Opinion// The Code of Silence

...the enforcement of the bland did nothing to stop our prurience

Posted 16 Mar 2009 20:30 by

Just a quick note again – this is not a news item. This is an opinion piece. Clear on that? Excellent...

Video games - and related items - are to blame for school shootings, racism, homophobia, obesity, child parents and music likely to offend hard core Muslims.


Video games can and do play a part in all of the above.


What?! How could I be so disloyal?

Easy really, video games are part of the culture, old beans. You can't have it both ways. You can't ask to be taken seriously while simultaneously burying your visored head in a cultural sandpit, flapping your arms and legs around at how unfair the media/government is beeeeeeeing!! You can't ask that games be part of society (they get made, marketed, reviewed, sold and played by real people after all) and then not agree that games have an impact on that society. And you can't always say that impact is either always neutral or always positive.

Games, like books, movies, music, food, being neglected by your parents who preferred to go bowling on a Monday night rather than watch you play Halo do have an effect... the key here, however, is that they have a different effect on different people.

That said, it's time that gamers sorted their game out.

The recent school shooting in Germany for example has had links between its perpetrator, Tim Kretschmer, Counter-Strike (again) and Far Cry 2 forged, and chained in some areas of the press.

The facts that the Kretschmer's father introduced him to guns at the age of eight, and that all the guns in the house were locked up except the 9mm Beretta used in the atrocity (and also in Far Cry 2) have also been mentioned in the press.

That Kretschmer was apparently rather spoiled and had also been overlooked by a girl at a party, these pieces of information have all been used to attempt to understand the tragedy.

But simply stating, “The kid had guns in his house. You can't blame games” or “The kid was unbalanced, you can't blame games” doesn't cut it.

Learn the lessons of the Comics Code Authority and the Hays Code.

William Hays
William Hays
Both of these were simple responses by governments and then industries to the kinds of simple arguments that stated that films and comics were not involved in the descent of a repressed, anti-intellectual and generally discriminatory society into a chaos of violent, sexual, narcotic titillation. Movies and comics were involved in it. Trashy movies, penny dreadfuls, comics (and racially mixed goddam jazz music even before rock'n'roll) were directly related to the decline of public morals.

The argument that they just reflected the society in which they existed is true: it's basically stating that you're only going to make a profit from a product that the market will bear. It's equally true, however, that the people who experienced the portrayals of sex and drugs that featured in the works that Hays and the CCA were getting the relevant industries to deal with, were affected by them.

It's equally as true that of the 100% of people who read a Dashiell Hammet novel or saw a Raoul Walsh movie or snuck a copy of Chamber of Chills or Reform School Girl, less than 1% actually went out and committed a crime based on what they'd experienced. Or even triggered by it.

This is the point. Media will affect you. If it doesn't, you don't consume it. No clever dickery required for that one. Now, the tricky bit is that it will affect you in a different way than it does somebody else. Take Glasvegas or emo. I know they're not the same, hence the 'or', but both make me want to rip my own cochlea out so I can't hear the sound of the relevant musicians screaming as I impale them on the horn of the great Miles Davis.

Or, closer to home, the effect that nearly all F (and T) PSes have on me? It's like the way I felt when I used to smoke dope. First some anxiety, then giggles at the absurdity of it all, then general lack of motivation, then I wanted to go outside and do something – anything – interesting... then a trip to the service station for some crap to eat.

Fortunately I stopped smoking blow – mainly because I could not be bothered but also, again with a similarity to F(&T)PSes, because of the tedious, repetitive stoners I was forced to mix with.

The point is, however, that both cannabis and FPSes have different effects on different people. But it's a good idea to keep a weather-eye out for those around you who are over indulging in both. Just as the kind of person who once smoked dope can now be Secretary of State or even President of the USA and the kind of quiet person who plays FPSs can be a pacifist in real life – the doper can become derelict and the gamer can take things too far the other way.

Gaming, is becoming more and more communal: games with no co-op? Please. Online gaming, it's the where the honour and the cash is at. It would be an idea to use this community to keep an eye on things... before the censors decide that – for you own good – they better had.

Which brings me back to effects of media (I've forgotten about the dope) and the Comic Code and the Hays Code. What stopped the codes, in the end, were the comic book industry and the movie industry ceasing to abide by them because the consumer was going elsewhere, bored by vanilla fare that could not even be called escapism any longer.

The public was affected by the bland as well as by the explicit.

Whether a percentage of the 100% of the public who saw the bland, became equally bland in their violence, sexual depravity, general decadence and moral misbehaviour I can't tell you – the statistics are just too flaky. But in the case of the Hays Code, which effectively ran from 1934 to 1968 – well, it finished in 1968 when the MPAA ratings came into force. Both Hays and the CCA were 'voluntary' by the way. I say, “Well, it finished in 1968...” I think it's safe to say that we don't look back on 1968 and think “That was a part of history not know for its sex, drugs or violence”, well, we don't if we've read about all the sex, the drugs and the violence that occurred between 1934 and 1968.

In short, the enforcement of the bland did nothing to stop our good old prurience and desire to be titillated. Not even the censorship for blasphemy and obscenity of books could stop the public's desire for sexed-up, violent outlets.

