I found my assignment for Media Studies.
*Smiles with pride* - I began writing this when I was 17
I'm gona touch it up a little bit and add a few paragraphs before I officially let it loose on the net.
Also, give me some constructive critisism.
Here we go, it's a big-un.
Why should society be worried by the domination of socially & politically incorrect video games?
Video games are a billion dollar industry thanks to many individuals in rich western nations. A game costs very little to make because everything can be made using a computer yet is sold for roughly £40 or even higher, even the latest Hollywood budget films with extra features cost £20 at most. Despite the pain on one’s wallet, games are extremely popular because the experience is different for each player. This also means that one must have their own copy of a game if they are to enjoy the entertainment of single player features as others are not content with watching it like they were watching a film, because they are less involved with the entertainment than the player is. Games are for playing, not for watching, but can one get too involved in virtual reality? This question poses a concern in the mainstream media when violent games dominate the market. Violence is portrayed in different virtual situations so it is not always socially incorrect; and social incorrectness is often picked up upon by the mainstream media. On the other hand political bias in a game is never even discussed in the mainstream, so this may also be an area of concern as well.
It is thought The Hypodermic Needle Theory is more applicable to the video games medium than other forms of media. The theory came about in the late 1940’s and 50’s when radio and television ownership was increasing; and people were concerned about media influence. A classic example was Hitler who had used the mass media to unite the German people in the name of the Nazi party. There was also a rise in persuasive media such as adverts. The idea was that media had a direct, immediate and powerful influence on its audiences, like the media was a needle injecting whatever values were coming out at the time, a desirable result for media bosses with a hidden agenda. It is also known as the Magic Bullet theory for similar reasons. In these theories, the audience is passive and unable to resist anything implied in the media. It is argued that this is clearly not true because after watching a violent film we don’t all go out and commit violent acts.
In video games, it is thought that due to the active participation of the player in the game world, the player is conditioned to act in certain ways towards certain situations and this does have an effect more similar to the Hypodermic Needle Theory but is more rooted in the effects debate. This issue with socially and politically incorrect video games is of double importance because the games seem to be marketed at children or at least adolescents who are more impressionable.
An example of a socially and politically incorrect video game is Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction. Set in the near future this is the story. A violent coup of the North Korean president by his son (General Song) on the eve of reunification of North and South Korea keeps an oppressive regime’s stranglehold on power. All foreigners are then expelled into South Korea. No foreign press or weapons inspectors are allowed in an all communications to the outside world are cut off, and eventually the world’s eyes turn to other matters.
However a North Korean ship, having trouble in a storm, is rescued by the Royal Australian Navy. The RAN becomes suspicious of the crew’s attempts to abandon the ship, so they search the ship and find nuclear weapons and discover they are bound for a company known to be a front for terrorists in Indonesia; and a link between Song, terrorists and nuclear weapons is made. Chinese Intelligence reports that Song’s missile capabilities are massive – being able to hit any target on all seven continents.
The Allied Nations (a fictional combination of the UN and coalition of the willing) invade North Korea and establish bases in the South. A covert operation group funded and headed by a CIA agent, named “South Korea Union” also establishes a base in the south to hinder the activities of the Chinese, who come in by sea in the west of the country. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army seeks to make North Korea into a Chinese puppet state. The Russian Mafia have come in from the tiny border that North Korea shares with Russia to create branches of their criminal organisation in a war-torn North Korea, and sells weaponry and vehicles to NGOs operating in the war zone.
The game is free-form, the player can do what he or she wants at any time, and nothing is required outside of a mission. A player can advance the plot, take missions, and attack enemy locations or just drive around, a player freedom similar to the type found in the Genre defining game Grand Theft Auto 3. The narrative structure of the game involves the verification of the members of the “Deck of 52”. The deck of 52 is a series of high priority targets with general Song being the Ace of Spades, and all other cards representing different targets of varying values, not all (but some) cards need to be ‘verified’ except for the Ace contracts which are required to advance the plot. For Ace contracts the player goes to an island not accessible in the normal game.
