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neurological dryer lint

dirty deeds... and the dunderchief


a foreign enemy to deplore

kotaku had a fascinating article this morning discussing a parent's moral qualms with call of duty 4. his gripe was that in the first three COD games (which are set in WWII) you fight and kill nazis, and in COD4, which is set in vague middle-eastern and ex-soviet countries, you fight and kill terrorists and insurgents. the dad played the first three with his son and was fine with killing nazis, but because he is "morally opposed" to the iraq war he doesn't want his son playing the fourth.

teaching your kids a moral standard is great - it needs to happen more often. it's not super relevant that the game isn't actually about the iraq war, as he stated - the storyline actually revolves around a military coup of a mideast democracy by a brutal general with nuclear weapons - but that isn't what got me thinking. what did was the question it raised about who it's "okay" to kill (or more accurately, simulate killing) in any form of entertainment. i include other forms of media - film, theater, books, etc - in this because they pose the same question.

so what are the rules? which humans are we okay with killing? some are fairly clear:

- nazis
- stormtroopers
- as a larger generalization of the first two, enemy soldiers, as we have no qualms about killing someone as long as it is classified as "war"
- lawyers
- ninjas
- pirates
- assassins

this list largely revolves around my media collection, obviously, so if you have other contributions, please comment. i find it interesting how the list changes when we narrow our focus just to games - and all of a sudden we are pulling the trigger. i wonder what the first game that involved actually killing another person was.

the first one i personally remember playing - where a human being, not a ship with a human in it, one that wasn't my avatar, died by my hand onscreen - was lode runner on the C64. the guys chasing you can fall into puts you create, and they get swallowed up when the pit refuels itself. and i think i was actually a little horrified at the prospect, considering i was six or seven at the time.

i'm not quite sure where i'm going with this. i know that gaming hasn't desensitized me to death - i may be okay gunning down a soldier on a screen, but seeing real death still paralyzes me, because my brain is able to distinguish reality from entertainment; at the same time i'm not really thrilled that i consider killing a soldier to be entertainment. there is a base instinct in me to fight, to defend, to survive, which these games successfully engage, and in fact i am healthier when i exercise those muscles in a simulation vs. the real world; but there is also a significant difference between mario stomping a goomba, and me shooting a terrorist in the head with an M4 carbine. both feasibly scratch the same psychological itch; i wonder if the latter has more of a detrimental effect on my character than the former.


for this post

Blogger Bragg Says:

Wow, no one is touching this one? (that's what she said)

I figured there would be someone to jump all over this. (that's what she said)

I started to write something to the effect of lines being muddled between right and wrong, when it's okay in this instance and not that instance, and how people are becoming more stupid every day.

And I have to think it's not so much about lost innocence as it is about lack of responsibility. Culpability for moral decisions rests at the beginning, not in the middle.

I know that just made me a black and white, ultra conservative. And it doesn't sit well. But the dad who has a sudden change of morality because of the color uniform being worn after playing through the same game 3 times...

I'm thinking it's a matter of more discussion being needed in the house between right and wrong.

Blogger Darren Says:

I say kill 'em all. In real life and in the game. I think the guns made by Microsoft, Play Station, and Nintendo should be real with both the electronics for the game and hollow points for the real world. That way kids can practice for their games by shooting each other. After all guns don't hurt people, stupid people hurt people.

Now Bragg, if you said that then you would be a ultra conservative right wing nut job.

Disclaimer: Don't send this to the Feds. I don't believe kids should practice for their games by killing each other in real life.

Blogger scott d Says:

how anyone can be pro-life and think it's ok to kill a goomba is beyond me. a life is a life, IMHO.

(now, where is that sarcasm button again?)

Blogger The Gooch Says:

Way to get me thinking, Justin. Theresa and I have been talking about this lately since I have been playing COD4. The interesting thing about me is that I have less trouble with this one than the other COD games. It is much harder for me to watch, play, or read about actual events that happened than ficticious. It was nearly impossible for me to read and watch Band of Brothers. COD 4 is a game. I agree that COD4 may be wrong for the dad to let his kid play, which is why you have to 18 to buy the game (I got carded when I bought it...28 years old). However, if you remember, you're playing a game, I say no harm, no foul. I don't have any more of a desire to go kill anyone since I started playing the game.

Blogger B-Call Says:

1st Person Shooters = $$$ = Here to stay.
If you don't like it, go play Madden, or something.
Its a GD game people. WAKE UP!
I agree with Darren (and Metallica)... KILL'EM ALL!

