Offensive games are good for you
Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Anthrax and Gary Coleman? Thank you, sir, may I have another?
Ever since Columbine, violent games have been guaranteed front-page coverage in newspapers all over North America. Shocking people with lurid exposés over how objectionable games can be has become a regular feature in print and on TV shows like The O’Reilly Factor. Moms from Miami to Moose Jaw who wouldn’t know Jedi Knight II from Gerry Shandling listen up whenever a reactionary government (I’m looking at you, Australia) bans a first-person shooter or some pop psychologist with less credibility than Dr. Joyce Brothers publishes a study linking Quake to pulling the wings off flies.
And it’s all good. As much as I believe that this blame-game crap is unwarranted, made-up psychobabble from media hounds desperate to hit the lecture circuit, I still smile every time I see one of these ‘EverQuest killed my son!’ stories in a newspaper. No, not because I’m a ghoul who favors suicide in hot-elf-chick land—because it’s proof that gaming is finally making it into the pop culture heartland populated by Friends, American Idol, and John Grisham lawyer books that never, ever end. Every one of those sensationalized stories gets us one step closer to a day when developers won’t feel the need to shock the mainstream with some ultraviolent nonsense like Postal 2 where you can piss on dead enemies, and gamers won’t feel the need to shock their family and friends by playing some ultraviolent nonsense like Postal 2 where you can piss on dead enemies.
All grown up
Thankfully, the infancy of gaming is about at an end. Recent controversies over game content are the last gasps of a staid society that’s about to give in and accept that little Johnny does Doom and so does his dad. We’ve seen the same pattern repeated many, many times over the past century. Movies had to endure bluestocking bitching about immorality that led to the establishment of the Hays Code in 1930. Yet the censorship did nothing to curtail the popularity of the silver screen. Hollywood entered a golden age and over the following decades flicks grew more honest and violent and nude. The same thing’s taken place in porn. Just 15 years ago, XXX was confined to places like Times Square and the Tenderloin. Now there are adult entertainment stores in every second suburban strip mall and hardcore is offered on a pay-per-view basis by every satellite TV provider on the continent.
Rock-and-roll started off in the 1950s as an evil cult designed to encourage drug abuse, playing under poodle skirts, and—worst of all—fraternization with Negroes. Horrors! Ten years later, the Beatles were lovable moptops and James Brown was doing his sex-machine thing on Ed Sullivan. The pace has picked up in recent years, too. Dove-chewing lunatic Ozzy Osbourne has become America’s favorite TV dad. Marilyn Manson’s gone from shocking to passé in mere months. Nearer and dearer to the average geek’s heart, however, are comic books. They were also condemned a half-century ago as youth-corrupting crap, yet funny books were on the rise again as soon as Marvel started published The Fantastic Four in 1961. The Comics Code might have turned the clock back on adult content for a little while, but the medium itself thrived and underground comics soon became an integral part of Sixties counterculture. Adult comics today are part of every publisher’s arsenal. The home of Spider-Man and Hulk has a Marvel Max line where classic characters like Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD, bangs hookers and fights enemies called F**kface. DC’s Vertigo line is a long way from Superman and Batman, with lots of graphic sex and enough four-letter language to make Chris Rock blush…or at least redouble his efforts. Yet nobody says a word about these stories nowadays, even as they’re being shelved alongside the latest showdown between Archie and Veronica.