The game has a system of competing allegiances, similar to the respect meter in Grand Theft Auto 2. As some factions are hostile to each other, helping one faction will cause the other to be hostile towards the player. In one particular mission the player is required to covertly start war between the PLA of China and the South Korea Union. The North Koreans, however, are always hostile to every faction (except for, at one point, the Russian Mafia) and the player. The soldiers of a faction, if the faction is hostile enough towards the player, will shoot the player on sight. The ultimate goal of the game is to get General Song and the $100,000,000 bounty for him.
When you look at the game structure of Mercenaries, the influence of freeform games like the Grand Theft Auto series is there: the playing options outside of a narrative, the ability to steal any vehicle in the game, to kill anyone at will (but face consequences). Additionally player can destroy every building in the game, to the point at which the player will either have to die or load a saved game to restore the buildings. Influence of contemporary wars such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 can be seen in the Deck of 52, where in that war Saddam Hussein was the Ace of Spades, and his two sons were also high up in the card hierarchy. The name of the private military company that the player is employed by, ‘Executive Operations’ is likely to be a reference to ‘Executive Outcomes’, a real company of civilian contractors founded in Apartheid South Africa, which had Texaco as one of it’s ‘customers’, and was dissolved in 1999 after legislation in 1998 by the apartheid free new government of South Africa.
However is the game simply trying to be strategically/graphically realistic to be fun, politically realistic, or do the manufacturers have a hidden political agenda? The latter is suspected by many on the political left and this is why Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is considered a controversial game to be released to the public. Its upcoming sequel is also controversial because it depicts an invasion of Venezuela after ‘corrupt dictator’ messes with the oil supply. People on the right wing accuse today’s Venezuelan president of trying to become a dictator and having controversial oil policies.
As far as controversy reported by news agencies goes, the game was banned from shelves in South Korea for depicting war in the Korean peninsula. The delicate diplomatic situation between North and South could be strained by the prevalence of games that simulate war between the two countries, so the South Korean government is under intense pressure to ban such games.
To see how the game may influence people’s perceptions of a contemporary war zone, specifically Iraq, we must analyse events in the game and how they are presented and compare them to similar events running up to, during the war in Iraq, and the aftermath of the war.
The war in Iraq began on the supposed link between Saddam Hussein, a military dictator (and ex-CIA operative), weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda terrorists. However we have found out since then that there was no link between the Ba’athist government of Iraq and Al Qaeda, who have conflicting ideologies, and that the evidence for yellow cake uranium from Niger was fabricated evidence by the British government. However this fabricated link is not often talked about in the mass media and the chaos in Iraq today is viewed as a bigger issue than what started the war. In the game, the link between Song, nuclear weapons and terrorists, is presented as real, much like it was for Iraq, however in the game the threat to the game world is ‘real’, so to speak. The game provides us an inside representation of an Iraq-like invasion, yet the threat of nuclear weapons is presented as real, while soldiers in Iraq may have known the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction was not real. Also, the location of the terrorists, Indonesia, is significant because this is a country populated by Muslims, and Al Qaeda are supposedly Muslims as well, so this gives the player the notion that terrorists are likely to be Muslim.
In one of the game missions, the player has to take weapons inspectors to a site to inspect and then take them back safely, at the start of the mission, the player’s character says “Weapons inspectors are so anal!” – The player’s lack of control over the protagonist’s speech may influence very young players to think the same after sympathising with the character that, after all, is presented as a hired hero saving the world from nuclear Armageddon. However, the so called ‘hero’ is a civilian contractor; a mercenary. In real life Mercenaries may cause more harm than good due to people who will profit from violence and who hire them for their covert and untraceable characteristics. When the character is presented as a hero we are open to what he or she may say. The inspectors in the Iraq war were largely ignored by the governments wanting to go to war and were treated in very much the same way ideologically as the character does in the game. In a similar way, journalists are presented in the game as a burden to troops and the mission for showing the ugliness of the war situation: They simply run around filming what they please. However in reality, embedded journalists often present the war as clean because they are only able to show the point of view of the army as their free movements have been restricted.
