Monday, 23 September 2013

Games Don't Kill People, People Do - Does Grand Theft Auto Create a Nation of Killers?

As a gamer of 20 years standing I’ve always been baffled by the notion that violent games create a generation of killer zombies primed to shoot up their local mall as soon as they are told they cannot order anything off the breakfast menu after 10am.

Grand Theft Auto 5 was released this week to the usual gasps of protest. One particular mission involving torture has got conservative knickers in a twist. In it players can choose various torture techniques (drowning, mutilation, electrocution) in order to kneecap, pull out teeth and batter information on the location of an insurgent from one of the characters. Use all the torture implements and you can get your hands on a gold medal. Well done.

The game’s makers Rockstar North have sensibly kept quiet on the subject, letting the furore sell more units. The game is the most expensive ever made; costing £170m; an extraordinary outlay, but it’s expected to generate £1 billion in the first year alone. Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Rockstar have previously rejected criticism about the levels violence and depravity in the franchise by saying they the games are not, as Florida lawyer Jack Thompson describes them:

“murder simulators”

Rockstar have argued that GTA uses its dark humour as a means of critiquing modern life by holding up a mirror to the less salubrious aspects in 21st century society. They don’t encourage they reflect.

In GTA 5 the water-boarding elements of the controversial mission have been suggested by some as pointed criticism of US behaviour during the Iraq War and should be taken into context with plotlines from later on in the game. Whatever the justification, conservative commentators have hinted that suggestible children are going to start setting up their own water boarding areas in the corners of playgrounds as a result. Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says

"Four to five-year-olds have a tendency to copy what they see on TV, whether it’s this or Fireman Sam putting out fires."

Firstly, what human detritus is allowing their toddlers to watch an 18 cert game and a how is a 4yr old going to rig up a car battery to some jump leads in order to set up a makeshift torture rig? For starters car batteries are quite heavy and you will struggle to get one for under £80. Which 4yr olds have that sort of money? That is unless they have been studying GTA and have a sideline in robbing convenience stores or running townsfolk over collecting their money from their flattened corpses. Damn, GTA really IS corrupting our nation’s minds.

I remember way back in the 80’s playing Barbarian on the Commodore 64 where your character was a greased-up beefcake who spent the entire game trying to decapitate his opponents and if successful your enemy’s head would satisfyingly bounce off the screen.

I’ve played all sorts of games over the years which have involved all manner of shooting and blowing people up and yet I’ve never felt the urge to go on a mass rampage. I do often walk about my flat smothered in baby oil wearing nothing but a loin-cloth but I’m sure that has nothing to do with my gaming choices.

There is an argument, of which I am sympathetic, to say that violent games can be the catalyst for unbalanced individuals to commit acts of violence. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski says

“it’s kind of hard not to make a connection between games and the recent Navy Yard shooting (12 people shot dead by gunman Aaron Alexis) when you hear the shooter's friend saying that he would watch on a life size screen these violent video games for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours.”

Take the example of Anders Breivik who in court described how he trained for the killing of 69 people by practicing his shooting on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Describing the game, he said:

"It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That's why it's used by many armies throughout the world. It's very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems."

He added: "If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it's built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It's designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you've practiced using a simulator."

Breivik is not an isolated case .The Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho, the Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner and the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, who sat in his windowless basement playing Call of Duty for hours, are all described as essentially being addicted to video games.

There is a strong argument that these games desensitize already troubled trouble individuals from the mechanics and implications of killing. Repeated acts of aggression are probably not the best remedy for individuals dealing with bullying, social anxiety or serious mental illness.

Personally whilst I think violent video games should be strictly restricted to the under 18yrs, like all adult entertainment, I think the killers would have committed these terrible acts whether violent computer games existed or not. A sane mind is able to distinguish between fantasy and reality and there has to be something seriously wrong with them mentally to copy the violence they have witnessed in games.

Perhaps more money and time should be spent helping those who have personality disorders and mental illness rather than knee jerk reactions by MP’s and media types with voters to assuage and papers to sell.

Next week: 6 games that make GTA look lke Angry Birds

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