Just Pretending

Quite a bit of interesting discussion tagged onto the end of my Unreal Tournament post. Without trying further to identify ambiguous forces like “the cause of violence in America” (note that I never said “the cause” but only implied that it was undoubtedly a cause), I want to ask an honest question of everyone who thinks it’s acceptable for children to play violent video games:

What’s worse: Rape or murder?

If you think murder is worse and you let your kids play games that involve pretending to murder humans or humanoids by the hundreds, then surely you would have no objection to a video game where your character ran around raping women or girls, right?

Those of you who have posted here in defense of murder games: I would very much like to hear your defense of rape games, and to learn why you intend to let your children play them.

Music: King Crimson :: Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two

24 Replies to “Just Pretending”

  1. I find the idea of rape worse than murder, personally.

    That said I still find it unacceptable for children to play these games, or rape games for that matter.

    Exposure to violence, especially the realistically portrayed or gory to the extreme, does affect the majority of exposed children in an negative way that is different from the effect of play-acting.

    But this should in no way be used as an excuse to limit the access of adults to whatever entertainment they want (within the limits of existing pornography laws and such).

    Games are under a voluntary certification scheme here in the UK. As long as parents follow that scheme (which means that ten year olds shouldn’t have access to Grand Theft Auto or Unreal Tournament) I do not see a problem.

    Adults do freakier things for entertainment.

  2. I can’t speak for everyone. I’m speaking from the point of view of a 27 year old who has played video games, violent and non-violent from as early as I can remember. Someone who has a bunch of friends who are of about the same age and play similar games.

    Firstly there is a difference between the murder depicted in these games and rape, in that rape is a sustained assault. There is even a distinct difference between real murder and the “murder” depicted in this games. In most of these games, the murder is pretty instantaneous, it is not a long drawn out act. Even when it takes two, three, five, whatever shots to “kill” someone, there is no actual evidence of your murder attempt until the player character drops to the floor.

    Secondly speaking from my own experience, I enjoy playing these games and at least so far I haven’t felt the need to pick up a weapon and run full pelt down my local high street, blasting away pedestrians left and right.

    Last time I checked none of my friends had either.

    I would accept that video games may be a trigger, or that violent films may be a trigger, but I think to do something like that you already have to be lacking something mentally. That thing that tells the rest of us not to hurt other people, no matter how depressed, frustrated or miserable we may be.

    To be honest the whole “violent video games are to blame for this that and the next thing” attitude irritates me, because it seems to me that while our politicians and commentators are spending their time talking about this, they are not talking about the actual causes.

    Like our Culture Minister Kim Howell for example…

    Also Dunblane, where the solution that everyone decided on was making more guns illegal. Which I don’t really have a problem with in itself (making guns illegal), just that after doing this everyone forgot about Dunblane as if we had solved the problem. I really don’t think we made it any more unlikely for that kind of thing to happen.

    Or the recent shooting of four girls (two who died) in London, where the majority of the debate seems to concentrate on blaming rap music.

    I just don’t really see this having any effect, other than alienating even more people.

  3. I think what has already been said about a “trigger” exposes a lot. I can see rape in a movie or a documentary or whatever (granted, it’s not portrayed “positively” there) without wanting to shoot someone. I can play Quake without wanting to shoot someone.

    As to why the video game industry has settled on murder and not rape? Rape is associated with only females, thus they’d be showing gender bias. Murder, as well, has always been in video games. Go play Alien Invader or the first Mario game and see how many things you “shoot” or “squash.”

    Do I think a 10 year old should play any of these games? No. But I don’t blame the industry for making them. I’ll point a finger, if I must, at the parents raising kids without explaining to them certain facts of life.

  4. Wow, lots of interesting comments in both these posts!

    I’m not sure I can actively take a side in this, not yet anyhow (its a loaded question!), but I guess I’m guilty by association — I play violent video games, and don’t want to stop playing them. Yet, I think rape and murder are equally immoral.

    At the root of your question (rape vs. murder which is worse?) I see a profound societal difference. Today rape is seen as a heinous crime, even by criminals themselves, as is evident by rapists only being above pedophiles in the prison hierarchy. Violence, however, continues to be glorified throughout our culture. At one point in time rape was brushed aside as an indiscretion of men. Rapists were just having a little fun. The victims, however, were instantly labeled whores, they asked for what they got somehow. This double standard reached into other areas of our society, too. For example, every man is supposed to be an experienced lover (before marriage), whereas every woman should be a pristine virgin. We have the feminist movement to thank for changing many of these biased and unfair standards, especially in legal protections for women from sexual predators.

