Friday, January 05, 2007

Aural Kombat

Via Penny Arcade, I've learned of a new documentary on video games called Moral Kombat. Here's the trailer:

This is utter bullshit on so many levels, I can't name them all. But I highly recommend Harold Schechter's book, Savage Pastimes, for a revealing look at just how violent our culture and society is compared to ages past. A bit of a spoiler--are first-person shooter games really worse than the bear-baiting of the Renaissance era? There's a big stink about the video of Saddam Hussein's lynching execution making the rounds on YouTube and the like, but up until about a hundred years ago hangings were public events that families went to for weekend picnics. In the carnival-like atmosphere of a public hanging, all the townspeople would gather round, with their young children, to watch these criminals drop a short length, and twitch for a bit at the end of the gibbet, and being cut down. Meanwhile, buskers, entertainers, food vendors and prostitutes would be making brisk business. Death has always been associated with entertainment, food and sex--probably because proximity to it makes the living value pleasures of the flesh that much more.

This issue hits my hot button because I'm a roleplayer, and my hobby went through this same bullshit over 20 years ago. (I'm also a video-gamer, though I'm not on top of every latest development in that industry.) The line from the trailer that really set me off was "we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." What?! Are they saying there is no boundary between imagination and reality? Puh-lease. Over the last two decades, I've "pretended" to be an evil knight in service to a dark god (in Dungeons & Dragons), a drug-dealing black market surgeon (in the Cyberpunk 2020 game), a Terminator-like killer cyborg (in the Mage: the Ascension game), a backstabbing, treacherous vampire (in live-action Vampire games), and a raging werewolf warrior (in a live-action Werewolf game). In real life, I've never been in a fight, never committed an act of violence on someone, never been charged with any crime (except exceeding the speed limit by 30 km/h), never drank anyone's blood, and never barked at the moon (OK, the last one I did, but in my defense I was singing along with Ozzy Osbourne).

If we were what we pretended to be, George W. Bush would be an effective president and warleader, Canada would be respected and envied the world over (newsflash: we're not), and Paris Hilton would be a paragon of moral virtue.