POCKET WORLDS V: ULTRAVIOLENCE & THE NEW VIRTUAL HEDONISM
Let us suppose Christianity does not conquer the cult & industry of gaming and things remain on their course. What sort of problems can we expect?
For years we’ve had to deal with fearmongering generated by mothridden old suits who want to prey on and profit from the fears of old women. All this newfangled technology and entertainment will corrupt the youth! Video games today, drugs and school shootings tomorrow! We had it with role playing games before then, and rock n’ roll before that, and here we are, not killing each other. Remember when they said the written word was going to destroy civilization because it meant people wouldn’t use their memory any more? Ahh, good times…
So, with all that, clearly, it doesn’t matter what you consume. What you play does not change who you are.
The ease with which people accept these follies makes me fear for democracy. OF COURSE video games change who you are. They are GAMES. They are IMMERSIVE WORLDS. They are sets of rules that train your brain and hands to think and act according to certain patterns. It’s just that those patterns don’t involve murdering everyone you know. It’s much more complicated.
Encouraging are results that show how helpful games can be within an educational context, whether through its principle of interactive engagement or how it encourages the growth of problem solving skills. But let’s set all of that happy stuff aside. The true danger of video games is the exact opposite of what all the suits told us, and it’s a little disappointing how pathetic and true it is.
Video games don’t make you violent. Even violent video games don’t make you violent. They make you lazy.
Moms spent all this time worrying about whether games would turn their precious little pumpkins into psychopaths. (Or at least, we have been told that they worried a lot about this.) But instead it did the opposite. It has turned our bones to butter. It’s made us passive, overly satisfied sloths. Video games do their job of simulating violence too well; they drain out all the aggression and power within a young man.
Partly, this is very helpful. Cities of young men with nothing to do with all of their energy are going to cause a lot of problems. But that doesn’t mean we should siphon it all away and store it in computers. Video games aren’t inciting violence; they’re replacing it. Why would you ever want to be violent in the real world, full of danger and punishments and complications, when you can act out all of your glorious bloody fantasies in a consequence free (yet still thrilling!) imaginary realm?
And it’s not just violence. Victory, adventure, passions of all kinds–these experiences can be felt so powerfully through games, but with far less effort than it takes to invest in real life experiences. Why live in this inconvenient catastrophe of a world when you can press a few buttons and feel all the same chemicals?
Reality is just a mess, it seems. But games can seem pure and perfect and gratifying.
I can easily see in the future those who seek power and glory using games and virtual realities as a way to leverage extreme control over large groups of people. Support me, and I can offer you a transcendental experience that you will give you joy and satisfaction. (Mass funding pages for game development already have this kind of language.)
In short, I suggest that games are incredibly powerful tools for influence, but in a far more complicated way than has been described previously. Many people are quick to fearmonger about games, or mockingly disdain those who do so, but I wish I saw more people acknowledging and describing the sophisticated ways in which games can influence us. Thankfully, that dialogue is starting to shift, but I don’t know if it is shifting fast enough.
To sum up, we have a corrupt industry who create only to profit themselves, and an uninformed populace who either consume shallowly or participate so passionately that it reaches dangerous levels of idolatry. It is against this present state of affairs that I must prophesy:
Bad things, guys. It’s going to be bad if we keep this up.
So what are Christians to do instead?