Gaming and politics

Well, even though this was widely linked last week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on it as well. There was a piece in the Opinion Journal (of the by Brian Anderson about video games. It’s the same mantra we’ve been hearing but it never hurts to repeat it:

Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways. I recently spent (too) many late-night hours working my way through X-Men: Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse, a game I ostensibly bought for my kids. Figuring out how to deploy a particular grouping of heroes (each of whom has special powers and weaknesses); using trial and error and hunches to learn the game’s rules and solve its puzzles; weighing short-term and long-term goals–the experience was mentally exhausting and, when my team finally beat the Apocalypse, exhilarating.

And the ever-present challenge to would be gaming-Nannies:

With the next generation of high-powered consoles on the market or soon to appear, gamers will have even richer, more complex virtual environments, many of them nonlinear, to explore. Working through these worlds alone, with friends or–in the ever more popular “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMOs–with thousands of strangers is far from a “colossal waste of time.” Video games are popular culture at its best. Critics would do better to drop the hysterical laments and pick up a joystick.

Of course, that can be favorably contrasted with this article in the Washington Times about video game legislation, that claims:

For one thing, these laws have tended to be mostly symbolic; the fact that interest in them tends to fade in the absence of newspaper headlines suggests strong elements of political theatrics at play. Second, the laws are regularly struck down by courts for their dubious constitutionality, and everyone including the scourges knows this. Third, more than 9 of 10 retailers have policies restricting the sale of such games to children anyway. All of which begs a question: Just how sincere are the proponents of these laws? Most of them are Democrats with strong interests in easy “moral values” scores. Smells like opportunism to us.

Political theatrics? Political opportunism? Perish the thought!

As an aside, the Opinion Journal mentions the study done by Dmitri Williams at the University of Illinois (which I mentioned here) which uses the game Asheron’s Call 2 for its study. I’ve never played AC2 (or the first one, for that matter), but it doesn’t seem like that game would be explicitly violent or very gory. Is it? Are the violence and gore on the same level as a Resident Evil 4 or a Grand Theft Auto? And if so, can fantasy violence really be compared to a game with more “realistic” characters? Is running over an innocent bystander with a pick-up the same as smashing a goblin with a mace? Just a thought.

Related articles can be found here.

Kids don’t get to watch eye gougings anymore reader Bobster, always the helpful tipster, sent me a link to an article at entitled Blood, Guts, and Entertainment: A sanguine take on sanguinary diversions. A great read, as most Reason articles are. The writer, Justin Pete, is reviewing the book Savage Pastimes: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment in which the author argues, “that violent entertainment is good, indeed necessary—a way to sublimate the vestigial primal urges left over from our hunter-gatherer days” and “our popular culture may be saturated with synthetic gore, but at least we don’t spend our leisure time watching real people have their eyes put out, their limbs pulverized, their sex organs amputated and their flesh torn to pieces with red-hot pincers.” Interesting claims, to say the least. While I don’t necessarily agree that we have “primal urges” to “sublimate,” I do think exploring violence in our culture (especially in the past) is a starting point to refute the hand wringing that goes on now. It seems that a lot of people decrying violence in the media ignore history, much to their convenience.

Justin sites example after example from the book of violence in past entertainment, in order to dispel the myth that “things were so much better (simpler, purer, cleaner, take your pick) before.” The idea that movies like Natural Born Killers couldn’t have been made in 1939 (the year of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind) is simply a fallacy:

Such a simplistic worldview conveniently forgets that 1939 also brought such films as Death Rides the Range, Six-Gun Rhythm, and The Man They Could Not Hang, advertised with the tagline, “Boris Karloff dares you to see this holocaust of horror!”

But, in the end, the conclusion that violence in the media is not directly responsible for violence of the partakers is never breached in the book. It’s a shame. We’ve said it here before, but no one seems to listen. Just because we enjoy violence in our games (or movies or books) doesn’t mean we wish to participate in it. Being entertained is enough for us. But, as Justin says

… the tweaking [Schechter] delivers to the world’s Chicken Littles —those like Gov. Blagojevich, who writes on that “when kids play, they should play like children, not like gangland assassins”—is overdue. If violent entertainment is anything, it is a mirror held up to a violent culture. Eliminating these cultural reflections won’t do anything to alter the master image.

Poor reporting

I just read an article that makes me angry. The amount of mis-information and fear mongering is just amazing. The article starts out

We have an important warning for parents. Today marks the three-month anniversary of the launch of the Nintendo DS Wireless Connection. But Action News has learned this popular gaming system could put kids in harm’s way.

Huh? Right away, the red flags are going up. I assume they’re going to talk about the WiFi Connection. Sure, there is always the possibility of gaming with unsavoury people online, but Nintendo’s friend code system does a decent job of filtering those type of people out. So far, there are three games that use the Wireless connection (Tony Hawk, Mario Kart, and Animal Crossing) so right off the bat we’ve got some poor research being done:

It has built-in wireless capability. That allows kids to battle fellow Nintendo DS players across the room or across the world.

“They can play somebody they’ve never met.”

While this is technically true, my guess is that most kids aren’t playing with people they haven’t met over the WFC. I’m guessing most of these kids are playing with real life friends. (Let’s not forget that connecting to the WFC isn’t exactly simple. I’d say most kids under the age of 14 would struggle to get on without parental help). So what exactly is endangering the children? The super-horrible Picto-Chat!

Theresa’s 11-year-old daughter, Emily likes to doodle so she’s using the Nintendo DS Pictochat feature. Pictochat puts you right into a chatroom and let you send messages wirelessly – and on this day we are in one of Philadelphia’s many Wi-Fi hotspots.

Theresa Keel/Center City: “This screen name pops up and asks her what her name is and how old she is, and she answers.”
Emily Keel/Center City: “And I just felt a little scared and confused.”

This has happened to the Keel’s once before. But this time the screen name is so offensive, we can’t even show it to you.

“It frightened me. It really did.”

Wait one minute! Pictochat is not WiFi-enabled. At all. In fact, in order to chat with someone, you’d have to be in close proximity to the other DS your chatting with (about 60 feet). Unfortunately, this parent is so clueless that they have no idea what the technology in their child’s hands is capable of. All the mother has to do is tell her child to turn of the DS. If she was worried that they might be in danger, they could alert mall security and have them look for the scary person with the offensive screen name. But turning off the DS instantly severs any connection to the bad person. That’s all it takes. No one is “in harm’s way.” But of course the reporter couldn’t be bothered with the facts.

This is simply a case of not doing due dilegence with your research before you run a story. Sowing seeds of fear accomplish very little.

Even when we’re thinking of the children.

(via Digg. Slashdot, too.)