The changes in censorship – from almost total to very little in the West – have change little in our basic make-up. In the same way as looking at pictures of puppies 24 hours a day may, for a brief moment, convince someone who never thought of buying a puppy to buy one, it is equally as possible for it to have to opposite effect on somebody who previously wuvved puppies.

Any PR person worth their salt will warn that the dangers of over-exposure are as devastating as under-exposure in the long run.

Finally, back to the exposure of games and their effects on Tim Kretschmer – the shooter. Fighting the censors with non-arguments such as “Sure he played the game, but there's no way it could have had an effect” is not the way to go. The thing about simplistic argument is that it can be overturned by an argument that is only slightly less simplistic. Or, in fact by a more stupid argument but supported by power.

The chances are that a combination of available gun, hurt feelings, constant spoiling, narcissism, nihilism, simply not getting what he wanted for the first time... and two undeniably violent video games did all come together in one lad's mind. Each element indeed did have its part to play.

But for gamers to respond with heads in sand, shouting about how unfair it is for the media to blame our hobby (well, in my case, my livelihood unless that novel ever gets published... okay, written) will lead to greater censorship than currently exists. Why? Because censors think that they are protecting us. The kind of people who censor are the kind of people who genuinely feel two things: firstly, if you don't show something then no one will want to see it. Secondly, that if someone responds in a childish manner, then they certainly require protection because they are children.

This has always been the case.

Right now, we already have our own Hays and Comic Codes in place in video games – and I'm not talking about PEGI or the BBFC. The games publishing industry is self-censoring. If it slips – in the case of the execrable Manhunts – then retail can step in and refuse to stock. That is, of course, in the event that the platform holders have not refused a work the right to appear.

The consumer also censors. As I've said before, the chances of looking at the top of the charts and seeing an FPS set in a gay bath house with homosexual heroes; or a mass market (18 rated) game in which you as the hero/ine actually have to get your nemesis to full orgasm in a way enjoyable to them in order to turn them to the side of good (well, your side) are about as likely at the moment as a game in which a black, African, intellectual Ronin lands in Baltimore and, by a mixture stealth, combat skills, story telling and charisma manages to defeat the Patriot Bill. And all of those are more likely than a clan-based combat game in which the heroes all have varying forms of cerebral palsy.

Right now, because of our own simplistic responses, we are making ourselves easy to censor. Those blind responses are also making it more likely for rogue individuals to be triggered in part at least by the next “let's shoot stuff” best seller.

Why? I reckon that a little self-reflection followed by a “Hey, mate, why so uptight man? It's only a game. How's about we go and do some drugs and listen to some gabba for 20 minutes... maybe that chick just didn't fancy you... there will be others” - rather than, “Lame, they iz blamin' on gamez... the fags!” could possibly reap some benefits.

Of course, if you're happy to let the censors censor and the industry produce acceptably bland product... hell, let's hate on the meeeja cos they don't understand R gamezes!”

Oh, before I leave and go back to playing Resident Evil 5 – yes, but I am on the review roster – there is one common factor in every single school shooting from Dunblane via Columbine to Winnenden. That's the availability of a ranged weapon or weapons. Guns might not kill people... but they do make the process a great deal more efficient than fists. That's why I always chose gun over fist when I played FPSs... which I did use to enjoy before they became so predictable.

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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Joji 19 Mar 2009 13:09
I think the games industry does its best against a tide, and they'd be more prepared to take a chuck of humble criticism, if the other parties involved did the same (EG: those who makes guns, and maybe their sellers too, the film and music etc).

Sure, games like all other stimuli have an impact on the user/non user (which can be positive or negative as you say). But all these things us human use are made by us. I think its better to just say some of us are totally sane, some in between, and others knocking on batshit crazy, with a weird fascination of self destruction.

There's little sign of this ever being solved, since news media are an established presence, that even they can lie and jazz things up and get away with it. Add governments to that 'lack of honesty' equation and you'll see that we are always getting screwed. Legislation and laws do little, because the average guy in the street cares or know little about them. Its like they ask, who watches the Watchmen??

Censorship was once a good idea perhaps, but will never win now, for one simple reason, the internet. With the rise of DLC, games can push the envelope of what was previously possible, that normal retail channel won't allow. Beyond even console/pc DLC, there's the piracy/homebrew element, which is a vast unchecked area freeland games and aps.

The Comic Code served its purpose, but had the detriment effect of shrinking the diversity of comics down to mostly superhero stuff. While the years have past by, little has changed there, apart from the rise of some indies bucking the trend. Its a shame, even today, to not see more diverse comics get a look in, because of the latest ziliionth Spidey adventure. This is why I resort to a lot of manga or indies these days, I need something more diverse that's missing.

Too much censorship will hurt the games industry in the long run. And with online option looking more tempting and reaching the audience at a few clicks, censors risk being cut out of the picture entirely.

For all entertainment, creators (and to a degree sensors) need to remember that they are in the end, paying for people's time and attention. To keep that time is costly, but there's plenty of other things people can do in their time, without restriction or censorship. Potential sales of films and games always take a hit in the summer for a reason like this.
editor in chief 22 Mar 2009 15:43
Hammett's christian name has an 'i' in it, just as printed on the Maltese Falcon's cover. I suggest that you amend this (along with all the other missing letters in this piece) before the editor notices, especially as it's illustrated part way down the page.
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