While allegiances to different factions in the war zone can change, the player has no opportunity to ally themselves with the North Korean government soldiers, who do not give up and are fairly well equipped. On top of that, there is no civilian resistance to the occupation. The situation in Iraq was and is quite different. The Hussein government’s soldiers showed poor resistance and there were many deserters, the main problem now in Iraq is the civilian resistance which is portrayed by the western media as a civil war between religious factions. If the player assumes similarity between the game and Iraq, the ideology is “kill the resistance, because they do not give up”. However in real life it is civilians who (probably aren’t part of the dieing resistance) are tired of an oppressive occupation, and are being shot at by coalition forces. The game does not represent this changing nature of a conflict, and assumes that the insurgency always consists of the bad guys, neither does it present the invading armies, particularly the AN coalition, as an occupation but as heroes. This is a dangerous assumption to carry along when hearing about the Iraq war.
The death of civilians in the Iraq war shows that it was not simply a war in the interest of international security by deposing a corrupt dictator, but more likely a war for oil profiteers an in the interests of Israeli dominance over the region through their allegiance with the US. The war delivered brutal effects for Iraqi civilians as careless bombing speeded up the invasion. American politicians have attempted to justify this completely unnecessary loss of life by calling it “collateral damage”. Today the cost of collateral damage is over half a million Iraqi civilians; life is expendable for big business and extreme Zionists. In the game, whether the player kills a civilian deliberately by aiming at them, or accidentally by calling an air strike on a building where civilians are near to, the player receives a fine called a “Collateral Damage Penalty”. This shows that civilian deaths are unimportant unless it is economically unfriendly for them to die. This is a high degree of political incorrectness but it is also unethical.
This game was created by Pandemic Studios, a video game developer commonly known for creating destructible environments such as the world in Mercenaries. It’s perhaps a company less known for links to the US Government. The US Government hired Pandemic to create a training game for the US army; it was called Full Spectrum Warrior. It was designed as a serious training aid to simulate the Army’s way of training soldiers to be flexible and adapt to a broad range of operational scenarios. However it was also released to the public. The US Army later developed Full Spectrum Command with the Institute of Creative Technologies which is designed as a strategic game for higher ranking officers and this has not been officially released. Full Spectrum Warrior depicted war (in a fictional central Asian country) similar to the representation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in western media; it could be viewed as propaganda for the war on terror (the enemies are ‘Muslim extremists’). Mercenaries radiates a similar ideology to this game, it enforces the neo-conservative Murdoch media representation of the so called ‘war on terror’, but applies it to the Korean theatre.
While this game reinforces a dominant neo-conservative ideology (of western nations and Israel dominating over Muslim and third world countries), isn’t it meant to be simple entertainment, not to be taken seriously? Perhaps our preconceptions of such games as harmless entertainment, we let our guard down and are open to the ideologies a game may reinforce. However, the Hypodermic Needle Theory is old fashioned and arguments against the analytical view of the Hypodermic Needle (probably coming from either side of the effects debate camp) say the theory clearly does not apply as after playing Mercenaries we do not try to do any of the actions that happen in the game. However the Hypodermic Needle theory is concerned with ideology, rather than the effects on the decision making of the player. A Mercenaries player is open minded because it is set within a war zone which is an environment he or she is not likely familiar with, so for many this will be their only in depth look into a representation of that situation. Due to the unfamiliar nature of this game, its players are passive to the ideology it reinforces, but not to the particular acts of violence in the game. The effects debate concerned with the violent acts themselves could, of course, be applied to Mercenaries. However, there are other games out there which are famous over such violence, so it is better to analyse Mercenaries for its worrying ideological punch.
A series of games that is set in peacetime society, the Grand Theft Auto series, has caused a lot more uproar than any war game, because it depicts graphic violence in every day western society. Unlike Mercenaries, which is mostly criticized by those on the political left for its politically incorrect ideology, GTA games are mainly criticized by those on the right for socially incorrect violence.
In each GTA game the player takes the role of a criminal who rises in the ranks of criminal organisations over the course of the game. Grand Theft Auto was a genre defining game before advances in video game graphics because it got rid of linear narrative and allowed for open exploration of the game world. Not until GTA3 was this freedom experienced in 3D, so GTA3 is credited to giving new life to the genre and ever since games outside the GTA series have borrowed this style of game play, such as Mercenaries, The Getaway and Mafia. However due to the graphics advance, the things a player could do became more realistic, so when GTA3 came out it was subject to a lot of controversy. The general basis of this controversy is simply that the players are allowed to act out crimes and are then rewarded for doing so.
