Oh Morpheus, you could tell me anything and I’d believe you, you sexy, sexy Matrix dude.
Society is a strange old thing. One minute we’re complaining about the state of our environment, the economy and world hunger and the next we’re scoffing down a double cheese burger manufactured in bulk by a corporate giant and chucking our recycling into landfill. You might be thinking to yourself, ‘what does this all have to do with video games?’. Well, nothing says more about our society than the media we digest. We are exposed to media, digital, printed or live, almost every waking minute. On train posters, in the streets, on billboards, on the television, on the radio and in our games – there is no escaping entertainment and advertisement. But what does it all say about you as a person, more specifically, what do the games we play say about us?
Looking at my shelf, I have but a few select choices in my games collection. This is because, over the years, I’ve usually sold the titles that I complete. I have FIFA 13, the most popular way to play football without breaking a sweat since they invented the Foosball table. Hitman Absolution, a bloodthirsty game about sneaky, sneaky murder. Battlefield 3, an immersive online experience based more on ‘blowing shit up’ than solving world conflict. Forza Motorsports 4, glorifying gas guzzling machines driving around in circles. Grand Theft Auto 5, possibly the most controversial games series since Jigsaw started finding contestants for his sadistic take on the Crystal Maze. And, finally, Left 4 Dead, allowing you to commit mass murder, but making it OK because the people you’re killing are ‘unwell’ … or already dead, depending on your take on ‘infected’.
So, what do these games say about me? I’m no psychologist, I also don’t have a few thousand words in me, so I just want to focus on Grand Theft Auto 5. This is a title that has been hailed by the media as one of the greatest games of all time; it even won the Game of the Year award. It’s a game with a gripping story of broken marriages and broken people, of love and hate, of life and death. It’s about the hard life that some people have to endure and how they make the best of the hand that they’ve been dealt. But it’s also a game that allows you to sleep with a prostitute and then murder her afterwards, just to get your money back. A game where you can rob a jewellery store by shooting the cashier in the face and physically raiding the till, if you didn’t fancy waiting for them to empty it for you. A game where you can torture an innocent man with a car battery or a wrench, or by simulating drowning. A game where you can steal a car and get two ‘wanted’ stars from the police, or stab a person and steal their money and get only one star. Worst of all, in this fictional world, there are no repercussions. Maybe your character could get caught and you’d have to spend time in jail, who knows? All I know is that I love this game and I truly believe that the title deserved winning Game of the Year. But what does that say about me as a person?
I know that it’s setting a terrible example, but it doesn’t bother me too much. Perhaps it’s because I can see that these are bad things. That this game has a dark side, just like the society I live in. I can see a clear distinction between real and imaginary and in my mind, I know right from wrong. This is because I’m a fully developed person of 22 years. But, what if this game was to be played by a young person, perhaps a child? How could we expect them to understand what they were doing, or what they were seeing. You may think, ‘but what child would be allowed to play this game?’. Sadly, some are. A friend of mine works in a primary school and, whilst talking to a parent, discovered that their child of six years old was allowed to play GTAV. Now what does that say about our society? Does it serve as a warning on the generation to come? Or does it highlight the naivety of some parents? Children of six should be growing up with the Teletubbies, Pokémon and Blue Peter on their TV screen, not gun crime and drug abuse. You wouldn’t let a six year old watch Platoon, so why would you let them play Call of Duty? You wouldn’t let a six year old watch Lock Stock or Scarface, so why let them play GTAV? There’s a reason why the Tweenies never went around toting pistols and doing coke, these aren’t the messages that we want to expose children too.
All I know is that allowing children as young as six to grow up with these influences does not make for healthy adults. Is it the job of the developers to tame down their games, or of the parents to stop their children from playing them? It’s a difficult question. As a gamer, I believe that developers should always be pushing the boundaries with their games. The days of the side-scroller have passed and we now expect our video games to have more substance than a Hollywood blockbuster. I think games like these makes society seem quite cut-throat. We never really seem happy with what we have. In the quest for bigger and better, someone is always going to get left behind. The news blames violent video games for much of the violence in our society. But what about violent books? Violent music? Violent movies? When our imaginations are stretched by the media we digest, then it’s likely that vulnerable people will take what they see, hear and read and act it out in reality. It’s inevitable that someone, somewhere, will be influenced by media in a negative way.
So, I guess it’s up to us to decide what we think is ‘too far’ and act accordingly, and it’s probably up to the parents to decide what their children should and shouldn’t be exposed to. But, when looking at myself, I see my collection of violent video games based on war, murder, drug crime and horror and could understand why someone would assume that I have violent tastes. But I don’t think that it makes me a violent person. So, if you take anything from this, it’s that you shouldn’t blame violent video games for violence – how can a violent video game be created if there wasn’t violence to base it on in the first place? If you want to point the finger at anything, aim it at society. We are the ones who create a market for this type of media. We are the ones who choose to play it, or watch it, or read it. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t sell.