I was torn today between the two blogging threads of video games and English language. I had just come up with a rather intriguing method of relating non-standard verb forms to sin when I saw another ad for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and thought I'd blog about that instead.
The Call of Duty line of games has been immensely successful and got millions of people all over the world blowing each other up over broadband. Basically, you play the role of a soldier, and you can either complete set missions on your own, or play multiplayer modes that involve achieving certain goals. There is always some upgrowl (like uproar, only quieter) when games that are explicitly violent are released (COD MW 2 is an 18+ certificate, but many kids will get their mums to buy it for them), and a few games have been banned, notably "Manhunt".
There is an oft-repeated arguement that goes a bit like this:
"Violent games are a bad influence on people, especially children."
"Well, I've been playing COD for years and I've never killed anyone."
"Yes, but other people are influence by games to commit violent crime!"
"Those people are just nutters who make up a miniscule fraction of the gaming community. Any sane person can distinguish between fantasy entertainment and real life."
The argument from the gamers is that its ok to enjoy fantasy violence as long as you don't go out killing people. I can't help thinking, however, that it's not an impossible transition from enjoying fantasy violence to enjoying real-life violence. You don't have to be a murderer to have been negatively influenced.
Some people are just baffled at the idea that kids would want to take a horrific thing like war, and get pleasure out of acting it out. But haven't kids been playing soldiers for hundreds of years? I don't think the pleasure comes from the act of killing an imaginary person, but from the situation - the action, the danger, the high stakes, the technology, the noise and the victory.
"Scoring a kill" is just the way of racking up points in this game (and it's worth noting that the most despised online gamers are those that "teamkill" - shoot the people on their side). The question is; is it easier for those who play war-based games to devalue the lives that are lost in real-life wars to the same status as those insentient figures that they just killed in the game?
I've also been wondering about the future of video games, when the tendency is to go more and more extreme. Now you can play as the morally bankrupt villain and commit unspeakable crimes as entertainment. It's entertaining because you are totally free from the laws and constraints of society. In a world where you could do whatever you want and no one would actually get hurt, what would be more fun... driving around in your real-life car? Or stealing a new car every time you get bored?