Today’s games contain much more realistic depictions of ballistic perforations. “Realism,” however, is a shifting standard. In the mid-1990s, which is two geological ages ago in gamer terms, there was “controversy” over Doom, which now looks like you’re fighting off angry pieces of Lego. Duke Nukem provided a ration of hysteria when someone heard from someone else that the player could shoot strippers. Ink was spilled like blood in the last reel of a Peckinpah film, condemning this new low, but it missed the point. You could shoot anything in the game. If, however, you hit what we call in the post-Weiner era a “featured dancer,” you would be swarmed by policemen who had been mutated into bipedal hogs by space aliens, and you would die. It was the game’s way of establishing a moral code.
Yes, that sounds silly. You like to think that all your parenting instilled the “don’t shoot the strippers” lesson early on, if only by the behavior you modeled. But then a gamer of a certain age hears about games like Grand Theft Auto, which most disapproving press accounts describe as a sociopathic instruction kit on the best way to apply a tire iron to a streetwalker, and the gamer yearns for the old days when there were codes of honor.
Oh, for the simple Manichean duality of Pong! Then Pac-Man ruined everything by making us seek the fruit at the expense of our own safety. That’s when it all fell apart.
If games weren’t the primary daily entertainment option for millions of minor boys, it might not be an issue. But concern over a few bad games vilifies titles like L.A. Noire — you’re a cop in a Chandler world — or the sprawling western Red Dead Redemption. Not for the Pooh set, but if they’re off-limits to a 16-year-old, then so’s a Road Runner cartoon.
Basic kvetch: Does there have to be a law, for heaven’s sake? When you have a law that says kids can’t buy the game, but shall borrow a friend’s copy on the sly, then you get rulings that establish a minor’s free-speech right to Grand Theft Auto, which means you’ll have a kid sue his parents because they didn’t give him Chainsaw Bob Orphanage Fracas IV for Christmas. It’s not hard for parents to find out what a game’s about, thanks to this thing called “the Internet.” They might be alarmed to learn there’s also a popular game in which small children are encouraged to imprison creatures in cramped, dark spheres, letting them out only to battle in cockfights that often send one to the hospital. Michael Vick got put away for something like that.
The game goes by the name of Pokémon.
By the way, if you release the child in BioShock, you get all sorts of rewards. Never met a gamer who didn’t let the kid go.
– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.