Friday, 14 March 2008

the link between video games and violence

Would you ban a video game where the objective is to find and kill Saddam Hussein? How about one where the objective is to recruit a suicide bomber to attack the President of the United States? Wafaa Bilal of Rensselaer Institute of Technology (Troy, NY) turned the former into the latter, a move that has--unsurprisingly--raised a few eyebrows.

(Let me point out, the picture on the left is a buddy of mine who talked to Bilal. NOT Bilal. So if you have a problem with Bilal, the man pictured is NOT him.)

At a Sanctuary for Independent Media event in Troy, Bilal defended the move as a political statement meant "to “hold up a mirror” to an American society which believes that such a game is perfectly fine when it is an American killing Iraqis, but which finds itself outside of its comfort zone when it’s the other way around."

Zac Miner, a sociologist friend of mine, was there:
During his speech, Bilal said that the idea for the game started with Quest for Saddam… in which the object is to find and kill Saddam Hussein. Apparently someone in Al Qaeda obtained a copy of the game, changed the skins of the soldiers and Saddam so that now the player is an Iraqi killing Americans and hunting George Bush [the so-called Night of Bush Capturing game].

[Bilal changed] the game from the Al Qaeda version so that instead of the player himself killing Bush, he now has to recruit someone else - in this case, a character skinned to look like Bilal himself… to become a suicide bomber and attack Bush. Bilial said that the point of this is to show the vulnerabilty of Iraqi citizens to recruitment for such purposes.

Unlike most of the event attendees, Zac played a demonstration version of the game in question. He concludes, "As a game, it wasn’t that good - the controls had some problems, the enemy AI wasn’t that great."


Anonymous said...

I find the idea of making a game where killing some real world figure in at least slightly poor taste. The only exception is games involving killing Hitler. Killing Hitler will never go out of style.

Of course some things in bad taste can be fun and probably a good thing in moderation.

Simulation does not equal advocacy otherwise every fictional work with some criminal element is a provocation to crime. Indeed a simulation of something could as easily be intended as a condemnation. People playing a video game might make their opponents look like anyone including themselves without any hostile intent...

Isaac said...

It's interesting that you use the term "simulation." A point Zac raised is that games change the role of the audience from spectator to player. Does the form of engagement make a difference?

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of the way actors simulate the parts they play. We do not worry about the guy who plays Brutus and so simulates the murder of Caesar on stage. I was looking for a word with a sufficiently broad meaning.

Even in cases where there is active participation and arguably there is an effect we seem to be willing to bear some risk. Supposedly the reason soldiers are trained to shoot human shaped profiles rather than the traditional bullseye is that it makes it easier for them to shoot actual human beings. However, I've never heard anyone suggest we ban non-military and non-police personnel from using such targets in target practice.

However I suspect it is a complex question how much and in what ways simulating criminal and violent acts dis-inhibits or encourages such acts.