My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult

Wyn puts computer-game violence to the test

Sniff the wind. Can you smell it? Keep trying. . . . Ahhh, there it is. That's the smell of a new media backlash brewing, this one (again) against violent video games that Corrupt Our Youth.

The latest incident reared its pointy little head in the pages of The Orange County Register. A Feb. 6 article titled "Gangster Game Hits Some the Wrong Way" chronicled the rising protests against a new game called Kingpin: Life of Crime that's due to be published soon by Irvine-based Interplay Productions. The game, which allows you to play a gangster wiping out your enemies in an urban wasteland, is drawing fire from opponents who say it glorifies the gangsta life.

"I am furious," Marilyn MacDougall, executive director of the Drug Abuse Is Life Abuse/Project: No Gangs, told the Reg. "This is not a game. This is life and death, and unfortunately, too many times, it is death. Why are we making light of this?" The article also quoted law-enforcement officials and psychologists fretting about the effect such exposure to pixilated violence could have on young folks.

Interplay may be getting used to this. In 1997, the company faced similar outrage when it released its demented, grotesque and hilarious car-racing game Carmageddon; some objected to the fact that you scored extra points for mowing down helpless pedestrians and cows.

Bashing video games has been going on for a while, of course, but we seem to be seeing an upsurge recently. Last year, two Florida state representatives proposed banning from arcades all video games containing graphic violence. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), who pokes his head out of his den occasionally and looks around to see if he can spot any game violence, released in December his annual list of the 10 most violent games. Lieberman and other opponents of game violence argue that it helps create a "toxic culture" that leads to acts of real-life violence.

The problem with this argument, of course, is that it doesn't make much sense. Video-game violence has been steadily increasing since the innocent days of Pong in the '70s. Yet teen violence has plummeted over the same period. Every time there's another school massacre, politicians, religious leaders and other pundits blame it on violence in the media. But wouldn't it be more accurate to blame it on a society saturated in guns 'n' ammo? It's hard to kill someone with a PlayStation, after all.

But perhaps I should give the opponents of game violence the benefit of the doubt. So, armed with Lieberman's list, I set off for the headquarters of a local design firm (which, having granted me research space, shall remain nameless) to play the nine most violent games in existence (sadly, a demo of Kingpinwas not yet available). If, at the end of the night, I seized a high-powered rifle and bolted for the nearest bell tower, I was prepared to admit my mistake.

5:55 p.m.I circle the block near the office twice, looking for parking. Finally, I find an open meter but discover I have only enough quarters to park for an hour. I am feeling appropriately homicidal.

6 p.m. I arrive at the office but spot no pools of blood and hear no spine-chilling screams. Perhaps anticipating my arrival, the programmers have hidden the ritual-sacrifice victims in the storage room. However, upon entering my test office, I notice the phrase "Primate testes" scrawled on the wall. I find this disturbing.

6:05 p.m. The experiment is delayed while four of us try to figure out why we're not getting sound from the computer. We finally realize it's because the speakers are being used to prop up an Italian restaurant's menu on a table across the room.

6:15 p.m. We begin downloading game demos from the Internet.

6:20 p.m. Bored with watching files download, we move to another computer and begin playing Metal Gear Solid. I spend a great deal of time trying and failing to sneak onto an elevator. I die-riddled with bullets-many times. Periodically, the action is interrupted by a Basil Exposition-type fellow who explains my mission at great length. There is much boredom punctuated by occasional bursts of adrenalin.

6:45 p.m. I give up. No one has died but me. There is virtually no blood. Even when I am shot, I mostly just twitch and groan. And I spend most of the time trying to avoid violence by hiding behind forklifts and retaining walls.

6:50 p.m.We decide this experience lacks food. One of my colleagues, Bob, leaves to acquire dinner and avoid a parking ticket by moving my car.

7 p.m. Grand Theft Auto. This is the game that was banned in Brazil for inciting violence. I am instructed by my fellow gang members to retrieve a stolen car, but I spend a lot of time just running around aimlessly in the middle of the street. Cars do not run me down-not even the taxis. I ding the game a point for lack of realism.

7:05 p.m. I pause the game to figure out the controls.

7:10 p.m. This is more like it. I carjack a taxi, run over a few pedestrians and get involved in several fender-benders-just like a real cab driver. I also drown a few times and blow up in a tanker explosion once. But again, there's barely any blood-the figures are so tiny you can't see any details of the carnage. I am disappointed.

7:15 p.m. The company's "director of publicity engineering," Doug, strolls by, and we get involved in a discussion of game violence. He tells me he's just been interviewed by ABC News about this very subject. He says the average player of their games is between 18 and 26 years old-a far cry from those vulnerable teenagers Lieberman is so worried about. He draws a distinction between video games-e.g., PlayStation-and computer games, which tend to appeal to an older audience, in part because they cost about $50 a pop. "The violence that's in our game is not in there for shock value," he says. "At least not entirely for shock value."

Doug pauses, staring at my computer monitor. "You can hit those Hare Krishnas for big points!" he advises enthusiastically.

7:40 p.m.Bob returns bearing food, and we adjourn to the kitchen, where we find an assortment of flavored rums sitting on the table. A note scrawled on a paper towel says, "Try us!"

8 p.m. I pour a shot of Nassau Royale liqueur ("The Island Spirit") into my Diet Coke can. Perhaps a booze-fueled rage will ensue.

8:05 p.m. We settle down to a session of Duke Nukem 3D. I blast my way into a movie theater, wasting evil aliens in combat fatigues as I go. Finally, some real bloodlust! The gore and body parts fly. The rum begins to work. I feel my shaken confidence returning.

8:25 p.m. I move on to Starcraft, a game of galactic domination. I log in as Bitch Kitty, and as an alien Zerg, I attempt to build a comfy home in which my larvae can grow and thrive. The game is initially completely nonviolent-less like a splatterfest and more like Sim Roach Motel. I just scurry my little insects around, mine minerals and gases, and evolve my workers. If this is socially unacceptable, so is the average Ford plant.

8:35 p.m. One of the programmers pauses on his way out the door. "Hey, do you know what happens to lawyers on Viagra?" he asks us.

"I don't know-what does happen to lawyers on Viagra?" I say dutifully.

"They get taller," he replies and grins maniacally, and then he leaves. I feel my first murderous impulse of the evening.

8:40 p.m. A horde of Marines invades my nest. My larvae explode in tiny showers of glop when hit, as do the human soldiers. But, hey-I'm just defending my home. I don't know of a single conservative who would disapprove of that.

9 p.m. Exhausted from our evening of carnage, we head home.

I am befuddled by Lieberman's selection of violent games. Of the four I played tonight, only one was in any way explicitly gory, one was kind of antisocial but pretty harmless, one emphasized sneaking around over killing, and one was a solid family-values kind of game, if family values can be extended to cover giant cockroaches.

I stop at a red light, and from behind me, a Suburban the size of a blue whale honks at me for not diving suicidally into oncoming traffic. This is the acid test. I ponder my options-yank a .45 out of the glove compartment and let fly? Shift into reverse and ram him?

Instead, I smile beatifically and give him the finger. "Hell with you, bub," I say.

Share your bloodlust with Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net.

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