Monday, 30 April 2012

Moral Combat

As part of our Game Art Essentials module, we are not only looking at the production of game environments but also at the issues surrounding the industry. Considering the issue of video game violence we were shown a feature documentary titled 'Moral Combat.'

Video games appeal so strongly to us as they tell stories. It is these stories which have the ability to influence and shape our culture. The point was raised that trough gaming a person gan lead twenty different lives through virtual characters. This level of emersion concerns many people.

The main issue surrounding video game violence seems to be that the virtual worlds developers create are growing increasingly more realistic. Because these virtual environments so strongly reflect reality, some believe that as the general games market is often perceived to be children, the games created should reflect how we want children to perceive reality. Traditionally, arcade games such as astroids and pong were considered popular. When the arcade fighting simulator 'Mortal Combat' came along, what really grabbed people's attention was the violent 'fatalities,' where the winning player performs a graphic finisher on his enemy. The realism of the arcade during time combined with its violent subject matter raised much controversy. Because of this, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) was brought in to enforce an age rating system on video games like in film.

One of the controversies discussed in the documentary was the Columbine incident where two outcast students massacred schoolmates with firearms after playing the game 'Doom' (1993). The premise of Doom is that the player is being attacked by non-human enemies and must simply kill or be killed. It was believed that the video almost acted like a military simulator fuelling the Columbine incident, training the players to operate firearms and preparing them to kill. The comparison was later made that airline pilots train on computer simulators which qualify them to operate an aircraft in reality. If this is achievable through virtual simulation, could a video game be intricate and lifelike enough to actually train a person to use real life weapons? Even more worryingly at the time, the game was followed up by 'Quake,' where the player shot human avatars with real players operating them. This took out the non human barrier making the game even more lifelike.

As a counter argument however, lots of insight was given in to the importance of games and how they can potential have many positive effects on society. It was argued that very little evidence has actually been produced showing connections between violence and video games with children. There are certain results showing that children are more immersed and adrenaline fuelled whilst gaming, but does this really prove or disprove that gaming was solely responsible for incidents such as Columbine. One person argued that for such an act to be committed, the two boys' mental state must have been unhealthy to begin with, and even if they had never played doom it was only a matter of time before the two killers acted on their sinister thoughts.

It was argued that gaming could be utilised as an important tool to educate children. Games with themes of war expose and prepare children to the harsh realities of human nature embedded in our history. With these realities of violence in mind, children can meditate on them and establish a separation between virtual game reality and actual reality. Certain games take this idea that games can educate the player and face the issues of morality and choice making in their games. 'Abe's Odyssey' from the 'Oddworld' franchise follows the journey of a Mudokon, who learns that because he is of a certain race he faces a threat from the processing plant he works at who have decided to put his species on the menu. At first he runs from the immediate danger in order to protect himself, but after realising he has a calling he makes the decision to go back and confront the prospect of death in order to save his people. This idea of moral decision making is present even more prominently in the game 'Fable' where the player has the choice to follow the path of a hero or of a villain. By exposing children to these kind of concepts perhaps they can reflect on the consequences of their actions.

Another point was raised was that some of the games considered to be the result of mindless violence are actually in their own ways revolutionary. The 'Grand Theft Auto' series took a whole new angle on gaming, allowing the player to take on their own identity and follow the story in their own way. In theory, a player could choose to kill nobody, follow the speed limit and stop at traffic lights. The fact the game glamorises gang culture often distracts people from the actual impact the game had on the industry, inventing a new open world genre. It is unfortunate that such a groundbreaking game is convoluted with negative contentions and subject matter.

In the end, the conclusion was made that we are generally fascinated by violence. It exists in many forms of media even dating back to the macabre sinister themes of children's literature. Gaming should be considered as wide a genre as film, and we should not assume every game is to be consumed by the younger generation. Some games, in particular 'Manhunt,' where given negative reviews and labeled as mindless 'snuff' games. Although companies such as Rockstar exploit this fascination with violence and crime simply to take lots of money from the consumer, games (like film and music) should be considered in my opinion an expressive art form. What is important is to be aware of the context in which the violence takes place and the reasoning for it. Many films are hard hitting and violent in order to convey cultural messages. Games should have this freedom of expression with age restrictions considered.

In conclusion, the documentary raised many interesting arguments which balanced and unbiased. We were offered a look at both sides of the argument and I can completely sympathise with the people who feel they are protecting our culture by speaking out against video game violence. Perhaps the politicians who see game violence as mindless exploitation  would benefit from gaining an understanding of games as a creative platform for the expression of ideas on concepts.

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