Mindless Diversions Extra: Video Games and the Death of God
I love all those who are like heavy drops falling singly from the dark cloud that hangs over mankind: they prophesy the coming of the lightning and as prophets they perish.
Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this lightning is called Übermensch.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue
“How much freedom does this game give me?” is a question that a lot of people used to ask in the first few minutes of any given game. Like, if it’s a WWII game and you start out in boot camp, these folks might try to shoot their drill instructor. There are games that refused to let this happen. Like, it didn’t let you pull that trigger until the game started proper. Other games, however, turn this into a non-standard game over. You shoot and are immediately dogpiled. You pull the trigger and find that the gun was empty (though it wouldn’t have been had you played along with target practice). Sometimes, you pull the trigger and it just immediately jumps to “GAME OVER” and it may as well have “JERK” written under that.
Some games don’t let you do bad things in the first place.
I got the game Grand Theft Auto III when it first came out. It was the first really sandboxy game I think I’d played to that point. The game started with your prison transport van being blown up because someone very important was also on it. You were some nobody who got double-crossed during a bank heist gone bad. Your transport gets blown up and after the other guy gets extracted, you and some of the other criminals are free to do whatever you want. So you grab a car and drive down the road and find a safehouse to hide in and… the game starts. Your character is pretty good at hotwiring cars but is exceptionally good at straightforward carjacking. You see a car you like, then run up and just grab the driver, throw him to the ground, get behind the wheel, drive off. Easy peasy.
Well, it was early in the game and I still hadn’t mastered the controls just yet (which button is accelerate? Which is brake? How do I get down the road without side-swiping every single car I pass?) and I found that the simple yellow cab was the car easiest for me to drive and, hey, my part of town had one driving past every minute or so. So, one evening, I had picked up a taxi and was driving around, I got to a red light and I stopped. As one does. I looked right and looked left and saw that there was nobody coming so… I just drove through. Nothing happened. No cops came. No wanted stars. It didn’t matter.
I had to put the control down for a bit and I got up to get some water.
God was dead. I was free to do whatever I wanted.
(When I tell this story in person, I usually change the part about getting up to get some water to “I wept.”)
I suppose I should have done a better job at reflecting at how I had no existential problems with walking up to a car and stealing it straight from the driver but experienced an existential crisis from running a red light… but I figure that my brain was doing something more like this: the game was called “Grand Theft Auto” so stealing cars was pretty much baked into the cake. I *KNEW* that the people in the cars were just pixels and sound clips and disappeared the moment they left the rear view mirror.
The traffic lights, though? That was a For Real Convention. Stealing any given car was merely stealing any given car. No choice was involved, really. I wanted a car therefore I took a car. In the same way, driving around and stopping at red lights involved no choice. But driving through the red light? That involved actively choosing to take my foot off of the brake and put it onto the gas and make the left turn that didn’t even matter because nobody was coming. (I looked at the map and I remember, exactly, where it happened. See where the #2 circle is on the Portland map? There.)
Well, the folks that put out Grand Theft Auto III in 2003 have recently put out a little game called Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has a *LOT* of characters in it. You can shoot most of these characters, if you’re so inclined. (You can’t draw your weapon when you’re in your home camp, though. So you can’t shoot your immediate friends. Not in camp, anyway.)
The current drama online involves posted YouTube video which has an interaction with a suffragette. She gives an impassioned speech about how she should be allowed to vote and asks the main character about Women’s Suffrage. One of the responses you can give is “anyone who is dumb enough to want to vote should go for it” and she chides you for being a cynic. In a video that has been caused a *LOT* of ink spilled is where the player shows his character finishing the interaction with the suffragette by punching her in the face. (In another video, he kidnaps the suffragette and feeds her to an alligator.)
YouTube banned the guy who uploaded the offensive videos and then reinstated him (whereupon he quickly uploaded *MORE* offensive videos including one titled “deporting a Mexican”).
Now the debate then comes over all sorts of questions:
To what extent was Rockstar asking for this sort of thing by putting the character in the game in the first place?
To what extent is YouTube enabling “hate speech” by allowing content creators to put videos in which they punch out suffragettes (or feed them to alligators)?
To what extent is posting a video of Red Dead Redemption 2 footage showing someone punching a suffragette (or feeding her to an alligator) posting a video of gratuitous violence and/or illegal activity?
I don’t claim to have the competence to answer any of those thorny questions.
But Rockstar has gotten a great deal of criticism for creating games where you can (and, indeed, are expected to) engage in a great deal of violence. And in having (mostly) free reign while out an about in the world, some of that violence is done against women.
This is yet another world that Rockstar created for us and, in it, we have been given a lot of free reign.
We are free to do whatever we want.
(Image is Lightnings by Thomas Bresson. Used under a creative commons license.)
(For Mindless Diversions Extra posts, we don’t have to follow the “no religion/no politics” guidelines for the comments but we still are expected to follow the main site rules.)