Chandler, Arizona, United States
There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
Profile continued . . .
Are We What We Play?
with love from CRS @ 10:40 AM
this entry brought to you by grinderman, "when my love comes down"
I was reading an editorial recently on 1up.com about how morality issues in video games affect players, and how that relates with how gamers play them. In other words, in a game that gives you the moral values of either being good or bad, what does the way you play a game say about you as a person, if anything? Obviously if you make the decision to stab a hooker in Grand Theft Auto, nobody is saying you would even passingly think about stabbing a hooker if you happened to cross one on the street. But the fact is, not everybody plays games the same, so when a player makes specific choices that other players don't, what does that mean? Saying "games are just games" is true, but it's also dismissive, and clearly there's something going on here, something interesting about the way people think, and to dismiss it is to not open up a potentially fascinating subject. I read the essays that had been written there, and I was so fascinated that I had to join in on the conversation.
One particular writer, Jeff Green, very closely echoed my sentiments, and I wanted to embellish on that. He said that when he plays a video game where he has the choice between good and evil, he always plays good. If he's playing a game where there are degrees of good, he's extra good. And really, I play the exact same way. Every single time I'm given a choice to be either good or bad, I always choose good. If there are degrees of good, I'm always as good as the game will possibly allow me to be. Most every friend I've ever had that plays these kinds of games is almost always the chaotic/evil character, and my friends consistently criticize me for always playing the good character. "Oh lord," they'll say. "Why do you always pick the paladin? They're so boring."
What's funny about this is I believe the exact opposite. I have yet to beat a single game that's allowed me to make these choices as the evil character. I have started these games that allow me to choose between good and evil, chosen evil a couple times, but eventually I get bored. I find it extremely boring to just kill the shopkeeper when I could have legitimately bought something with my own money-- or better yet, haggled him down to a more affordable price. I find it extremely boring to just kill the informant that's been helping me out when he becomes inconvenient. I'd rather capture antagonists instead of killing them when the game reaches its climax, if I'm given that opportunity. The idea of just going around killing people willy-nilly just because a game environment allows me to doesn't interest me. To me, it sounds less challenging. I could just kill that shopkeeper because he's charging me too much for whatever, but that's not challenging. Haggling him down is more of a challenge. During the Metal Gear Solid series, once I realized I could beat the entire game without killing a single person (in the first game you have to kill the main bad guy at the end of each level, but nobody else needs to die; in the following games in the series, you don't have to kill anybody), it became an entirely new game to me. I loved the idea of being a guy who could kill anybody I wanted, I just chose not to.
Perhaps this comes from my love of superhero comics, where heroes rarely kill bad guys. I like the idea of Spider-Man wrapping up a bad guy in webbing, and bounding off to the next crime, just another part of the job. Heroes like Punisher were interesting, but never my bag-- killing bad guys seemed like an easy answer. I liked the crusade of a guy like Batman, who takes down a psycho, knows he's probably going to see him on the streets again, and when he does get released, he's probably going to have a vendetta against Batman, making his job that much harder-- but that's the price you have to pay to be the good guy.
Which brings me to games like Grand Theft Auto. This is a game where the main character is, for all intents and purposes, a bad guy. You kill a lot of people in Grand Theft Auto, and a lot of them are good people (although there are rarely instances where you have to kill innocents). The main characters are always set up as anti-heroes, people who are either in a situation where they have to be bad to survive (for example, CJ, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), or people who live a bad life style, but have their own moral codes (for example, Tommy or the unnamed protagonist in Grand Theft Auto 3). I have absolutely no qualms with playing the bad guy when the game is specifically set up that I'm playing a bad guy. If that's the direction the game is taking, great. No problems there.
In the Grand Theft Auto series, one of the main gameplay mechanics is jacking cars. You can walk up to any vehicle, whether parked or occupied, open up the car door, and you yank the driver out of their car, get in, and steal the vehicle. In real life this is a horrifying proposition, but in the game it's hilarious, because your character, who ordinarily displays emotions and is portrayed to have feelings, feels absolutely no problems with just yanking a person out of their car. It's cavalier, and it was portrayed in a hilarious way. A person's sitting in their car, boom, they're laying on the ground, and you're in their car. Occasionally, the driver will even get back up and jack their car back from you. The way the game handled it in Grand Theft Auto 3 and in Vice City, it was comical, and sometimes I'd illicit a chuckle.
