In Defense Of Video Games

August 25 '05
By William Hawkins Published: Thursday, August 25, 2005 3:17 PM EDT
The recent uproar over hidden sex scenes in the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" has given Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., a chance to attack pop culture in a way that is supposed to appeal to mainstream constituencies. There is no question that Rockstar games made a major blunder by leaving codes in "GTA:SA" that were never supposed to be part of the game, but which could be accessed by an increasingly savvy, global community of high-tech players (the code was initially broken by a Dutch gamer). Yet, the animated acts are far less realistic than what can be seen any night on cable television.The industry's voluntary ratings code did kick in. With its new "adults only" status - "AO" - most retailers (including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target and Circuit City) pulled the game from their shelves, a decision that could cost Rockstar $40 million in lost sales. The game already had a "mature" - "M" - rating, requiring the buyer to be at least 17 years old, which is only one year younger than the AO rating.Sex may attract attention, but what most critics, particularly liberals, have focused on is violence, which is far more prevalent in these games than soft-core porn. When Sen. Clinton announced she would introduce legislation to regulate the industry, she targeted violent as well as sexual content.
Most "violent" games, however, have the player assuming the role of a hero fighting the forces of evil. This was certainly true of this year's "G-phoria" award winners chosen by the online votes of a million gamers. "Worlds of Warcraft," "Halo 2," "God of War, "Half-Life 2" and "Knights of the Old Republic" took top awards from the G4 cable TV network, which is devoted to gaming. Many other popular titles feature counterterrorism themes, including the "Ghost Recon" and "Splinter Cell" series licensed by techno-thriller master Tom Clancy.These are the types of games that "do-gooders" love to denounce as immoral "war toys" along with military action figures and toy guns. Yet when I was growing up, toy guns and toy soldiers were the favorite playthings of my circle of friends. Our group would spend hours chasing each other around the neighborhood. We also fought major battles with toy soldiers on the living room rug and on the back porch. Later, we graduated to wargames recreating history's great campaigns on a table top. Video games merely represent the latest evolution of these traditional pastimes.
None of my old gang turned out to be public enemies. Instead they became lawyers, engineers and bankers. My best friend in these childhood "wars" grew up to be an Episcopal priest. This is because we lived in an era with strong values. Television was more violent, but less morally ambiguous then than now. Westerns like "Gunsmoke" and "The Rifleman" dominated my viewing. Our idols were the "good guys" who always triumphed in the end. The villains ended up in jail (usually awaiting the hangman) or had already been sent directly to Boot Hill by the hero. And we cheered because we knew that's where the "bad guys" belonged.Today's libertine culture is filled with anti-heroes who sneer at authority and behave in ways that are openly irresponsible - but then prosper as a result. Lust and greed dance in the name of free expression. Fortunately, there still are toys that teach the devotion of strength to good causes. Perhaps the best franchise is the one the "do-gooders" hate most: Hasbro's "G.I. Joe" which has been a favorite for nearly four decades. The Joes are individual "action figures," each with a personal history. Mainframe was a computer genius who quit Silicon Valley to join the Marine Corps. Airborne gave up a successful law practice to become a paratrooper. Ranger Flint was a Rhodes Scholar who became "bored with the groves of academe." In each case, a sector of our materialistic, self-indulgent culture is found shallow and unfulfilling. Only by putting their talents to the defense of their country do the Joes find satisfaction.This is a positive value to inject into a youth culture otherwise obsessed with extreme sports, fast cars, electronic gadgets and rock music. Conservatives should consider any medium that advances patriotic values to be the "next generation" of the boisterous NASCAR nation they have been courting.
The Joes use violence to defeat their archenemy Cobra, "a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world," but can anyone really think the simpleton "caring and sharing" philosophy of Barney is going to make our lives more secure?"Full Spectrum Warrior" was a military training simulation commissioned by the U.S. Army before the game went commercial. The player commands a squad battling through realistic Middle Eastern urban terrain that looks nothing like "Sesame Street." But there are reasons kids outgrow "Sesame Street" at an early age and never look back. It is the critics of video gaming who are trying to create what is an imaginary world.William R. Hawkins is defense analyst and writer working in Washington.

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