GTA3’s release was followed with a moral panic due to its violent and sexual nature. One of the most often cited allegations in the mainstream media is that the player “has to” steal a car from its driver, pick up a prostitute, have sex with her, then kill her and steal her money. As is known amongst the gaming community, while all this is possible it is not obligatory, every illegal act performed in the game attracts the attention of the in-game police.
The principle of GTA games was always stealing cars; carjacking in GTA3 becomes a norm to the player in comparison to the other crimes committed by the player. GTA3 is one of the most socially incorrect games out there, and a poster boy for similar games to come; however should we be worried about socially incorrect games such as those in the GTA series going by the simple stance of the right-wing anti-violent video game camp? The camp is headed by Jack Thompson, a US lawyer who specialises in trying to sue games companies for any damage a consumer may claim a game has caused. Thompson describes himself as a Christian conservative and Republican, initially he concentrated his activism on obscenities in rap music. His most common criticism of violent video games is that they are used by teenagers as “murder simulators” to practise for a real life atrocity.
Here are some of his claims:
“Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it.”
Denver Post, May 30, 1999
“In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.”
World News Now, ABC, March 23, 2000
And this was before the release of GTA3. His stance on violent games is laughable in the eyes of the gaming community. Simply because he argues the games he campaigns against are given high ratings for the simple reason to avoid children playing them, so in reality he should be attacking parents themselves, not the video games designed for a specific audience. He also argues that GTA games’ marketing and advertising are aimed at children, when one should note that the adverts are only found late at night on television. People opposed to Thompson would argue that the cartoon-like exaggeration of violence in these games is simply a caricature of the USA. Essentially, all in all, GTA games are a caricature of American life in different time spans (Vice City = Miami & the 1980’s; Los Santos = Los Angeles in the early 1990’s; these are two examples). Ironically this caricature is possibly the way Christian conservatives and Republican supporters see the USA, riddled with gangs, mindless murder and immorality.
However there are more plausible arguments about the effect of violent games to support Jack Thompson’s view, and indeed, games as teaching/training machines found in the effects model.
A retired military psychologist and West point instructor, David Grossman (2000), said that video games teach children to kill in more or less the same ways as the army does. He identifies that in boot camps, raw recruits are prepared for battle by “brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modelling”. He says that children are “brutalised” by being over-exposed to representations of violence in video games at an age where the line between reality and representation is blurred. He says they are “conditioned” by being rewarded constantly for in-game violence, similar to the way recruits practise shooting until it becomes second nature. “Role modelling” in video games happens through playing the protagonist, who is able to kill many in game beings.
However these things would still not necessarily make GTA3 a murder simulator. It is likely the players have a sympathetic disconnect with the character they play. The protagonist is shot by his girlfriend in the beginning cut-scene, portraying him as weak, a temporary pawn for his girlfriend’s bigger plans. Unlike every other main character he does not speak, he is mute; he has no name, no voice, no opinions and shows no emotion in his permanently straight face and complexion. Even the one woman who might have had feelings of love for him, whom he saves in the final main mission (along with a high amount of cash) he supposedly kills to shut her up (When the game credits scroll down the screen - you hear the woman complaining about how she broke a nail while the protagonist saved her, and she is not heard after a sudden gun shot). This is hardly a role model; there seems no reason for any player to feel connected to him.
The protagonist is able to buy nothing but weapons, car-implanted bombs and re-sprays of cars the police are after, meaning he kills for profit but seems to not reap the rewards. So the cash rewards are hardly an incentive to kill and finish the game, but rather the tense and exciting nature of the missions.