Then, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, they changed this action that happens thousands of times in the game with just a little addition. CJ, the protagonist in that game, runs up to your car, opens the door, punches you in the face, and throws you out of the car. The cavalier opening the door and tossing you of the previous games was hilarious, because it was so impersonal. This punching you in the face business, however, really irked me in San Andreas. It made it much more personal, made it more intense than the comical "Get the hell outta here" toss of the previous games. The idea of somebody coming up to my car idling at a red light in real life, opening the door, and just tossing me the hell out is impossible. I'd probably be wearing a seat belt, and it would require me to remove that before I got out-- it couldn't be as automatic as it was in the game, which never involved a weapon, while it would most definitely would in real life. Can you imagine someone with the balls to just take you out of your car as if you weren't there? That's comical. But the punch in the face added a level of hostility, of intent, and it was something I could suddenly very much imagine a real person doing. Opening up your car, punching you in the face before you even know what's going on, and throwing you violently out of the vehicle, before cussing at you and getting in and driving off. It's more real, more sinister. And yes, it's just a game, but it took me hours before I stopped cringing whenever I stole a car-- and even 50 hours later I still wish he wouldn't do that.
One of the most fun things to do in Grand Theft Auto, is to go on mad-cap, murderous rampages, where you attempt to cause as much chaos (usually by killing many innocent people) as you possibly can, with the purpose of getting law enforcement as enraged as is possible, then seeing how long you can outrun them. The thing is, the Grand Theft Auto series does this in a very fun, non-horrific way. The game environment is set up in an extremely realistic way, and the cities your hero resides in are bustling with realistic activity. However, it doesn't take long for you to learn the rules of the way the city behaves, and while it behaves realistically for the most part, if you want to go completely nuts, the game behaves like a cartoon. For example, if you walk up to a guy and punch him in the face, he's liable to run off in fright (and frightening a whole bunch of people who just saw you run up and hit a guy), or he's liable to punch you back. Passersby are liable to jump in, helping that poor shmoe you hit. You pull out a gun, suddenly everybody backs off. Sometimes somebody who is obviously a mean customer and shouldn't have been trifled with in the first place isn't intimidated with your gun, and will pull a gun on you. These are all examples of very realistic behavior. However, as an example of its cartoonishness, if you try to run over as many people going as fast as you can in a high powered vehicle, you'll be driving for two blocks, running over every single person in a line, and that 18th person won't have gotten out of the way, he'll instead stand there and go "Aaaaaah!", just like everybody else, allowing you to run him over. You don't feel bad at all about what you're doing, it's cartoonish and hilarious-- as it is by design.
So with all that said, there are still times where I feel bad about people that I murder in Grand Theft Auto. If I'm on a murderous rampage and trying to kill as many people as possible, the cartoonish violence is hilarious and thrilling. But what makes me cringe is when somebody dies in a way that could happen in real life. Again, in real life, a psychotic killer would have a hard time driving down a side walk and killing 20, 30 people, because after perhaps one or two were run over, the pedestrians would get the hell out of the way. But what unnerves me in the game is when I'm in a sports vehicle and I'm speeding down the road, paying no attention to laws, zipping in and out of traffic. I'll be coming up to a red light with traffic stopped in front of it, that is just turning green. The traffic slowly starts moving as I quickly approach, and just when there's enough space for me to squeeze through I'm already there, cutting somebody off. But perhaps there wasn't quite enough room, and I tap the right tail light of the guy in front of me, causing my back tires to spin me over to right, and as the rear end of the car flies out, it crushes an old lady trying to cross the street.
Now, I'm not saying that this makes me want to stop playing the game. I know I'm just playing a game, and I know I didn't just really kill anybody. But I cringe, because these things happen in real life. Some fucking asshole in a car that's so fast it shouldn't even be legal, is in a hurry for no goddamn reason at all, is speeding insanely down a street, weaving in and out of traffic, midjudges a turn, and kills somebody crossing the street. This happens, and could happen to somebody you know. I wonder what it would be like if someone I knew did die that way. In many other games, I'm not worried about any real life connections to real people's deaths. If I knew a guy who had been shot to death, I could still play Halo, because shooting a thousand aliens is way different than a real person really being shot. Maybe I wouldn't play the day after it happened, but you get my point. On the other hand, if somebody I knew was trying to cross the street and some asshole who had no reason to be going that fast ran a red light and took them out, how exactly would I feel playing Grand Theft Auto? I'm not sure I'd stop playing the game, but it's something to think about. And of course, I mention this because a lot of people who play Grand Theft Auto would laugh if they accidentally murdered a Grandma in the game, and I'm not saying these people are worse people because of it, they're just getting a different experience from the game than I am.
But surely, this means something, right? It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a good person and a person who laughs at Grandma getting killed is necessarily bad. But what does it mean? Why are some people unconcerned with what they would do in real life, and behave in a game in utterly reprehensible ways without a second thought? I think that mentality is fairly easy to understand-- the whole point of the game is to do things you could and would never do in real life. It's escapist fantasy, like sympathizing with an over-the-top killer such as Tony Montana. But perhaps the bigger quandry is me: why would a person purposefully restrain themselves from doing certain things in an environment where there are no restraints? Why would I feel bad when a person dies despite never existing and will cease existing as soon as I leave the screen and the system redraws the environment?
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