Bring On the Douchebags!!!
Remember Mortal Kombat?
Way back when Mortal Kombat first hit arcades, it sparked almost instant controversy. If you’re anywhere near as old as I am, you (like me) surely delighted in liquidating your weekly allowance in quarters, heading straight for your local mall and spending hours laying the uber-brutal smackdown on the likes of Sub-Zero, Liu Kang and Kano.
The game was incredibly violent for its time, and inspired its fair share of protest from pro-censorsip groups. But today, even those were the good ol’ days.
Yes, kids, today video games are more violent than ever. The first time I played Def Jam Vendetta: Fight for New York, I thought it was off the hook, violence-wise. Then I watched some of my friends playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Now, some people may think that there’s nothing wrong with walking into a Pizza restaurant and killing its occupants execution-style… but then again, some people also think the Earth is flat.
The point is, that video games these days have reached new heights of violence and controversy. From smashing people’s heads in car doors, (in Def Jam Vendetta), to ripping people’s innards out (in God of War), to taking part in riots (State of Emergency), modern video games have eclipsed their predecessors in terms of violence.
Despite the fact that strong evidence suggests that violent crimes amongst youths (those who pro-censorship advocates claim are influenced to violence by video games) have decreased year-by-year since as video games become more and more violent, many continue to decry the escalating violence.
And to tell you the truth, I can’t entirely blame them. I’ve never been pro-censorship, some of the violence contained in video games (which have consistently expanded their appeal across age groups ever since their inception) borders on extremely disturbing. I can honestly say that if I had children I would not allow them to play most of these video games being released today.
Of course, that aside, none of the tragedies that are allegedly caused by videogame violence (the idea of which, of course, defies that little thing we all have called “free will”) doesn’t stop people from trying to profit from it.
Take, for example, anti-violent-video-game activist (alleged) Jack Thompson. In a February, 2005 interview with CBS news, Thompson referred to ESA president Doug Lowenstein as the “Goebbels of the video game industry”. Thompson also maintains www.Stopkill.com, a site whose self-described purpose is to “is to give you the means to contact Miami attorney Jack Thompson if you know of someone harmed as a result of violent entertainment, including violent video games.”
The site also urges people to encourage their kids to “shoot hoops, not humans” (good advice, actually).
Thompson, himself, however, has been involved with lawsuits against Wal-Mart, Sony and Rockstar Games. The lawsuits concern the popular aforementioned Grand Theft Auto series, as well as Manhunter (which is fairly demented in its own right). Fortunately, he has yet to win a single one. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s been trying like the dickens. As a point of reference, he was also involved in the lawsuit regarding Body Count’s classic song “Cop Killer”.
To Thompson (among others), the “M” video game label that the video game industry consented to being placed on violent video games – which is meant to restrict the sales of these games to adults -- doesn’t mean much.
The current hot-topic controversy is over a hidden sex mini-game in the aforementioned GTA : San Andreas. Here’s how it works: when equipped with a “hot cup of coffee” code modification, the game allows the player to cruise looking for women who will share a “hot cup of coffee” with them. Guess what that’s a euphamism for? Mmmm-hm.
U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham-Clinton (whose husband, bill, you may recall, helped cast the finger of blame at Eminem and Marilyn Manson in the post-Columbine scrum) and Joe Lieberman have raised a ruckus over the feature, referring to it as “pornographic”. Rockstar games has asserted that the controversial mini-game is actually the work of “modders” – hard-core gamers/programmers who have learned how to produce modifications for games.
On that note, cue your next video-game controversy profiteer: a New York woman who claims she bought the game for her 14-year-old son without being aware of the controversy – or, apparently, the game’s rating. The rating on the game has since been changed to “AO” (Adults Only), but that changes little.
Follow me if you will: son – 14 years old. Game rated – Mature (for players 17 and older). Of course, in a lawsuit-happy land where you can sue CBS and Janet Jackson for an “accidental” breast exposure, this is business-as-usual.
Scott Ramsoomair (creator of the delightful www.VGCats.com) somewhat agrees with the concerns regarding video game sex and violence: “I’d say roughly 80% of video games contain violence, but only a very small amount of that is intense violence. Your Grand Theft Autos and Mortal Kombats,” he says. However, he strongly disagrees with assertations that video game violence inspires real-life violence: “Psychos will always be psychos; they don’t need video games to help them. Though this one time my brother punched me in the arm when I beat him in Mario Kart. Does that count?”
He also notes that often the outrage is over inflated: “Take BMXXX, a horrible game, but not for its content. It was just a very bad game. But people hear nudity and everyone is up in arms.”
While creating legislation that penalizes retailers for selling video games in defiance of their rating may not be a bad idea, one needs to be very careful when considering this. It’s actually just one step away from censorship.
Because while I can personally agree that games like GTA: San Andreas should not be in the hands of children, censorship is always a dangerous path to walk down. If the backlash over Ms. Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” shows us anything, it’s that once one gets too far down that path, it can be hard to find the way back again.