Monday, November 17, 2014

Film Analysis 3: "Joystick Warriors"

I'm not going to mince words. This film is disturbing.

I've never been a gamer. My version of electronic games as a child was on a dinosaur of a computer using the arrow keys to move a spaceship back and forth on a 4-colour screen to shoot 2-pixel bullets at DOS-quality aliens.

As a teenager in high school and college I had friends try and get me to play games with them (four computers in one room, one game) but I tried it and got bored (I'm not really a strategist). After college, at a party, I got to try "Guitar Hero" for the first time. I fell in love. If I could own one game, that would be it. My husband introduced me to "Civilization" where you build a civilization from the ground up, through the eras of history, trying to make friends with or defeat (in a very indirect way) your neighbours to expand your territory. I also, somewhere along the lines, tried the Sims--and multiple variations by the same company--SimFarm, SimCity, SimIsle, etc.--and enjoyed them, too.

Those games are nothing like what I saw in this film.

I saw chainsaws cutting body parts off of featureless victims tied up by their limbs. I saw a woman very graphically being torn in half--and screaming. I saw a man strapped down with a torture device over his eye, while a laser pointer helped the player aim the spikes directly into the victim's eye...and then the spikes hammered down into the man's eye, splattering blood everywhere. I saw a man shooting at police officers while they fell to the ground in pools of blood. I saw a gang of males attack a weapon-less man in a suit with knives, stabbing him over and over and over and over...leaving him bloody and mangled.

Shall I stop?

I have never seen violence like this in my life, and spending my adult life (until now) in a very progressive/liberal environment has exposed me to a lot more of this world than I wanted to be in the first place.

I had no idea video games were this bad. I knew they were violent but the level of graphicness and the gruesome detail in which players are able to maim, torture, and kill their opponents is appalling to me. As a parent I am terrified that my daughter will be attending school (and probably already is, though she's only in kindergarten) with people whose parents either don't see the danger (how is that possible???) or don't realize what they're allowing their children to see and do.

That said, this film is not a bad one. In fact, it's extremely good. I don't recommend it for everyone--unless they simply listen without watching. But in all honesty--it might be good for people to see these scenes from real games that are incredibly popular, well-known, and that their children are playing on a regular basis. For hours at a time.

For years I've heard the media tout the evils of video games using as examples the mass killings that are happening more and more frequently, such as shootings in shopping centers, movie theaters, and schools. I've heard arguments from both sides of the issue, even from people I love. It's hard to know where the evidence is, where the proof is, or whether there's enough of either to create a valid argument for either side of the issue.

After watching my friends play computer and video games throughout college I came to the conclusion that the idea that video games cause violent acts was unfounded--just because a lot of violent people enjoyed video games didn't mean there weren't other factors (such as mental instability or abuse in their own lives) that led them to commit such horrible acts of violence.

However. Seeing what I saw in this film has convinced me that violent video games can play a very large role in the decisions those individuals make to commit acts of violence in real life and not just on the screen.

As the film points out, however, it is not solely violent games that produce horrible acts of violence.

"What we’re not saying is that if there are no other factors, playing violent video games will produce a juvenile delinquent or a mass murderer. In fact, that’s not the case.”

The fact is that there are many factors that contribute to a person making the choice to create a scene in which they've participated many times on screen "IRL" (in real life). Violent video games is just one of those factors; others include poverty, family violence, peer influence, age, risky behavior, and gender.

Violence is also universal, so it's easy to translate into any culture, gender, race, or class.

“It’s relatively easy to script and produce violent video games, TV, and movies. It doesn’t take a great deal of creativity to figure out how to blow someone up. Also, violence travels well across borders. There are no language barriers, no possibilities of cultural misunderstandings…and when the industry depends on universality, the ability to use the same product in various countries is extremely valuable.”

Christians and positive people the world over like to say things like, "Share a smile--it's universal!" or "Laughter has no language." to encourage people to be cheerful toward those around them. The same argument can be made for violence. And violence--not smiling--sells.

One reason given for this sellability of violence is humanity's long-standing obsession with violence and what it means for us as people and societies. 

"We're fascinated by violence and we grapple with what it means and how to use it. We grapple with it by creating art about it."

As humans--in any culture--we are intrigued by what our ancestors have done with violence--why did they do it, how did they do it, and what did it accomplish? What do those abilities and urges say about the state of our psyches and the deep-seated savagery we wonder about that may or may not be ever-present. One way to explore that possible presence is to play with it in an environment that won't harm anyone overtly: a game.

The film also pointed out that video game fans are very demanding--they want the highest quality graphics and technology, and they're willing to pay for it. This pushes the production costs for video games extremely high, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So the end product is extremely realistic and graphic, and the fans are pleased enough to spend ridiculously high amounts of money to acquire the next in the series of their favourite games.

This leads to the idea of the fascination with and love for the mechanics of the game. How it's played is just as awe-inspiring and addicting--if not moreso--than the violent acts those mechanics are producing.

"First you see the explosions and the guns and the shooting. But somewhere around the fourth hour players stop seeing the graphics. They're interacting with the mechanics of the game itself. While this can potentially be seen as a good thing--the players aren't playing to be violent--desensitization people see this as a really, really bad thing."

The film ends by pointing out that however realistic video games may be or become, there are some things they just don't do.

"Games don't show players the geopolitical decisions. Games don't talk about those who make the decisions on why/if we're going to go to war and how we're going to go to war. Not those who are boots on the ground, following the orders of those who make those decisions. Games don't talk about the consequences to nations to civilizations. War is a violent, political response to conflict. And games don't engage that."

"Games don't portray a realistic picture of war. Games don't talk about the consequences of war--most of all to yourself. You may fail and die, but your'e back in the next game. You never experience danger and fear for your life the way real soldiers do. And the violence of video games is what George Gerber called 'happy violence'--it's violence delivered with a punchline or a joke. With none of the consequences of real war. None of the physical pain of dismemberment. None of the grieving of the family and friends of the people you blew away without a second thought. Unlike real war, everything is gauged on escalation. The more people you blow up the better. And never toward resolution."

"Video games don't create a violent person. What they do is glorify a violent culture and shut down our capacity as a society to imagine anything different. They short-circuit our ability to think about things in more productive ways. about the real violence in our lives. That's their real tragedy."