Blogger Justin Hall Says:

gooch - you got carded? that's a trip. what's your PSN name?

that's actually my biggest gripe with COD4 - matchmaking is highly broken, and i will often jump on and sit for 15 minutes waiting in the lobby for PSN to connect me with other people to start a new game. infinityward claims they are working on it, they did some server upgrades tuesday night - and it didn't help at all.

back on topic - our generation, i think, has a much more reasonable grasp on the real effects of this medium on the minds of its consumers than, say, the boomers, the parents in their 40's or 50's. i'm getting the feeling that we aren't as susceptible to "corruption" by the media as that generation thinks.

the small few that could be brought to violent behavior by playing a game have other mental issues to deal with - and as a result could be brought to the same violent behavior by reading a dr. seuss book or playing with legos.

all of a sudden the idea of playing games with my (future) kids has gotten more complicated... obviously they will be playing GTA at age three, and i'll have to explain that shooting cops is dangerous and can get you in trouble rather quickly.

although i was gunning down nazis at age twelve and i never needed a chit-chat with my dad about right and wrong. maybe they will learn those values in other places? and bring the values along with them into other situations?

Blogger Ian Says:

Justin, great topic. Normally I would say games like COD4 aren’t a big deal, that was until I learned about games that feature American soldiers being killed. Games like this (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/world/2007-07-16-iran-video-game_N.htm )are produced in the Middle East. And did you read why the game was created, its was in response to an American game where Americans attack an Iranian nuclear plant, and presumably kill Iranians. When we make games that show us killing terrorists and then they make games about them killing the infidels, is this still just a game? Are we planting seeds of peace or brewing hatred? So maybe these games don’t affect adults, but what lessons are they teaching kids. What lessons are we teaching our kids by buying games like this (are we unintentionally promoting hatred?). This didn’t bother me until I saw the other side.
ps. sorry i didnt link the website in a cool fashion, i dont know how to do that

Blogger Justin Hall Says:

ian - great point. i had a discussion with myself on that while writing this post:

"at what point did it become okay to sell games to the general public that allowed the player to kill another human being?"

"probably after it became okay to depict it in other forms of media. that was likely in books (or cave paintings), millenia ago."

"well why is it okay to depict killing of human beings there?"

"because it is real. because not depicting death doesn't make it stop happening. better to intelligently (and in a compelling way) illustrate the concept to the viewer of the media than pretend like it doesn't exist."

"but does it cross the line when instead of watching, say, Indiana Jones shoot the guy, you the consumer are carrying out the action? how can it not impact you in a negative way?"

"maybe it can. i haven't seen conclusive evidence either way, except for the fact that millions of kids play first-person shooters every single day and they aren't all turning into mass-murderers. plus, i don't need video games - i was using sticks as weapons in my backyard to do the same thing when i was three years old."

"but what if you never knew of the existence of weapons? what if an entire generation skipped that nugget of knowledge? what would that generation's mark on the world be?"

"that's nice, but i live in the real world. we are a broken race, we can't help but fashion weapons, be evil to each other, because of the prompting of our selfish, violent hearts. filtering our inputs isn't the answer - a new heart is the answer."

i have these ridiculous dialogues with myself often - maybe i should post them more...

Blogger Artie Says:

Ian, you just changed my mind forever. Seriously.

Blogger B-Call Says:

you're all bloody silly.

Blogger Simon Says:

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Simon Says:

Didn't one of the Command and Conquer "Red Alert" games allow you to be the Russians and kill the Americans?

Blogger ryanham Says:

Any game ever created that has any sort of multiplayer component in it has allowed the player to play the opposite side of the equation. In Unreal Tournament, you can be the monsters and kill people. In COD4, you are forced to play the terrorists. In counterstrike, you are forced to be the terrorists. In Return to Castle Wolfenstien, you can be the Nazis.

This is nothing new, Ian and Artie, so it really shouldn't seem that shocking.

Ultimately, gaming is about responsibility. As a parent, I have the responsibility to ensure that my kids are playing games that are appropriate for their age, as well as playing for an appropriate length of time. When Conner got his gameboy for Christmas, we were given three games, Spongebob, Mario Cart, and 007. I played all three, and determined that the 007 was not age appropriate for an almost 6 year old, so he doesn't have that game with his gameboy. Sure, it sucks that dad took away a game, but that's my job. He's too young at this point in his life to even operate the mechanics of the game, let alone understand the complex theory of killing a person.

Having said all that, I have no problem with him playing Super Mario Bros 3 and stepping on the heads of walking mushrooms for the simple fact that scenario is a fairly unlikely occurance in the real world. Far more unlikely than coming face to face with another person who wants to kill you.

