Here’s what you can do in modern gaming:
You can become a god that sacrifices small children in your ever burning altar (Black and White); you can have a gun, don a nasty Russian accent, and slaughter dozens of civilians in an airport (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2); you can control the denizens of Hell or something equivalent, and torture good souls trying to stop your evil intents on the world (Dungeon Keeper); you can destroy a small post-apocalyptic town that contains struggling dwellers trying to make ends meet (Fallout 3). Let’s not forget about your decision in Mass Effect to wipe out an entire species (remember Virmire and confronting Wrex?). And there are many others.
Sure that’s some games. But Zeus forbid you attack or try to kill a child! Oh no. Today, the bars come down and a finger is waved at you. You may try control the world, torture your Sims, shoot people in airport, beat up old ladies and Hasidic Jewish men on the street, regularly murder prostitutes – but don’t you dare hurt a child.
OK, gaming world. Let’s remove the kid-gloves and put on the kid-knucklebusters, instead. We are grown up enough to decide whether we want to hurt entities in our gaming world. We can decide whether to slaughter or maim individual fictional – note: FICTIONAL – entities on our screen. Sure, you might force us to shoot those other, foreign-accented people, but they were shooting at me, too. There’s no button to summon the UN. And, like the UN, the arguments are largely impotent in defence of protecting digital children.
For example, IGN recently had an editorial concerning this matter. Colin Campbell gives four statements:
It is wrong to kill people.
It is wrong to kill children.
It is ok to kill pretend people.
It is wrong to kill pretend children.
He then says he agrees with these statements and proclaims it the majority view. Whether something is the majority view does not make it right. After all, it was the consensus or majority view that the Earth is flat, that women are lesser species, and that people of different countries are stupider (all of which have been widely held views in the past). But none of these statements are true. Indeed, an appeal to majority is an informal logical fallacy.
Campbell rightly discusses people like myself who find the inconsistency in designers’ choices wanting: They are saying to us gamers â€œhere is a world that is quite realistic for you to kill thingsâ€ but suddenly it becomes a Nanny-state in deciding â€œOh no! You can’t kill digital entities that happen to look like us and are smaller!â€
But why? One thing Campbell offers is exactly what games like Call of Duty and Battlefield are not. They are not perfectly realistic simulations – and I certainly don’t think games should be realistic depictions of things, otherwise they probably wouldn’t be fun. Anyway, Campbell says objectively there is a large number of child-rapes, murders and tortures that occur during war. But the combat that CoD and others are depicting exclude this and other elements: talking and complaining and awkward moments between friends, colleagues and so on. This is a good point. However, we are not strictly focussed on that. Children are basically excluded from the entire game. We’re more focused on games like, say, GTA where children are non-existent, RPGs where children are invulnerable (Fallout 3, for example) and so on. Basically, we are looking at the reason why children are excluded from those areas of games that do allow the murder of innocents. So Campbell’s point doesn’t solve this one either.
Campbell then says â€œno commercial organization wants to be associated with images of children being killedâ€. Again: There are grisly, horrible things that games have done that we don’t lay at the feet of the company. And let us not forget, game companies do have the murder/sacrifice of children in games. The games are still bought and, as far as I know, these companies are still alive and doing well (if they aren’t, it’s probably not because they allowed you to kill digital small people).
It’s just that many gamers choose – yes, CHOOSE because you know, they’re adults not babies – not to kill the children (where possible). I’m not convinced by this point, nor Campbell’s next point which is not a moral point at all, but merely descriptive. There is a difference between saying games are, for example, violent (description) and whether they should be (moral). He says:
We have been watching grisly death on screen for over a century, and for millennia on stage. But the death of a child is a much rarer occasion in fiction, and very, very rare at the hands of the fiction’s main protagonist, which in a game, is you.
Notice: This is a description of what occurs in fictional environments. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Female protagonists are also more rare than males, but that doesn’t make it weird or wrong.
Campbell then says: â€œThink of the very many fairy tales and legends you heard as a child in which kids are placed in mortal danger. In general, the witch, the wolf, get their comeuppance. Only in the Pied Piper of Hamelin are the children taken away, lost forever. If there is a creepier tale, I haven’t heard it.â€ I’m not sure what that’s supposed to do, nor how that validates the idea that killing digital small people is wrong. So what if its creepy? Furthermore – and to indicate why this point is irrelevant – original fairy-tales almost always involved the horrible death or massacre of the main (child) hero.
Finally, Campbell, I think shoots himself in the foot. He describes how watching a child getting killed really effects him, whereas he has â€œseen hundreds of men and women [getting] strangled on-screen in a video game, and couldn’t give a damn.â€ So, based purely on how his stomach feels, he’s judging whether you and I are able to have a choice in a game. Based purely on repulsion, Campbell and others think it is somehow OK to take the choice of killing digital small people out our hands and into the Nanny-minded games companies. Instead of treating us like adults, we’re given design â€œglitchesâ€ to prevent our murderous intentions toward digitally smaller people?
Campbell then says something that should send a shiver down the collective spine of maturity and autonomous thinking. I want you to imagine someone saying this while speaking at a rally for a new government or party. After reading it, tell me whether you would want such a government ruling you: â€œThey also make moral choices for us, both to protect us from things we don’t want to experience, and to protect themselves against stupidity and prejudice.â€
No one ought to make moral choices for us, since this is fundamentally what the history of fighting for individual liberty was about. The nature of being an adult is about, at it’s base, making moral choices for yourself and with others. These â€œothersâ€ are usually children, but can be with other adults, too. OK, so game developers are not in a position to rule our, say, medical policies and “lives”, but the argument remains: Who are game developers (or anyone!) to decide for us what we want, if we are adults engaged in an activity that does not harm anyone (like sitting on a couch, pressing the X button?).
Furthermore, when one group imposes their moral view on to others who don’t agree, we have a situation where one side is imposing unnecessarily onto the autonomy of others. For example, imagine you were not allowed to play video games on a Tuesday because the majority religious group of the country said Tuesday was the day their great god, Kratos, was sleeping. You are not a Kratosian, but it doesn’t matter. What’s wrong with this situation is not necessarily that the Kratosians have a weird belief – that’s fine, mostly – it’s that they impose it on others. Why should we non-Kratosians put our controllers down? The Kratosians can quite easily not pick up their controllers since, you know, they’re ADULTS. They control their hands, their wants, their needs. Are they so childish they need restrictions because they can’t control themselves? If so, why does their inhibitions and immaturity have to become everyone’s burden?
This is exactly what’s occurring here with killing kids. Squeamish people are proclaiming they’re not adult enough to turn off the â€œkill-a-childâ€ feature; they’re saying they need those great bastions of morality, the gaming companies to help them (who make Duke Nukem games? Who allow you to massacre innocents in an airport? Those guys?).
No, dammit, enough. I’m an adult. Dear Nanny-State, get the hell out of my game or I’ll torture your baby. If you’re really having a problem this, what’s wrong with choosing not to play the game, or to have a feature that turns such modes on and off? Aren’t we adult enough to decide these things?
Anyway, I think to take my mind off whether games push limits in terms of being abusive to humans, I’m going to play a little, unknown title that offends hardly anyone called Dante’s Inferno. Oh thank goodness there’s no child… oh look, these… heh, babies are attacking me… Am I allowed to fight back, squeamish gamers? Or someone called Alma from a little game called F.E.A.R.?
Last Updated: September 22, 2011