Before Call of Duty we were killing at recess
by Jerrad Peters, winnipegfreepress.com
March 5th 2011 1:00 AM
Every now and then, after school shootings and other repulsive crimes, someone makes the inevitable tie-in between the violence of the act and the evil inspiration that probably caused it: video games.
They certainly make a case. The scenes and assignments in games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are so brutal, so full of carnage, that it's hard not to equate the real-world evil with its virtual-world equivalent. It seems an automatic comparison.
But that doesn't make it accurate. In fact, it's a downright lazy argument.
That video games are time and again singled out as a social danger in the wake of every violent crime says more about our knee-jerk, reactionary response to such outrages -- and our inability to either predict or prevent them -- than our understanding both of games and the way in which they impact real life.
If you think violent play was introduced with the Playstation, you're in need of a wakeup call. Hurting, killing and war have been the playthings of children for as long as their adult role models have participated in those very things. In other words, since the beginning of time.
I, like many of you, grew up before the press of a control-pad button could fire a gun and kill a person on a screen. But I did, in my imagination, kill more people than I would care to count. I killed them on the playground at recess with my classmates; I killed them in my backyard tree fort. My young friends and I would separate into groups and kill each other in games of war. I defy most men my age to claim they didn't do the same.
Was there shame in it? Absolutely not! Was there a lesson? No! At least not for us kids.
Playtime, by and large, is actually not a practice session for reality. That's what makes it play; it's what makes a game a game. I may have been a pretend, gun-toting, bloodthirsty pirate as a seven-year-old, but I'm anti-war, anti-gun and a pacifist at 27.
See the tie-in? Neither do I.
If anything, modern video games are a very good thing. First off, they're a terrific communication tool. Where television and the Internet encourage isolationism, these games connect people -- virtually -- from all over the world.
Let's face it. Your kid probably isn't going to spend the afternoon playing hide-and-seek with his neighborhood friends. Those days are long gone. But he can still play with them by putting on his headset, picking up his plastic rifle and storming the virtual beach.
Secondly, these games tell us a lot about ourselves.
Games -- be they video games, or the war games I used to play with my buddies -- are representations of real-world surroundings and circumstances created by adults. They do not shape our societies; they are shaped by them. The sleazy, violent underworld of Grand Theft Auto is not creating car thieves, gangsters and trouble on the streets. If anything, it's representing and reflecting that reality.
That's a lesson for us adults. Kids only play in the world we create for them. If we really want to analyze video games, we'll look at the reflection they offer and do something about it. Maybe we'll learn where to place the blame for crime -- not on games, but on poverty, social injustice and stigmatized mental illness.
That should keep us busy for a while. At the very least, it would go a lot further in preventing senseless acts of violence than doing away with the video games we mistakenly place the blame on.
And in the meantime, why not let the kids have their harmless fun.
Original Page: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/before-call-of-duty-we-were-killing-at-recess-117457443.html
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