    There has been no equivalent movement to de-legitimize violence as the feminists de-legitimized rape. Instead, our culture has continued to cultivate a love affair with guns, bombs, and war. Our actions speak much louder than our words in every respect: look at our penal system, law enforcement, and foreign policy. These things have a much greater impact on how our children solve their problems, ten, twenty, thirty fold to any videogame.

    Scot, you mention that watching a drama about murder is different than playing a violent videogame. I ask you how this is different when, is not life itself the greatest drama of all? The things that I mention (penal system, law enforcement, foreign policy) and scores more we experience and see everyday through such avenues as real world experience, the media, and other ways; and we react to it. To exclude the Opera as an exception, because it is a form of art, and then also recognize, at the same time, that world events and our environment have an influence is selectively self-serving. Recently a Korean artist has been making the news for his work portraying the consumption of babies, do you make an exception for this kind of art, too, and if so why? These are sticky questions, and I don?t expect answers, though I will try and give my own.

    Attacking and banning videogames, or other forms of entertainment is not the answer. If anything, as other people have touched upon, it distracts us from finding the right answers. The answers must target how we run our lives, make decisions, make our choices, how we solve our conflicts and solve our problems.

    Attacking and banning forms of fantasy is not the answer, attacking and banning forms of reality is the answer.

    By actively looking for nonviolent solutions to our problems, rather than instantaneously using guns, bombs, and electric chairs and making this active choice of nonviolent solutions a priority we can finally start making changes for the better.

    There are some problems, however, that ruin any comparison of violence verses rape: the argument of just war versus pacifism. Its safe to say that everyone agrees that rape, under all circumstances is unacceptable. There is no similar agreement on violence.

    While I could easily go into the arguments here, I think a mere mention is all that’s necessary, besides, I think I’ve gone on long enough and need to let other people fill some bits.

  5. Frank’s blog is more or less what I think, so I can keep this short:

    In FPS games, the killing – the act – is more a means than a goal; some games offer less lethal alternatives (Deus Ex) to battle your enemies, some even penalize you when using lethal weapons (Thief). At the very least the games don’t expect you or your character to like the killing.

    With a rape game however the act, and the act alone, would be the goal, and there would be no point in doing it unless the character enjoyed it.

    Therefore, if games around rape existed, I wouldn’t let my children play them.

  6. Baldur – Rape cannot be worse than murder because there is no possibility of recovery from murder.

    Alistair – I do not understand your point about the duration of the event. Murder is fast and rape is slow – that has nothing to do with the significance or impact of the event.

    I do not mean to suggest (nor does any anti-video game argument meant to suggest) that playing one will give any given person the impulse to run out and kill. The point is that treating this as entertainment degrades the mind and degrades culture. This much seems patently obvious to me, beyond need for explanation. Innures people to the whole concept of violence, make suffering acceptable. The partial result is the culture we see around us today. I don’t understand how it can be disputed.

    What exactly in Kim Howell’s position do you think is mistaken or misguided? I read the piece you pointed to and he sounded like a cultured, intelligent, reasonable man taking whatever small steps he can to save civilization. What is your objection?

    Erik, you make a good point, that what I am objecting to is a matter of degree than of kind. IOTW, Space Invaders is also a murder game. But it is abstract, not visceral – perhaps that is the crucial difference. Also, the killing there, as in Descent, is not on humanoid beings – that seems to make a critical difference.

  7. Frank – thanks for the post. I think you’ve really nailed it on the head (as did several people in the LJ discussion). There are, for whatever reasons, socially acceptable conditions for killing (essentially, war, which means we have set up bad guys, who are evil, and evil must be destroyed). Whereas rape victims will always be victims – looked at this way, the distinction seems much clearer to me. Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. mrgrape: To be clear, I don’t advocate banning of anything. What I wish for is a society where kids don’t crave violent stimulation and parents actively step in and bring their kids creative, mind expanding games to play (there are plenty of them out there!) and counsel them if they are drawn to violent games.

    Re: “Attacking and banning forms of fantasy is not the answer, attacking and banning forms of reality is the answer. ”

    This is a circularity — my belief is that the current forms of fantasy contribute heavily to the “forms of reality” we live with and in. Simply put, kids heads are crammed full of violent imagery, laid out viscerally and with excitement. Why should we be surprised if violence erupts in our culture as a result?