Justin and I were at a work function a few weeks ago, and while chatting with a vendor, we discovered that he plays warhawk on xbox live with his 7 year old son, and on his LAN they include his 5 year old daughter. He described his daughter as a "head shot expert," and it made me immediately uncomfortable. It's his choice and judgement call as to whether or not his daughter is able to handle that level of violence, but I know I don't want to give either one of my kids that moniker for quite some time.

/responsible rant over.

Blogger Ian Says:

thanks for responding and most importantly, thank you for being a responsible parent. after teaching in an alternative school for two years i have seen the horrible effect of parents allowing their children to view whatever and do whatever. your kids are lucky to have you (although they may not realize it yet).
quick question, b/c i am not a gamer and not familiar with "return to the castle" or "unreal tournament", are these games produced by middle eastern nations? or are they produced by america or one of her allies where we know that this is just a game and there is no hatred behind the game.

i worry about COD4 b/c i wonder how long it will take them to create their own COD where they take US planes, hijack them and slam them into US skyscrapers. or hop on a nyc subway and blow themselves up. if we play games that show us killing them, and they make games about them killing us, does this help the peace process? do our games improve the image that they have of us?

that is what worries me. sadly, i have to agree that even if these games didn't exist, we wouldn't be loved by them. and sadly, as cally said, these games=$$=here to stay. he is absolutely right.

i wish we had more parents like you who are more concerned about responsibility than being their kid's buddy (b/c as a realist i know that these games are here to stay... actually i would wish that we could just get along, well actually i wish that they knew jesus, but i am digressing)

Blogger ryanham Says:

I guess my ultimate point is this: How do we know that they are producing their games out of hatred? Just because we are the enemy in their games and not themselves?

How do we know that our games aren't produced with hatred behind them?

What about the game produced by the military called America's Army? It's a military tactical game, and while I don't believe you can play the opposite side in that game, what makes that game any different? Is it just because our perspective is the American side of the conflict?

The game you linked above was created as a response to a game created in America where Americans attack an Iranian nuclear facility. Which game is more appropriate? Either one? I'd say no, both sides are wrong in producing the games, but they did. Neither side is helping to engender peace, but who would play a game where your goal is to create new treaties and have them ratified by the enemy? Maybe Jimmy Carter, but that's about it.

Blogger Artie Says:

Ham- I didnt think about parenting stuff (I think any sane parent would filter games like this because of the violence). And I wasn't concerned about hatred behind the game, how can I know the motivation of the creators? I was more concerned with Ian's point in how things are interpreted in different parts of the world. As far as I know, we there aren't any monsters or killer mushrooms involved in world diplomacy, so I'm not too worried about those games.

Anonymous Anonymous Says:

maybe my original response wasn't clear enough (i tend to make no sense). i DO believe that COD4 is inappropriate. I do not know the hearts of the creators, but the game does not promote peace. i never realized how the rest of the world, or more specifically the mid east, viewed our games. of course they would be outraged, but i never thought about them until i was pissed that they made games where americans were killed.

in my 2nd response, i said i agreed with cally. these games=$$=here to stay. no one will buy a game where countries make treaties with one another (unless its one of those sims games where you can make treaties/build your own roller coaster park).

i guess to answer your ultimate question, i do believe their games are made out of hatred because their games are made as a response to our games which show us killing them. i believe our games and their games are both bad and neither promote peace.

unrelated to this topic, i heard that you were preaching tonight at john wesley, how did it go? i'm not trying to be nice, i'm really interested in what other people are learning/talking about.
---ian (sorry i didn't sign in. in addition to being unclear, i am also lazy)

Blogger Bragg Says:

On one hand we welcome the change of media (physically) but we are not comfortable with the change of content?

I know this is a rather broad connection, but why?

Can you imagine Disney having to continue using cells for animation? Can you imagine using analog film to capture images for high definition? Can you imagine the porn industry still distributing through plastic wrapped magazines on top shelves? See what I did there?

Why is selective change the norm here?

Again, broad connection between the two ideas, but bottom line is about distribution. It's easy for kids to get their hands on material that may or may not be suitable for their age, why not argue for stronger methods of monitoring the purchasing and play of the content?

Is there that great of a difference, though, in what is acceptable here and not acceptable there in regards to distribution of content related to the type of content being released?

(yes, i understand this is comment is problematic in regard to scope and depth within context of the original post and the majority of the following discussion. i take full responsibility for being ignorant.)

Blogger ryanham Says:

I'm actually preaching next Sunday at 11:30am. feel free to come by and listen!

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