Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I'm not a gamer but follow the culture closely and enjoy gaming, so this post about a game based on the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 is important on a number of levels. First, there is the requisite shock that video games would deal with the subject in the first place, which is why the project has been cancelled. But as an advocate of free markets and a defender of gaming in general I found myself wondering why? Hasn't Hollywood already done this? Why can't video games deal with the war?
The first answer is obvious. Video games are still going through the process of cultural evolution. They have not yet entered mainstream culture or circulated enough for them to be a comfortable reality like movies. The same colleagues who have no problems using movies as instructional aids are balking at using video games instead. I imagine professors back in the 70s and 80s probably reacted the same way when videos were first used in the classroom. At this point gaming has not had enough time as a major player in our culture so it is still foreign and alien. We maintain irrational double standards for gaming and Hollywood, but they will eventually disappear.
However, games are different than any other entertainment medium before them on one critical level. They are immersive and interactive. Even the most powerful and engaging movie does not require the level of active participation a video game requires. Therein lies the question. What does this active participation in violence, sexism, and gore do? Many cultural conservatives would say this is a moot point. It's the violence idiot. Remember Columbine? But I would throw that back at them and remind them that high schools used to have shooting teams and kids would bring rifles to school on a daily basis for practice. Similarly, my grandfather carried an illegal gun all his life, and got into daily fights as a youth, but never woud have dreamed of killing someone except in self defense. I would throw it back at the cultural conservatives and say that they failed to do their jobs and preserve those elements of pre-sixties culture we obviously still need. The question is a complex one, and one that has no obvious answer yet. But I would advise you not to run off blaming video games or be outraged at the concept of an Iraq War video game. We will just have to wait and see.