  9. So, I’ve been in a few fights in my life, and I’ve seen a few fights in my life. I’ve seen them and been in them both in Germany (where I started high school) and California (where I ended high school). In my experience, American fights are just a bunch of shit-talking with all parties too scared to throw the first punch. Conversely, in Germany (and I’ll generalize to Europe), we go out there with the intention of fighting and we beat the shit out of each other until someone says “I’m out” or “Allright, fuck, I’m out.” Americans are chicken-shit fighters. Sorry, but they seriously don’t have the balls that others have in fighting — something I think I can attest to because I’ve fought here and there and experienced the difference.

    That said, when Americans do end up fighting, they do so until someone has to go to the hospital or worse. A guy can say “stop, stop, I’m out” and the other guy will just keep wailing on him until he doesn’t move. This, I think, parallels a similar trend in drinking/partying habits between the two continents. Parties in Europe (and drinking age is much lower over there), flow with just as much alcohol as parties in the US. The difference is, I’ve noticed, that Americans seem to want to drink to the point where they are passed out on the floor unable to move for the next 10 hours. They seem to take _pride_ in that. That boggles my mind. In Europe, we drink because either it’s good (beer), it makes you more sociable, and because bars and clubs are nice, warm, comfortable venues (especially the former).

    The point here, in the examples of fighting and drinking, is that Americans seem to talk a good game all the time, and when they finally have the balls go through with something, go to the damn extreme — way too far. Europeans, and of course I’m biased, seem a bit more reasonable — a bit more common sense finds it’s way into young minds.

    Perhaps this is rooted in the underlying ultra-puritan, ultra-conservative current of American culture. Perhaps it’s being afraid all the time — living in constant fear (for some reason). Every arrogant person (From any culture) I’ve ever met is so because they are incredibly insecure. I think that’s America. America is so insecure, they have to show the world they’re somehow better (in their mind), more powerful, more willing to do the right thing.

    Take, for example, this shit with Iraq/Afghanistan/N. Korea. In a nutshell, it all boils down to the world trying to stop American from doing yet another dumb-ass, fear-driven, globally-impacting fuck-up.

    So, to return a bit to our present topic. Murder is worse than rape, because what Scot said (no coming back from murder, victim-wise). The infusion of violent video games is perhaps a response to the conservative nature of America that has muffled, over and over, any release of violent energy (which may be genetic — we have needed to be violent (evolutionarily speaking), it’s in our blood, so to speak). Enter video games. Enter the growing trend of realism and carnage in video games. Enter politicians blaming video games for youth violence while at the same time activily propagating the idea that there is evil and good. That we are good, that there IS an enemy out there. That we are at war. That we need to fight. Politicians are doing this: they are actively setting up boundaries between us and them between good and evil. They are funding war machines (army, navy, etc). And, most importantly, they are keeping the enemy anonymous to the the US citizens. Iraqis have only the face of Saddam Hussein. Afghans have only the face of Osama bin Laden. N. Koreans have only the face of Kim. No we must go out and “take care of business” go “fight the good fight, against evil, for humanity.” Sound familiar? Video games also set up good vs. evil clearly, give somewhat faceless enemies (at least, take the emotion out of the faces), etc. I see it as incredibly ironic.

  10. Scot ? Re: Your reply. I agree with your principles, and conceptual solutions, but disagree with your analysis of the problem. You state: ?my belief is that the current forms of fantasy contribute heavily to the “forms of reality” we live with and in.? This is where I disagree. I believe that our reality, the environment that we live in ? the world and what we witness ? heavily contribute to our current forms of fantasy. Fantasy is a form of play, it is not simple entertainment, it?s a tool to help us develop, grow, and survive, just like bears, wolves, lions, and other animals use play to physically toughen-up to survive in their habitat. Our forms of play (fantasy) in its violence have developed to help inure us to the violence that we see around us. Without being inured to all these problems we would not be able to function. Targeting videogames, or any other form of make-believe, does not even come close to finding a solution to the violence in our society, nor does it protect children. Instead we need to target the reality. As we target the reality, and help guide children toward appropriate solutions to those problems, their desire for violent fantasy will wane, but probably never disappear completely, nor should it completely disappear.

    (I do understand you do not advocate the banning of anything, but what do you advocate?)

    Ultimately, I think any solution will involve a combination of approaches from both angles: fantasy and reality. However, I feel that too many people concentrate too much on the fantasy-side of the equation while totally ignoring reality.

