Sex, Drugs and Decapitations
Questioning the vices of video games
Sex, Drugs and Decapitations
Cory Zanoni explores the deeper meaning of gore and violence in video games and whether it’s all necessary.
AS AN Australian, I’ve become quite used to video games being something of a sensitive issue for many – if not controversial. Talk to any gamer here for long enough and the topic of R18+ is essentially guaranteed to come up. New studies appear regularly on the effect of violent games on young children (latest reports state that they don’t do a thing), parents are concerned across the nation (apparently) and I recently found out that someone got fired from their job for not confirming that someone was over 15 when they bought a MA15+ game.
I for one find this attention refreshing, regardless of the outcome of the R18+ debate. Whether we get it or not is largely irrelevant to me – what matters is that one of my preferred pastimes has the spotlight for a moment or two as it provides us with a good moment to reflect on the medium. To a certain extent, a R18+ rating for games in Australia will add a certain amount of legitimacy to them, acknowledgement that it isn’t just for children and teenagers, something we’ve known all along. Gaming in Australia is at a crossroads, and I extend that to you, readers in the United Kingdom and worldwide. Let’s look back and see what we’ve come from. By doing so, I intend to question the nature of the games we play and promote a culture where this reflection is commonplace. I hope to step away from a world where the medium is judged purely by its effect on those playing it, but also by what it represents on a broad cultural level. The question I will pose is simple: what does the existence of this game mean?
Y is a crocked letter, nobody ever got it straight
Two things lie at the heart of this article: the word “Why?” and video game violence. Despite there being a range of interesting things in video games to consider, the “why?” of violent media in general has been dug into quite deeply over the past few years with compelling results (albeit with an incredibly limited scope that doesn’t consider the world at large). However, the bulk of it has been based around children. We rarely look at ourselves, particularly when mainstream reporting is concerned. Much research has argued that “creative violence” (cartoons, comic superheroes, toy guns and, yes, bloody video games) has merit in helping children understand, come to terms with and master feelings such as anger and rage – feelings that many of us are taught to suppress or avoid. If used correctly, violent media of this nature can be remarkably empowering.
If that’s true for children, what then for us mature consumers of media? What of us adult gamers?
Ask many proponents of violent games – say an online shooter – why they play and you’ll no doubt hear a select number of responses repeated again and again. I’d wager that “It’s relaxing”, “It’s nice to come home and frag a few people” or variations of the two would rank highly. I can relate, and no doubt you can too. Personally, I’ve done some heinous things in GTAIV in the name of letting off some steam. If you had asked that fantastic question – “Why?” – I would have shrugged and probably said “Because it’s fun”. Looking back, it’s obvious I was doing the exact same thing many children are doing when they pretend to be superheroes. I was acting out frustrations or fears in a manner that I had total control over. It was safe, secure and digitalised. I wonder how many others are doing the exact same thing, whether they realise it or not.
Video games and technology appear to have progressed alongside its predominant audiences. Children who grew up with the cartoon fun of Mario jumping on heads now have Call of Duty and increasingly realistic wars to wage. If we do use violent media as a way to understand or control our frustrations then we’re lucky enough to have our tool develop alongside us, unquestioned and never missed. However, in doing so, this tool may have taken on a role far removed from its position of helpful tool. It may have just become a crutch, and fictionalised violence may have become a drug.
The fight for censorship
Left 4 Dead 2 was going to be banned due to the corpses that littered the ground and the ability to decapitate zombies – a censored version was released. Aliens Versus Predator was going to be refused classification for gratuitous trophy kills. It was released as the extreme violence was stretched across the game and separated by fantasy violence. While the onus was on our right to choose (and understandably so) it is important to consider what sparked this fight – flavour violence that added little to nothing to the experience in terms of gameplay. They add purely visceral thrill that aim to excite – even titillate. It’s a simple device to satisfy simple, base urges. It’s Michael Bay’s Transformers, not Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The violence doesn’t make you cringe or question it.
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