With GTA IV coming out tomorrow, the usual gang of idiots are up in arms about how this game will lead to the end of civilization as we know it, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc. As I said in my PAX keynote, this sort of moralistic chest-thumping makes me a little stabby:
Whenever I hear [Hillary Clinton, Jack Thompson, etc.] pontificate about how dangerous and antisocial and devoid of redeeming qualities video games are, I get a little stabby, because these games we love to play are much, much more than the simplistic bloodbaths Mass Media likes to portray them as during May sweeps.
Just as the multiplayer games are social activities, so are the single-player games narrative works of art, and they should be treated that way.
The hysteria surrounding the release of GTA IV has officially crossed into the realm of the absurd as moralizing groups of busybodies lead (shockingly) by Fox News successfully forced the transit authorities in Chicago to pull GTA IV ads from their buses. In Miami, professional attention whore Jack Thompson forced the Miami-Dade transit authority to yank GTA IV ads from bus shelters.
Can I just take a moment and point out how insane this is? This type of hysterical overreaction to a video game is completely out of proportion to any alleged harm it could inflict on anyone, but is accepted because it is done, as it always is, in the name of protecting The Children.
Yeah, it's always about protecting The Children, which leads me to wonder where The Parents are, and if these people are so serious about making the world better for The Children, why they don't invest the same amount of energy and resources into securing quality healthcare and world-class education for them as they spend wringing their hands over video games that aren't even supposed to be played by The Children in the first place.
As numerous others have pointed out, there was nothing offensive or suggestive in the ads that were pulled, but the spineless cowards responsible for running them instantly caved to the slightest pressure from the self-appointed morality patrol. I wonder how much revenue these cities lost because of this? GTA IV is rated M, the equivalent of R, so does that mean that all these cities will start removing advertising for movies that aren't appropriate for children? What about advertising for fast food and junk food and alcohol? Surely those are all things which could cause harm to children, right? If they don't instantly remove all the advertising from city buses that may offend anyone, what will we tell The Children?!
Surely, I'm not the only guy in the room who sees how absurd this whole thing is, right? Please tell me that I'm not, and I'll stop calling you Shirley.
I've said that this behavior can be equated to the Satanic Panic of the 80s. Leslie Benzies, the president of Rockstar North, took it even further back and said that all this hysteria is just like the Elvis Panic of the 50s:
[GTA IV critics are] the same kind of people who complained about Elvis… There is a big fear factor here. It’s [like] the coming of the railways, it’s Elvis shaking his hips. It’s cars going over 25 miles per hour and making people explode.
We’ve had such a beating over the past three years, by the US government, the British government, the Daily Mail. ‘You kill prostitutes’ – that’s usually the objection. I ask if they’ve ever played the game. Invariably they haven’t.
In my PAX Keynote, I said:
Speaking of parents and children and video games and opportunistic, pandering politicians: it’s none of their fucking business what I choose to play with my kids, and I wish they’d stop trying to tell me – and everyone else by extension – what my kids can and can’t play. I didn’t let my kids play violent or graphic games when they were too young to understand what the game was about because I’m a good parent who is involved in his kids’ lives, not because some idiot politician tried to score easy political points with the authoritarian 20 percenters who think censorship is totally awesome.
Let me point you to a great bit of satire, Celebrating 30 years of video games killing children. It starts with Space Invaders ("This will clearly make children think they can get another life after they die, thereby causing kids to start killing themselves in droves thinking that they can instantly come back to life!") and ends with GTA IV:
Studies now show that the average video game player is not a child at all and that their average age is actually 34. Considering this alarming data -- along with our history of pandering for votes by portraying gamers as evil, psychopathic, nut jobs for more than a quarter of a century now -- we have determined the obvious course of action: To protect our political careers, it is imperative that we raise the voting age to 35!
That's what this usually comes down to: people who genuinely don't understand what's going on having their fears exploited by people with an authoritarian agenda, who really aren't as interested in protecting The Children as they are in expanding and strengthening their power. That offends me even more than the spineless cowards who are letting people like Jack Thompson set the agenda for the rest of us.
According to Richard Bartle, though, the age of pandering politicians attacking video games and video gamers to score points with those 20 percenters isn't just coming to an end, it's already over :
We've Won. Get Over It.
I'm talking to you, you self-righteous politicians and newspaper columnists, you relics who beat on computer games: you've already lost. Enjoy your carping while you can, because tomorrow you're gone.
Dwell on this, you smug, out-of-touch, proud-to-be-innumerate fossils: half the UK population thinks games are fun and cool, and you don't. Those born in 1990 get the vote this year.
This anxiety you sense, this fear of what you don't comprehend: hey, it's OK. Parents who didn't play computer games do feel alienated, do feel isolated from their children; they do feel frightened, and naturally so, because they can't keep their children safe if they don't understand what they're keeping them safe from.
GTA IV will be officially available in about 7 hours here in Los Angeles, but is just 4 terrifying hours away in New York. How will our nation survive this great terror? Will we be able to Keep Calm and Carry On?
The ‘controversy’ story gets a bit frustrating… if this was a movie, a book, or a TV show, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’re an easy enemy to divert everyone’s attention from the stuff that really matters.
There’s an argument that video games have caused this massive upsurge in youth violence–they haven’t, it’s actually gone down. So it’s got nothing to do with the content; it’s to do with the medium.
So the self-proclaimed morality police can just calm down. Relax. The Children are going to be just fine, no thanks to them . . . especially the ones whose parents have responsibly taken an active role in their lives.