  11. i was going to post a point about how the word “murder” is loaded and does not equal killing in all its forms, and then make the observation that a shooter game can be depicting a form of killing that our society accepts (such as a battle scene), although it could just as easily depict sniping at innocent strangers.

    this pops us up (down?) one level in the stack, where we have to consider why war makes killing OK and even if it does why playing at war is considered OK.

    I believe the flow is much stronger from reality into fantasy than vice versa, but there’s no denying that you can train yourself to shoot using simulations, as the US military has demonstrated.

    Great thread.

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  13. Hey, wait a moment. What kind of question is this? There is no choice between these options. I refuse to choose any of them. Both are totally, completely unacceptable.

  14. Rape vs Killing. It’s taken me this long to bat this idea around enough to come to a conclusion, so thanks for the challenging question. In my opinion, there are times when a civilized person must kill another person – in self defense, or defense of one’s own. There can never be any excuse for rape. And for that matter I don’t believe in suffering rapists to live, so the latter, in my opinion, is full justification for the former. This is the difference between killing games and hypothetical rape games.


  15. Scot, this ‘What’s worse: Rape or murder?’ question and its extrapolations are the equivalent of ‘Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no?’ That being the case, I’m afraid I don’t feel like answering. :)

    I think the onus lies with you as the postulant: why are you, Scot, so sure that violent video games cause violence in America? But I would ask you to answer a corollary question: given your hypothesis, why is it that millions of people play violent games (video and otherwise), watch violent movies, listen to violent music, etc., and yet those same millions do not go out and kill, rape, pillage, etc.?

  16. Robert – the rape/murder question is not similar at all to “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The latter is a trap because it embeds the assumption that one does beat one’s wife. There is no parallel in my question, which is very simple and straightforward. I think you resist it because it makes you feel uncomfortable, not because it’s rhetorically incorrect.

    Why am I sure that violent thinking begets violence? For the same reason that teaching kids to read leads to adults who know how to read. For the same reason all forms of enculturation and education work – the mind is shaped by exposure.

    As to the 2nd part of your question, take care – I’ve said several times in this discussion that this stuff does not make each person a killer — but it does pollute the culture, and leads to the fact that we live in the single most violent civilized culture on earth, with greater rates of domestic abuse and homicide and gun violence than any other culture.

    Just as the media both reflects and creates the culture it lives in, so is our fascination with violence both reflected in and created by the culture that breeds it.

  17. I wasn’t going to post on this. But I’ve been thinking, and the replies have been haunting me.

    I believe a couple of explanations can be given as to why playing these kind of games is enjoyed rather than rejected by so many.

    I’d firstly suggest that most of the games players live in developed nations. I’d further think that most have never seen a communal riot, never seen a man beaten, burned or shot to death, and never stopped to think about the reality of death as they play these games.

    After all, they’re just entertainment and time wasters aren’t they? Games reviewers pile praise on the developers for the realism of these games – but again themselves have no concept of what the reality of death and murder are either, having grown up in safe nations or areas.

    Neither had I. I grew up and lived most of my years in Australia. As a child I played these games – as I grew older, for reasons which I can’t properly coalesce into words, I found I disliked these kind of games – along with even the pointless and aggressive violence of sports like Rugby League (where players basically hurl themselves at each other in order to inflict enough pain that the other one stops).

    I’ve been living in India for the past 7 months. On Indian television, much to my surprise, when they mention a riot, they don’t just show the photos of arrest victims or damaged streets – they show actual footage of men and women being beaten by the rioters, bleeding head to toe, police brutality isn’t depicted with some hard to distinguish security recordings, but in live colour film.

    Dead victims and men being shot and beaten are all shown on TV. Indian television basically knows NO censorship – and it is commonplace to view ‘gunned-down’ criminals on the front pages of national newspapers: in colour, blood streaming from their wounds soaking the ground.

    This isn’t a fantasy, and it isn’t a game. And the reality of it here is sickening and often I turn my face from the screen, sometimes even dry-retching.

    I think it is easy to distance yourself from what the actions depicted on a violent computer game and reality when you have no idea of what is actually happening. Yeah, sure, you’re shooting someone – they’re dying. But, as long as that separation remains in your mind, you’ll continue to derive pleasure from actions which you don’t fully appreciate nor understand.

    It is just an assumption, but I don’t believe you’d have convinced any of the World War II veterans to play these games – I think they’d be repulsed at the word used to describe them (entertainment). And I think it has little to do with them simply being more conservative than people in this age.

