The inappropriate laugh that came out of my work cubicle pierced the office silence and brought stares of disapproval from my way-too-serious coworkers. I ignored my colleagues who were driving business results through PowerPoint presentations and returned to Charlie Brooker’s hilariously written blog “The trouble with video games isn’t the violence. It’s that most of the characters are dicks.” I was so amused by the blog, I shared it with all my friends and posted it on the GamesInc Facebook page.
A few days later, as I was doing the level in Modern Warfare 3 that brought Charlie’s sudden flash of introspection and moral righteousness, the same sense of moral righteousness overcame me. I was not disturbed that I had to slit a guard’s throat in a cold and professional way. I was outraged at Charlie’s affront. How dare he judge these characters?
Your characters (Yuri, Price of the moustache, and Soap of the bathhouse) are infiltrating a military compound in Sierra Leone where soldiers are busy executing civilians, and to make a bit of extra cash, are also selling chemical gas to terrorists planning to deploy it throughout Western Europe. And instead of taking out the guard silently to ensure silent infiltration, Charlie would have you ask the guard, nicely, to leave. Now, admittedly, I’m not a psychologist and my lack of emotional intelligence is only matched by my inability to find my car keys every morning. However, I would assume that suggesting to the heavily armed guard that butchering innocent civilians is probably not as fulfilling as a career in HR or customer service may not be the right move…you might end with a knife in your throat possibly?
Charlie Borker argues that violence is not the issue, he is desensitised. No kidding! Just turn on the news or live in a wartorn country and you’re all good on that front. The issue according to him is that the characters are dicks. These guys are special forces operatives trying to save the world, and they are being judged as dicks for slitting the throats of terrorists. A bit harsh maybe. What Charlie missed in his post is that the worlds they live in, not the characters, are the problem. Your characters live in a world where a terrorist has destroyed half of Europe swiftly followed by a Russian ground invasion (poor Europe, an economic crisis and now the Russians invading—how far the continent has fallen since its heyday of world domination). Are we really surprised your characters need to use brutal measures to stop a crazy terrorist? The world they live in has made them do unthinkable actions, but despite it all, they keep their sense of purpose and camaraderie. They are not dicks, they are heroes!
And this is similar in most video games, characters mostly (emphasis on mostly) have admirable characteristics in the often harsh, immoral, crazy, or even evil worlds they live in. Take the Grand Theft Auto series for example. In all of these, you are a thug with little opportunities in life due to a difficult upbringing in a dog-eat-dog environment. You go around the city stealing cars, beating up people, and even killing people. And what for? To survive and succeed. Now, take the business world. The most successful business men/women get to the top by not always being nice. They deal with difficult situations and overcome them through often tough and sometimes downright unpleasant actions. What is the difference between that person and your GTA street thug? The GTA thug is an exaggerated projection of a modern businessman merged with a petty thief.
Charlie Brooker has got it wrong. The trouble with most (again, emphasis on most) video games is that the characters are too good. They have courage, moral values, and determination which make the rest of us look petty, weak, and immoral. And some of them such as Batman, Prince of Persia, and Zelda are downright Saints!
The world they live in forces them to take actions which sometime offend our moral sensitivities. These worlds are a projection of our world and morale values through the lense and imagination of a storywriter/producer. And how different is that from Hollywood? It’s not – we should judge games as we judge movies. Some have great storylines and characters, some have terrible storylines and characters (and that can ruin the game as we blogged before) . But it remains entertainment – let’s not forget that.
Now, back to the real world of my company and my PowerPoint presentations that make a difference. Tonight I will return to the crazy world of Modern Warfare 3 where I’ve just lost a close friend, and I need to storm a fortified castle in the Czech Republic. But if I turn the real news on, I would see stories of the Syrian Regime massacring its population, NATO trying to figure out what the hell to do in Afghanistan, and undoubtedly some successful or unsuccessful terrorist attack somewhere in the world (pick your country, you’re not short on candidates). It’s a strange world we live in…