Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Video Games: Are They Really Corrupting People?

Happy New Year and welcome back. I have decided to take this blog into a different direction again and this time, I am sure that this is the right thing to do. I am now going to focus on gaming culture and video games. I have thought about this for a long time and I felt that after a semester of deliberation, this is the path I should have walked on in the beginning. From going under the moniker of The Movie Bitch to Meta Fatale, I feel that my work as grown significantly, if not maybe a little bit more sophisticated and mature than when I first started out. I am well aware that I will be met with a lot of criticism with this decision, however, I feel that this is the right path for me to take at this stage in my career. I will still try to include humor in my posts but I will try to be a more cognizant of the experiences of other demographics as well and feedback is always welcome.

To mark the shift in direction, I am going to now focus my attention on what people have been talking in the past few weeks since the tragedy at Newton, Connecticuit. The dialogue on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment is a dicey and controversial one to say the least. This piece is not going to focus on whether I am in favor of one or the other, but rather focus on the common rhetoric that is being spread not just by the media, but by the NRA and other interest groups as well. The persistent ideology that Video Games and the culture surroudning them cause people to be violent and to commit violent acts. I understand that music, films and art are also accused, but video games catch the most flak and quite frankly, I have heard enough of it and I am sick and tired of it. Therefore, I am going to dissect this entire issue.

With my Official Spokeswoman, Commander Shepard, from Mass Effect
In the wake of Newton and comments from all sides of the political spectrum and everyone in between, there seems to be common thread. While the discussion of Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment is a controversial one, it's important to distinguish what issues are worth addressing and which other ones are pure fodder for lobbyist groups and the media to take advantage. A common thread that I have noticed in the rhetoric from all of these sorts of tragedies is that we live in a violent culture that no one feels the need to address the factors that play into creating this type of culture video games and gaming culture is causing people to be violent and commit acts of violence.
The common ideology and rhetoric that occur after these sorts of tragedies is that video games are at fault. Here is my breakdown as to why a lot of people have reached this conclusion:
The Availability of Violent Video Games
Understandably so, this is a huge issue. However, many video game companies are not going to stop creating "violent" video games as there are people that are going to play them and that are going to demand to play these games. Therefore these games are created. There is also a ratings system in place to assist parents and those who have guardianship over minors to determine whether or not a game is age appropriate for them or not. I would always say that it is the parent's or the guardian's responsibility to exercise judgement in purchasing video games, however, minors are going to find another way to access these games and with the Internet, accessibility is much easier.

I am not criticizing violence in video games, nor am I supporting it either. There should be distinctions noted that the violence that occurs within the narrative of the game, at least in my opinion, makes sense. However, if it is outrageous or over the top and does not contribute to the narrative in any way (in the case of earlier incarnations of Mortal Kombat), I would consider it to be problematic, but would it cause someone to commit violent acts against others? It's hard to tell. Human beings are flawed and there many people that are born with mental disorders. This argument that "violent video games are readily available (in which they are) in which makes it easy for someone to be inspired by the violence to commit this act," doesn't stand and doesn't work for me. As I mentioned before, there are millions of people that suffer from a lot of mental disorders and the possibility does exist that the violence in a game like Mass Effect, would inspire someone to commit an act of violence, but in that case, that person either has no concept of the distinction between reality and fiction, or they have a mental disorder that has not been properly diagnosed. To make that distinction clear for them in the first place.
The Necissity of Violence in Video Games
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, violence will exists in narrative if it is necessary. In Mass Effect and later incarnations of Mortal Kombat, violence and the acts committed are in the context of the narrative. In this case, the violence is necessary (in Mass Effect, there is the option to go the diplomatic route in some situations in which violent situations can be dissolved quickly). There are many people that feel that there is a lot of violence in video games that is completely unnecessary and in some cases, these people are correct. Grand Theft Auto is good example of this because the gameplay style is open-ended, (the player can do anything they want outside of the main narrative of the game) in which the player can commit whatever acts of violence they desire within the structure of the game.
Gameplay does at times determine the narrative of many video games out there and at times also determine how much violence there is and how many acts of violence can the player get away with. While I agree that there are video games with unnecessary violence, it also unfair to lump the ones that do have violence weaved into their narrative as "unnecessary violence" either, which makes this argument a promising, but weak one. 
Video Games Are Pure Entertainment, Not Works of Art
This is a rare reason/argument, but it is one that I have heard before. Nevertheless it is worthy of examination. This is an argument that noted film critic Roger Ebert made back in 1991 and since then, he stands by his opinion. That is perfectly fine by me because that is his opinion. It is also an opinion that is held by many others and also by some within the video gaming community as well. This is fine as well and that is their right. It is also my right to respectfully disagree with them and say that video games are works of art. A lot of the games that we have played and grew up with have elements of a film, a piece of literature or art as the game itself tells a story and the player has the options on how they want to experience the game, in the same way they want to experience a film or a book. There are many meanings and implications that they can take away from the experience and the message as well. In this observation alone, I feel that video games are works of art in their own unique ways and specifications. It is art in the most modern sense of the word.
This is one of the reasons that I feel someone who is anti-video game, in which it can be valid. The subtext in video games and its implications on our society and how we percieve the text has always been part of my study in Video Game Theory and Criticism. I can understand how this can be a sucessful argument as to why video games are bad for people. However, let's also play the flipside to this argument as well. While there are many implications and readings that can be taken away from a video game text, these texts are also subjective and they contain many meanings for many different gamers. All of their experiences are not going to be the same, they are going to be different. In L.A. Noire for example, there can be many texts, lessons and meanings that can be taken away from the narrative of the game. One player will be able to take away a homoerotic experience of the game, while another will interpret it as a flawed, but honorable man in a crooked world that is no different than the world we live in today. That is the main flaw in this one particular argument, but it can also be a saving grace as well, depending on the subtext and interpretation.

So Then What is Meta Fatale's Stance?
It is my belief that art is often a reflection, critique, satire (or maybe even all of those things) of the society and culture that we live in. If that is the case, it would most certainly explain why American Society and Culture is so desensitized to violence and violent images and are horrified by honest depictions of sexuality ( I am not referring to beastiality or pedophilia in this case). There is so much violence in American Society and Culture. I grew up around a lot of violence because of the public school system that I went to and I even witness acts of violence on the street from time to time when I am out and about.
We live in a violent world. That is the cruel reality.
I live in a culture in which it is much easier for someone to purchase a handgun than to get a restraining order. I am aware that there are many responsible gun owners in the US that make up the majority. With this statement, I am not referring to the responsible gun owners. I am referring to the ones that are irresponsible (with the intent to harm/kill another person), that can purchase a weapon at a gun show. I live in Florida, in which there are many gun shows in my city, every couple of weekends or so.
I live in a culture in which a war on "terrorists" is publicized on networks such as CNN, MSNBC, HLN and FOX News.
I live in a culture in which using violence, instead of diplomacy first, is a great way to solve problems.
If we could for one second, stop blaming video games for causing violence and look into the real factors as to why we live in a violent culture, then we might actually get somewhere on the Gun Control and 2nd Amendment debate.
I think Commander Shepard would approve of that as well. 

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