sparky


The Video-Game Manifesto of Social Good Nature, Mutual Harmony, and Intellectual Kill Codes

by Clive Thompson

"Give me a break," I told the child psychologist. "I just don't buy the idea that video games are making kids more violent. In fact, it's probably the opposite. If you want to ban something that really causes antisocial idiocy and violence, I'd start with organized sports in high school."

 That's when all hell broke loose. I was in the middle of a national TV debate with Sandra Campbell, a Canadian mother and psychologist who specializes in children's reactions to video games. We were butting heads over the old chestnut—does gaming turn kids into antisocial jerks? The psychologist felt that video games strip kids of social interaction, shorten attention spans, increase anxiety, and deprive kids of parental guidance.

Yeesh. As a long-time video-game player, I felt I had the moral duty to play devil's advocate. Most critiques of video games are fueled by ignorance and fear rather than dispassionate concern, I said, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we'll be able to genuinely address what problems really exist in the gaming world.

So, forthwith, as a public service to STIM and game fans everywhere, I formally issue the Video-Game Manifesto of Social Good Nature, Mutual Harmony, and Intellectual Kill Codes. The next time anyone tries to dis video games, read them this riot act:

1) VIDEO GAMES ARE A LOT LESS VIOLENT THAN THE BOY SCOUTS.

Context is everything. I spent eleven years—yes, eleven—in the Boy Scouts, and I can say with complete assurance that I have never seen a more psychotic arena of male aggression and incoherent rage. For example, I never learned the name of one of our teenage leaders, because we always referred to him as "Poison." Poison was fond of maintaining order in our troop by hurling deflated soccer balls at the heads of truant Boy Scouts. Another leader was in the habit of handcuffing the few visible minority Scouts to a burning-hot radiator in the church basement. By contrast, the worst thing anyone has ever done to me in an arcade is tell me to fuck off—and that was because I broke chivalry protocol and forgot to give him mercy in the second round of Virtua Fighter.



2) VIDEO GAMES TEACH COMPLEX, POSITIVE SOCIAL INTERACTION.

 Yeah, yeah, I know. Ever since Space Invaders provoked a Japanese currency crisis—the government ran out of yen coins and had to quadruple the supply—parents have wrung their hands over the way video games turn kids into glassy-eyed automatons. But since these same parents don't actually play the games they dismiss, they don't understand the highly complex social interactions that occur in arcades—the tip-sharing, the code-breaking, the giving of mercy to prolong play. A parallel: bars aren't just for hard-core drinking, they're also for socializing with others; arcades are no different. Or to bring it back to point number one—in arcades I learned the concept of knowledge sharing. In the Boy Scouts I learned to pick locks and hot-wire cars. You figure it out.

3) SHORTER ATTENTION SPANS MIGHT ACTUALLY BE A GOOD THING.

In 1983, sociologist John A. Price noted that the popular Star Wars game created its eerie tie-fighter noises by sampling the sound of actual elephant screams. He also noted research that showed that anxiety levels soared during and after video-game play, and attention spans sunk. All of which is manifestly true, but so what? Let's be perverse: given the cocaine-laced speed of downsized work places and the nanosecond-based culture of modern media, maybe short attention spans and high anxiety are our generation's central coping techniques.

4) OPPOSING VIDEO GAMES IS MORE ABOUT CONTROLLING CHILDREN AND HATING TECHNOLOGY THAN FIGHTING VIOLENCE.

To be fair, there are lots of reasons to press for change in video game culture: the megawatt misogyny has got to go, and any culture predicated on spending money endlessly is fundamentally flawed. But let's get real: at its core, video game hatred is mainly a generational divide. Most people over the age of forty know that digital technology is destroying their jobs, livelihood, and cultural relevance. They're deeply suspicious of anything computerized. So when their kids start figuring out the Smoke codes on MKIII, it's doubly galling—not only are their kids sleeping with the enemy, they're playing with it. </end>

CLIVE THOMPSON is the editor of This Magazine and a freelance writer. He wrote "I'll Be Your Mulder" in our first issue.

Up Talk!