I happened to catch a few minutes of a relatively new show on MSNBC called Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and guess what subject just happened to come up? That’s right, Violence in Computer Games. And wouldn’t you know, their special guest was a lawyer from Florida who seems to be everybody’s special guest on this subject.
Unfortunately I can’t comment on the lawyer’s attempt to lock this legal turf up for himself, because I didn’t pay any attention to what he was saying. Instead, I was riveted by the images they were showing while the host and guest bantered back and forth. The images were (I believe) from GTA3, playing full-screen with the interview in voice-over, and it only took my gamer’s eye a few seconds to spot the fly in the ointment.
Most of what was being shown was not goal-oriented gameplay, or even mayhem-oriented gameplay, but was in fact TV-segment-oriented gameplay. For example, at one point the player-character is standing over a figure lying on the ground, repeatedly beating the person even though they’re immobile, for what must have been at least ten blows. I’m not kidding when I say that if the player-character would have been wearing an LAPD uniform it could have passed for the Rodney King tape.
And here’s what I’m thinking while I’m watching this:
- Who’s playing the game? Did they go find somebody who had a copy and shoot them playing, or did they get their own console and film that? If they are shooting somebody else (not a staffer) playing, how much footage did they shoot? Did they ask the player (either directly or indirectly) to show them some of the more violent aspects of the game? Or did they just film somebody beating a dead body for twenty minutes?
And here’s what I’m thinking Ma and Pa Peoria are thinking while they watch the same thing in the comfort and safety of their living room:
- Good God! Anybody who’d make something like that deserves ten times the beating that poor bastard is getting!
Sure, GTA3 is a violent game, but how many games could you exploit in the same way? And to what extent is context important in whether or not people find actions offensive or not? If I endlessly bayonet a Nazi in Battlefield 1942, will I take the same heat that I would for endlessly bashing a cop in GTA3? If not, where can I get a list of all the mayhem that’s okay?
I mention this as yet another reason why we need a point person who can respond calmly to this kind of report. Without someone who can speak to the broader issues involved, we’re toast in the public eye because of only a few titles, and only a few aspects of those titles.
— Mark Barrett