Read a great piece today (which I found on Slashdot…) on the state of violence in video games. It’s remarkable in that it’s author is a life long gamer (like myself) and he starts to drop some value anchors.
If we come to that, should it be illegal to simulate player imposed suffering of photorealistic humans in video games? If so, where do we draw the line with regards to realism? For example, BioShock is “OK” now, but how much more realistic will the virtual human’s appearance and behavior have to get before virtual murder is considered genuinely and irreversibly harmful for the player?
Will it matter if it’s done “by hand and knife” in a holodeck-style brain-machine interface, or if it’s executed through a 10-button game controller? Will it matter if it’s a quick death or a slow, drawn-out one? Will it matter if the human-killing enacted by the player fits the legal definition of murder or if it is done in self-defense?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that they won’t come easy, especially if the game industry fights back against government regulation. As we grow ever closer to 100% graphical and situational realism in games, hopefully game publishers will decline to encourage the stunningly accurate simulation of gratuitous human suffering.
My concern is not that these violent simulations described will happen; they probably will at some point. I’m concerned that we as an audience will continue to consider gratuitous virtual murder a form of mainstream entertainment. The kind of violence I’m describing should be relegated to the bottom, back-corner shelf of any game store — not by law or punishment, but by consumer demand.
This is a great debate to engage in now! We can define the values and shape our behavior. If we don’t actively define them, it will still passively happen and we may end up having to unlearn a bunch of values. And, as Mr. Edwards points out, we just don’t know how that will turn out. At some point the realism of the games and the idea that you are controlling something virtual will erode and we’ll have real trouble telling the difference between what is real world behavior and what is virtual. When and what that looks like we just can’t say. We already have real legal and social issues regarding what happens on social networks – and those are not realistic and/or even close to as full person engaging as modern games.
I’ll give you one my own experiences… and for those that have played a first person shooter on the PC or X Box live know just how insanely over the top scary the live voice chatter between people can get. When I was actively playing Halo 3 you would hear multiple times a session about how other players want to ass-rape, gang bang, whack and kill those fags/mutherfuckers and their mothers. This language and threats would be made whether there was a 10 year old on the other end or a bunch of adults. I’m not using made up language here. One time I let the audio escape out of speakers instead of my headset and it kinda freaked my wife out. “People really talk like that on there?” Yes. Yes they do.
Do I think that language itself means someone will go out and do those things? no. Do I think repeated exposure and reinforcement that associates that langauge and winning and “earning buddies or friends” starts to seep into non-gaming behavior? Absolutely.
I now report all language like that. I don’t know if XBox or Microsoft aggressively pursues it. I hope so. One time I even tried to track down someone I thought crossed the line with another player. This is an impossible task.
My thinking on this is related to other conversations about the impact of news media on events and the slippery evading authorities behavior encouraged during the #iranelection stuff on Twitter.
The last 12 months have been a whirl wind of big things… presidential shifts, big world events, wars, economic troubles, unemployment, technology advances, health care… just huge value disruptors. There’s an obsession with Real Time right now. More Data Faster! The challenge is you can’t reflect on values in real time. you can’t set anchors and see where you stand against them. No, we don’t have to stop and reflect – we can keep charging ahead. That approach will have different consequences than if we stop and reflect. I can admit I’m a bit frightened by the consequences of this relentless acceleration towards more data faster – technical progress at all costs – we’ll sort it out later. (And those that know me understand I’m not exactly a patient person and love change)…