Alex Kidd – The murderous little bastard
He was armed with a brutal fist, and occasionally throwing darts. THROWING DARTS!
Many of us grew up controlling this little psycho for hours on end. We’d smile with glee as we directed him this way and that so he could go about his murderous rampage, punching things, and stealing bags of money from crates that surely belonged to someone else. For those of you who weren’t as cool, you were jumping and dodging the barrels and fireballs hurled by the sociopathic Donkey Kong, or helping Super Mario stomp on his enemies a la Derek Vinyard in American History X. If the brutal stomping didn’t work, Mario could revert to fireballs as a handy alternative.
But hang on. They were generally bright, fun characters who existed in a two-dimensional, make-believe world of happiness, thriving with gold coins, colourful mushrooms, ladders, power-ups, helicopters, princesses, flowers, and big green drainpipes. Our noble heroes were only trying to defeat the most evil of bosses and save all humanity. Video games in the late 80’s were largely innocent, despite my exaggeration of the underlying violence. Most people who played Alex Kidd are more likely to reminisce about the theme music or Alex’s sukopako motorcycle.
So what changed? What makes today’s video games so terrible, and apparently so influential that people attribute them to real-life mass murder?
In the early 90’s, Doom was released to the world and it was violent. I played it and I loved it. Wandering around the dark hallways of hell, tightly gripping a chain gun, plasma gun or rocket launcher, eagerly blasting the living guts out of awkwardly shaped demons that came toward me. Doom was the first well-known First-Person Shooter (FPS), which in layman terms means you play through the eye of the person holding the gun. You are the character. In older games such as Alex Kidd or Mario, there was a clear disconnect between the gamer and the player. You were controlling someone else. It didn’t feel like you.
The game was a publicised favourite of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two shooters responsible for the Columbine Massacre 15 years ago. They gunned down 13 students at their school, and a rumour quickly circulated that one of them had created a custom level within Doom to mimic their school layout and play out their fantasy. This was
later proved to be false.
But does the first person perspective and closer embodiment
of our video game heroes have any relation with real-life violence? Probably not. The character in Doom may have had a back story if you read deep enough into the manual, but who on earth reads a gaming manual? For all intents and purposes, you stepped into the shoes of whoever the character was and it was you holding those guns and roaming the hallways.
I’m sure the first person view could be delved into deeper psychologically, however that doesn’t appear to cause the outrage. The most often cited game linked with real-life incidents is Grand Theft Auto (GTA), which is classed as a Third Person Shooter. You don’t play right through the eye of the character, unlike Doom – you can see your little man on-screen which creates that disconnect. The character in GTA usually has a name, back story, personality, and character traits that you control from a distance.
The graphics and realism in video games today is incredible and in my opinion this is what most likely triggers the anti-video game sentiment. GTA is the series that has come under the most scrutiny for its emphasis on stealing cars, killing people, visiting prostitutes and so on. In GTA 5, when you shoot someone, they fall to the ground like a real person, they bleed like a real person, and their body lies dead and motionless on the pavement like a real person. The gunshot causes civilians nearby to scream and run away from the psycho with a gun, and you might hear a siren approaching. The slight pang of guilt you have when you shoot an innocent civilian (or misguided gang member) is quickly replaced by a small smirk when you don’t hear a siren and realise you got away with that one.
In Alex Kidd, when you punch an enemy or throw a fireball at them, they turn into a cute little white cloud before dissolving. Mario jumps on the head of a critter and squashes it. You’ve already left the screen before you see the aftermath of your destruction. Times have certainly changed.
So after playing GTA 5, do I feel like jumping in my car, running down pedestrians and leading the cops on a city-wide chase that only attracts more cops until helicopters join the party and my remaining options are to drive off a bridge or surrender to a barrage of gunfire? Or do I want to stand in the middle of the street and blast everyone into kingdom come thanks to the huge array of available weapons? No. Not really.
