One has to start from the position that people are generally good. Good to themselves and good to others.
And yet, there are times when otherwise respectable individuals feel the urge to do something terrible. How many of us have felt the urge to beat the hell out of our boss at work? How many of us have gotten into a heated argument with a friend and just wanted to strangle him? Thankfully, aside from some unfortunate incidents, we don't. We try to live with the acerbic supervisor and make up with our friends.
Yet, our need for violence in our lives is undeniable. Though perhaps not embodied physically, violence in popular entertainment has been with us since time immemorial. Cave paintings depict men on the hunt for buffalo and other animals, spears in hand. Grecian urns show acts both sexual and violent. Shakespeare's plays were almost always filled with depraved human beings, betrayal, suicide and murder.
Why do these themes haunt us, and how does this impact our current culture?
The Man with the Briefcase
Jack Thompson, a practicing attorney in Miami, has become the most polemic figure in gaming, second to none in terms of his influence and reach, not to mention his mouth. Famous today for his work in trying to wipe out violent gaming and link it to every kind of act of depravity and desperation, no matter how tenuously, his original claim to fame was handing former Attorney General Janet Reno a note asking if she was homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual.
Thompson has argued, both in court and through the media, that violence in gaming leads directly to violence in the real world. In other words, gaming is bad. And, as we all know, anything that's bad can be spun by politicians to their advantage, almost always in service of protecting the children. The politicking of gaming has become so divisive that a website devoted entirely to the topic, gamepolitics.com, has exploded in popularity since it started in 2005.
The Terror Connection
In mid-September, the Global Islamic Media Front, which describes itself as a "jihadist mouthpiece," released a game entitled Night of Bush Capturing. The game, which is a first-person shooter, has six levels of combat, each one displaying firefights with American troops on a U.S. encampment. Jihadist songs loop in the background as the player fires his way through each level. The game's concluding battle is with a character representing President Bush. The site proclaims the game is distributed for "terrorist children."
Suffice to say, this was not a good time for such a game to debut. Games, especially first-person shooters, are under more scrutiny now than ever before. This would almost seem to prove the point that violent games are used to train and influence young people. In a converse game, the army's official FPS, America's Army, ranks players on their marksmanship, with levels going from "Unqualified" and "Marksman" to "Sharpshooters" and "Experts."
Reaction to the former game has been mixed, with some giving it a pass as being typical terrorist promotional BS, and others having stronger, more visceral responses. On the popular conservative blog The Jawa Report, commenter "Leatherneck" wrote: "I have a little game I play called, How Many Moon God Worshippers Will Die During Ramadingdong."