I posted this before on another page, but I would like to post it here as well. The original article, “Are we what we play?” was published on 1UP.com last year, and I wasn’t too impressed with what I read.
Upon reading ‘Are we what we play?’, I thought to myself about the games I play and what they say about who I am. Thinking through the various titles I have played over the years, the simple answer arouse, sometimes I just want to be the hero. I like saving the day, watching good triumph over evil, getting the girl in the end, but what does that mean? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Everyone likes to have a feeling of self-importance once in a while, and I myself am no exception. Before video games, children had plastic guns and played ‘Cowboys and Indians’, before that, children had wooden swords and played ‘Robin Hood’, etc I think the real issue is that we over analyze everything these days trying to find a hidden meaning, and one of those topics, especially since the mid-90’s has been video games. Let’s take a step back to understand this before we begin.
By the mid-90’s games like Doom and Duke Nukem had raised fears of violence among children, fears that these games would lead to dysfunctional grown ups, which seemed to have been justified in April of 1999 when the two students shot up Columbine High School. After the massacre, news media and concerned parents blasted the video game industry and the use of violence in such games, but many ignored the real issues on the case. Sensationalize the fiction, ignore the facts, and get your face on the television. In 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman grabbed a rifle and killed fourteen at the University of Texas at Austin, and before that in 1927, Andrew Kehoe killed 45 when he set off three bombs at the Bath Consolidated School, which took place in a time before video games. The issue is social pressure and the psychological state of these murders, not their hobbies, and yet this fiction still persists. Have we become so self-obsessed we look inwards instead of outwards at the bigger picture?
If we are going to sit down and seriously discuss the impact of the games we play, why not breakdown some of the more popular titles of the last decade or so and find their deeper meaning and what, if any, impact they have had on society.
Final Fantasy VII – I am one of many players who enjoyed this adventure without paying too much attention to the story. On the surface, it looks like a simple game about a hero and his companions trying to save the world from a great evil, but when you look closer, we see that are team of would-be heroes are eco-terrorists and the great evil, for most of the game, is a large corporation bent on hurting the environment for profit. I will tell you right now, I do not support the actions of radical environmental groups in anyway, and I am also a person who believes in big business and loves a good steak (Mmmmm, dead animal flesh), but that didn’t stop me from picking up a Playstation 1 and this game and spending over a hundred hours playing through it a few times. Cloud Strife, a character beloved by many, spends the first disc blowing up two power plants and attacking a corporate head quarters in a militia style raid. What does that say about his fans, including me? The truth is that it doesn’t say anything about my social or political beliefs, but there are those misguided individuals who turns to this game as a “Bible” of social doctrine and correctness. These few are not a sign that this game was trying to push a political agenda, so I wouldn’t spend much time debating Square’s beliefs when it comes to the environment or capitalism.
Final Fantasy X – As Final Fantasy VII could have been seen as a tool for discussing environmentalism, Final Fantasy X could be viewed as a social and political statement about religion and society. Surprisingly, in a world where political correctness deems such faiths as Christianity as hateful, this game seems to have flown in below atheist radar, especially with Sin being such an important part of the plot. In the game, our heroes are caught in a battle between science (the Al-Beds) and religion (the Yevonites), finally siding against these theological tyrants to bring about peace. As a Roman Catholic, I should be offended, I should have written a letter to Square-Enix and demanded an apology for attacking my faith in such a way, but instead I bought the game, spent over a hundred hours again playing through it a few times, then went out and bought the sequel. Why didn’t I sit down and examine the morals and beliefs which seem to be pushed by the game’s creators onto a naive audience? Simply because to me it is just a game, and no matter what the story, as long as it has good graphics, good game play and a well developed cast of characters, I am going to play it.
The Street Fighter Series – I can remember my brother and I begging my father to let us buy Super Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo. My parents were sure that such a game would make their children more violent, but finally they broke down and gave into our wants (I love my parents). I can still clearly remember sitting outside Toys R Us in the family car with my mother and two brothers while my father went inside and purchased the game for me and my twin as a birthday gift. We spent hours upon hours beating each other up as Ryu and Ken, playing through the game hundred of times with various characters, trying to beat our high scores, and yet, even when spending such time around such a violent game, nothing happened. My parents’ fears never were justified, all that came of it was that Street Fighter brought my brothers and I closer, giving us an outlet for the various frustrations we had to deal with in school. In a time where school fighting is now an expellable offense (something I find disturbing), it is good to have these outlets. Does that mean people who play these games are more prone to violent outburst and need to release anger through these forms of entertainment? Not at all, especially since everyone vents their bottled up emotions in one way or another. Some do it through painting, others do it through sports, I just happen to like beating up a computer controlled opponent when things get a little rough.
Call of Duty – Killing Germans, Japanese and Italians with guns and grenades sounds more like post-war racism gone rampant than an educational and enjoyable video game. Some groups are now trying to outlaw the word “Nazi” in public schools, so what does it say when someone plays this and other war themed games? If it isn’t “just a game”, what are the deeper meanings to be found in such a title? Because players can play as both American and Soviet Russian soldiers, does that mean the creators of this title and titles like it are pushing the political beliefs of either group? No. Does this push gun violence or make me want to grab a rifle and start shooting people? Not at all, in fact, being a Canadian, I most likely will never even handle a gun, let alone go around shooting at people. What is the hidden meaning, what does it say about people who play these titles? At most, I would say it appeals to people who enjoy studying World War II history and enjoy playing video games. It doesn’t mean anything for someone to buy this game, play this game, and talk about this game with their friends, so quit worrying about the social impact of war-themed shooters because I have yet to come across any study which supports any claim that Call of Duty or titles like it lead to gun violence. This fact however seems to be ignored by many who keep trying to explain school shootings as a side effect of youths who spend time killing Nazis on the beaches of Normandy.
Need For Speed 2: Hot Pursuit – My first girlfriend loved playing this game, and even after our breaks ups, I continued playing this title. What does that say about me? Do I hold some ill-feelings towards authority, or at the least, highway police? For anyone who hasn’t played this game, the basic premise is that players take famous cars and race them against friends and computer controlled opponents while being chased by computer controlled police officers who try to arrest you for breaking the law. People who play this game, as “not just a game” logic goes, should hate police officers or at least want to race their friends down the highway in whatever car they can afford. Shouldn’t this game be breeding a generation of players who drive fast cars dangerously fast and hate the police? Only a handful of players will buy a Honda Civic and customize the car for racing, and this isn’t because of the game, this is because of social pressure due to popular trends highlighted by the popularity of the Fast and the Furious movies. Once again, people play it because it is fun, not because of any deeper meaning.
In the end, video game players don’t buy a game because of a deeper meaning which will later lead them to commit various criminal acts, they pick it up because of what it looks like, what people say about it, what the price is, etc Working at EB Games and later Toys R Us, I can tell you, I have never been asked by either a gamer or a gamer’s parents what effect, if any, this title will have on their personality or social/political views. Especially among male players, what really matters is what you get to do, be it killing monsters, racing expensive cars, etc, and how big the breasts of the female characters are (come on guys, that is half the reason we buy Dead or Alive, you know it). Sex has more to do with game sales then social/political views, but this really isn’t an issue that many want to raise in a sexually tolerant society, especially with the popularity of “alternative lifestyles”. Honestly, sit back, enjoy and remember, it is just a game.