The popular arguments for the anti-video game brigade is that violence in a game like GTA is rewarded, and the most terrible acts only end up with the character “losing a life”. There are apparently, to the people who don’t play the game, no negative consequences. In GTA 5, losing a life results in sometimes failing a mission, and the next thing you know you’re walking out of the hospital ready to go again. One example I read is that “in GTA you earn money when you kill a prostitute”. The blanket statements about being rewarded are not entirely accurate. This is where the details are overlooked and those people against violent video game focus only on statistics, mainly hour’s played v the level of aggression displayed by the adolescent.
In GTA 5, there is little purpose to gun down civilians. It attracts unwanted police attention, which in turn makes missions more difficult. You can take a few bucks from a dead body but it probably costs as much to buy the ammunition in the first place. And stealing cars isn’t always a great option. Once you have a good car, you tend to stick to it. You store it in your own garage and use it over and over. Only when you’ve rammed it into one too many guard rails do you consider stealing another. A car alarm can then go off, the driver might fight back, or a police officer can spot you jacking it and flash the red and blue. It’s also incredibly frustrating to die. I’m only one person but I usually play with the aim of not dying, and not attracting police attention if I can help it. My point is, you are actually rewarded when you try to avoid the attention of police and not do things that get on their radar, with the exception of the missions – but these don’t tend to involve mass civilian shootings.
If a child is itching to play GTA 5 so they can pick up some guns and rocket launchers and mow down countless civilians in a blaze of blood-soaked glory, there are two ways you can look at it. Firstly, find out what caused the desire for blood lust before the game was played? Secondly, is it a blessing that an outlet exists where violent and aggressive adolescents can do something they’d otherwise only be able to do in real life? Has anyone ever considered whether video games have actually prevented a school shooting or two? It’s a reach I know, but I’m just throwing it out there…
But the negative attitude toward violent video games is ingrained. The debate surfaced again after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 by Adam Lanza which resulted in the death of 26 students, his mother and himself. A senator in Connecticut basically claimed that because he had access to a weapon that he saw in a video game, it gave him false courage about what he could do.
Surely that’s a stretch if ever I’ve heard one? But it was true, Lanza liked video games. His favourites were found to be Super Mario Brothers and Dance Dance Revolution. Needless to say, the link between Sandy Hook and violent video games quickly vanished.
A quick search of video-game controversies results in some of the well-known connections, such as Columbine, but also instances where a person violently attacked another person because it was their turn to use the gaming console. I’m sorry but that’s a whole different kettle of fish, akin to road rage and people who don’t like to wait in queues. It has nothing to do with video game content.
My advice to parents who are overly worried. If your child/adolescent is going to play video games and you can filter out the bad stuff at home, by all means, do it. But if you know they’ll be playing “bad” games elsewhere and you are powerless to stop it, buy the game for them to play at home.
Really? That’s my solution? To buy a video game for your child that you absolutely don’t approve of?
If they’ll play it anyway, hell yes! And you know what else you can do? Keep the television and console in a common area of the house, and sit down and play the game with them. You can also keep a limit on how much time they spend playing. If it’s GTA 5, encourage them to find the car jumps scattered around the city. Encourage them to focus on the missions. Discourage the mindless shooting of civilians in the street. The missions in GTA may involve a bank robbery or stealing a fuel tanker but it’s not mindless, school shooting style violence. The missions are planned and involve a number of people all performing tasks at set times. Not the type of instant violence that adolescents can instantly go and emulate in the real world.
Banning violent video games is not the answer. Controlling what your child is playing, and for how long, is much more realistic, plus it leaves the rest of the non-risk video-game playing community to make their own choices.
Taking away violent games will simply push adolescents who aren’t content with Pacman or Tetris into something else, like a satanic cult where they drink goat’s blood, worship the heart of a squirrel, and repeat chants to bring forth the spirits of Gazgul.