The extreme levels of violence in GTA3 are actually nothing new, the same levels of violence occurred in the two dimensional, low detail original GTA game. There was little controversy over the older, low graphic game compared to the controversy and moral panic over the release of GTA3. This shows that rather than the amount of violence that matters it is how graphically realistic the violence is, because the amount and level of violence has always been the same. The reason is that, each time a sequel is made; it has to be more impressive to attract the gaming community to it. This exposes a consumption culture where the latest graphics make strong competition for gaming; style over substance. However it is possible that we see a return to substance over style as the Playstation 3 flopped in its sales when compared to what Sony predicted, and Nintendo’s new consoles are raking in excellent profits compared to when they resorted to novelty Gameboys after the failure of the Gamcube to compete with the PS2.
In the year following its Playstation 2 release GTA3 was ported to the PC, and with this move came away the automatic aim, and in came the point and click aiming with the circular crosshairs similar to any first person shooter and many third person shooters (including Mercenaries). Grossman argues “Every time a child plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills.” His comment on its effect on teenage gamers is “This young man did exactly what he was conditioned to do: he reflexively pulled the trigger, shooting accurately just like all those times he played video games. This process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The result is ever more homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning to kill and learning to like it.”
Perhaps Grossman is right to an extent, but even if it is true those video games give children the skills and the want to kill, is he suggesting that all children are incapable of seeing the consequences of killing in the real world? Guns are usually too heavy for a child to aim properly, and if they spend hours upon end playing video games they will be unfit and caught easily by authorities. “Murder simulators” these games may be, they are hardly likely to be useful training machines.
It was originally claimed that the Columbine High School Massacre was inspired by the video game Doom, a first person shooter, and then the mainstream media moved the blame towards controversial musicians such as Marilyn Manson, however, as Michael Moore suggests, they boys were more likely to have been motivated by their confusion and anger about the hypocrisy of American life, or demoralised by the pressure put on them to do well in school.
In a dystopian world society where rich Republican Evangelicals preach about the ‘murder simulator’ GTA3, it is clear that focus of criticism against videogames is all wrong. GTA3 is a game where you can’t jump out of a car while it’s moving, and where characters deal a fake drug called Spank. So while violence is socially incorrect, the game is hardly a simulator and is hardly going to be taken seriously. Each GTA game after it is simply a nostalgic caricature of a certain time period, so the games don’t represent reality accurately and they do not pretend to be accurate either. We should be more critical of politically incorrect games because they confuse reality by reinforcing neo-conservative ideology. Neo-con game manufacturers must be envied by their ideological counterparts in the old media for being able to create their own virtual reality that reflects what they could only persuade was the case in written or television news media. While all this is happening socially incorrect games are blamed for society’s problems, while valid criticism of some socially incorrect games is ignored; and a question such as whether certain war games may inspire young men to join the US Army or Blackwater (the contract army in Iraq today) is never even asked.
I've also found:
- A paragraph I was suggested to cut.
- Some links in the Bibliography
- Look up Pandemic Studios and Full Spectrum Warrior on Wikipedia
- I also was going to write about how the destruction of buildings in Mercenaries resembles the way the twin towers fell, despite the fact that a building hit by artillery or tank shells would not collapse as it did in a controlled demolition.
The cut paragraph:
British operatives in Iraq have been accused of fuelling the civil war (source: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/mid ... 314977.ece
). What happened here is not known for certain, but possibly two SAS officers dressed in Arabic dress were sitting in a van, believed to have explosives in, outside a police station in Basra, they were arrested by the Basra police. It is believed by the people of Basra that these two operatives were to abandon the vehicle and blow up the police station. It is possible that these British men were hired by a private military company to start tensions to justify the British presence in Basra, or to reinforce the idea that there is a civil war in Iraq. In Mercenaries the player similarly, covertly, provokes war between China and the South Korea Union, in the game however, this may seem justified as both warring factions have prioritized their domination over the Korean peninsula against one another. However in the Iraq reality, it is the British forces that represent selfish interests, but this is not how it is represented. It is not right that corporate interests should want the occupation to last longer at the expense of human life, this is totally unethical, and however such action is justified within the game.
Entertainment Software Association. “Top Ten Industry Facts” http://www.theesa.com/pressroom.html
Grossman, David ( 2000). “Teaching Kids to Kill,” Phi Kappa Phi “National Forum,” http://www.killology.org/article_teachkid.htm
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames - at Armchair Empire www.armchairempire.com/Previews/multi-p ... flames.htm