things about the blogosphere is the opportunity to connect with minds and exchange ideas in a way that isn't possible either in person (anonymously) or in the traditional media (grassroots-ly).

Thanks again for taking the time to articulate and share your passion and your thoughts.