Vexing Video Game Violence is Fool’s Gold

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I sure hope the anti-corporate forces of Barack Obama’s campaign get nowhere near the White House. Why? Because of garbage like this:
1. No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
2. All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism and masochism shall not be permitted.
3. All lurid, unsavory and gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
These dicta, issued by the 1954 “Comics Code Authority,” an agency that provided “guidelines” (read: censorship) for comic book companies hoping to assuage antsy parents and sensationalist politicians, are on the way for video games, if the media’s drive-by gonzo bilge continues.
In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal leveled a trite, thinly veiled, anti-corporate criticism at the military for using video games as a propaganda tool. Similarly, media pundits, politicians and lawyers have hounded Rockstar games for years due to its “Grand Theft Auto” series.
While tip-toeing around the issue, The Wall Street Journal intimated that the military’s new battle-simulator, advertised to college-aged folks, is somehow inuring players to real life violence. Similarly, Jack Thompson has risked his career to attack the “Grand Theft Auto” series by attempting to censor the games and even silencing bloggers who are critical of his efforts with questionable legal maneuvers. Luckily, he is facing disbarment for his eccentric legal practices.
My contention is that all this hyperbole about video games is nothing more than a retread of every other sensationalist attack on pop culture in recent history, from comic books to the Beatles to Harry Potter. People, particularly liberals (in this category, I include any Christian conservatives who seek to use the government for their brand of censorship), seek a scapegoat. More often than not, corporations serve as the easy target: politicians can deflect criticism, leftists find expression for their business phobia, ambulance chasers capitalize and irresponsible parents get off the hook.
The entertainment industry’s favorite trope is anti-corporatism—even video games themselves go this route! One example of this is Resident Evil. The same tired theme ran through the summer movies “Wall-E” and “Iron Man,” and probably more films that I didn’t waste my time and money watching. Who’s to say these Hollywood clichés are not the real propaganda, inculcating kids with the notion that capitalism and corporations corrupt the world? Who’s to say we shouldn’t censor that garbage to keep our kids safe?
Me! That would be just as ridiculous as saying that video games are a vehicle for training a military society. Shooters are just as trite in the world of video games as anti-corporatism is in the world of politics and media. In this case, both happen to be at odds with one another, but neither is particularly threatening. However, there are simple solutions for the problem every business has, including the military and The Wall Street Journal: drawing a crowd. Shooters lure the average college kid with their easy thrills – explosions and fast action – and anti-corporatism puts newspapers in hands with faux empathy.
I sympathize with people who promote family values, but censorship and sensationalism just won’t cut it. It’s good for parents to step in and highlight boundaries of right and wrong that instill values. I also respect politicians who promote religious or other moral values as an individual priority, not as a government mandate. Nevertheless, it is fundamentally a parent’s job to ensure the development of their child, and the individual’s right to decide what he or she consumes, whether it’s reading The Wall Street Journal or playing the military’s shooter.
The use of video games as advertisement is no more dangerous than Michael Moore’s supposed “documentaries,” which bolster anti-capitalist, pro-leftist causes. If you’re incapable of distinguishing between virtual and physical violence, between documentary and propaganda, then perhaps, to employ some of the same hyperbole, you’re better off in a mental institution. Government is as complex a solution to difficult social issues as violent video games and anti-corporatism are creative.

Patrick Ross is a fifth-year English major. He can be reached at pross@uci.edu.

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