    I know it is an unpopular viewpoint, but I think the fact that people enjoy any form of violence (which would be considered deplorable if acted out in reality), is down to the basic flaw in man to tend towards destruction rather than construction (which I’d call sin, you can call it what you like though – it’s still the same). I also agree with the poster who said that both rape AND murder are unacceptable.

    Why do people enjoy this? I don’t understand it. I’d question your understanding of the whole issue though. And, if I were a father, I’d definitely not let you marry my daughter.

  18. If you don’t understand why people play these games, then maybe you should hold back your judgement until you do. It might be hard to believe, but one can be anti-violence in real life, do know what injury and violent death mean, and still enjoy playing FPS games. Throwing all FPS gamers into one bucket is just bad parenting and sloppy thinking again.

    And I have also met people from the WWII generation who where deeply convinced that it’s time for another war “to put some backbone into the youth from today.” And these were Germans, who really should know better.

    But what really annoys me is that “I’d definitely not let you marry your daughter.” Since when are daughters again the property of their parents, to be married off at the latters sole discretion?

  19. I am the clan leader of a UT gaming clan, FDC. We play in a Pan European League, using the “assault” game variant of Unreal Tournament.

    As seems to be the case with all who wish to blame violent video games for the “decline of society”, you focus completely on what you perceive as a negative aspect, and ignore everything else, no matter how positive.

    Our league has over a thousand players, and some sixty clans, spread all across Europe and the Eastern US/Canada. My own Clan has players from the UK, Austria, Belguim, The Netherlands and Sweden.

    When we play, we have a team of six guys working tactics, using voice comms to talk to each other, and have real fun. Matches last for nearly three hours and are challenging both mentally and physically.

    In the off-time, we chat online, in active web forums, on IRC, in MSN and ICQ and on the phone. We discuss culture, politics, current events. We learn about each other’s countries, how the schooling system works, what working there is like, and so on. Every member of my clan has become one of my friends, we have arranged clan gatherings in real life, traveled to parties to meet up and so on.

    Some of the kids in our clan report that their grades are improving in English, largely because of the practice they get with us!

    Your line of reasoning (and therefore questioning) has, I feel, two flaws:

    1) The inherent assumption that the current state of society is something the US has declined into, marking some sort of decline.

    I would suggest to you that, instead, the level of violence you see in the US is actually symptomatic of US Society advancing more slowly than that of the rest of the developed world. A hundred years ago you were lyching people in the streets because of their colour. Fifty years ago in the UK where I live, racist attitudes were held by the hugh majority of the population. Now it’s dramatically less so. Society is *not* declining, it is maturing and advancing slowly.

    2) You have not taken part fully in the society and culture of first person shooter games.

    We know how it goes: hot headed teens with short attention spans and limited social skills, want to play deathmatch games all the time. Shoot, shoot, shoot, kill, kill, kill. No thought, no tactics, no social contact.

    Those with some more maturity, or intelligence, tend to favour the team based games. those with tactics, and skills beyond hand eye coordination.

    Perhaps you should be asking why US youth have nano-second attention spans, and seem unwilling (or unable) to engage in social contact with anyone outwith their own nation?

  20. Thanks for the excellent post. Great to hear of all this culture sharing and culture jamming going on. My question to you is, why taint these great international friendships with violent gameplay? But it’s a half-rhetorical question – no need to respond. I think I already know the answer.

    Seriously, good for you. Sounds like a good group.

  21. Jim, Kristan Slack,
    I really agree with your comments. Alot of children are playing Grand Theft Auto 3. In this game, the player is rewarded with life points for raping a prostitute. To me, that shows it is rewarding to rape women. When kids (10 year olds) see these kinds of images, its wrong and it does affect them.

    Also, why do boys/men (older than 10) find it entertaining to rape women or even looking at images of raping women. Just a game – rape is a terrible problem in our society.

    I don’t think videogames are the sole cause of rape and violence today, I believe it to be all over the media as well- which doesn’t mean it is okay. Please do something about it – by at least recognizing a problem. Do any men know who Stephanie Lousie Kwolek is – You probably don’t. She invented Kevlar – the material that saves thousands of police officers lives daily. I bet you know nothing about women’s achievements mostly because you were not taught to care. If we don’t teach our sons and daughters about women’s achievements, they will regard women as nothing more than sex objects which currently is the trend. I think fathers need to play a special role in their daughters’ lives and give up the rape entertainment – why?because you are the first male your daughter will meet in life. Make a good impression. Care about someone else’s needs more than your own sexual gratifications.

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