A most dangerous game?

From Flickr - djpiebob

The video cuts to a medium shot of Ed Bradley talking to a uniformed police officer, Greg Tory, as he leans against the bridge where two teenagers ended their lives. Ed jabs his finger at Greg as he talks.

ED
As a police officer, as an investigator, did you see a connection between what happened here and the game Dungeons and Dragons?

GREG
The investigations showed that it was a focal point of the boys’ lives. They were just enthralled in the game. And this comes from witnesses in the family and brother that they were totally obsessed with the game.

What we see here are two grown men who are concerned about the effects that a fantasy game has on children. A fantasy game played with books, imagination, and polyhedral dice. Dungeons and Dragons is a structured system for group play that can focus on combat, exploration, and social intrigue. Dungeons and Dragons is usually set in worlds somewhere on a scale between Lovecraftian horror and knockoffs of Middle Earth. To a police officer with long hair and a bad moustache, a reporter with shoulder pads, or any other resident of 1985, table top dice games become mythical suggestions to kill and die in delusion. To the jaded eye of an undergraduate of communications studies, in present day, the games seem quaint, geeky; almost wholesome.

The terrified public at large seems to have forgotten about Dungeons and Dragons but the social panic over games has not disappeared. In 1985, parents were terrified to think that their children would transmute to the characters on their sheets; Fast forward tor Doom, an early 3D shooter. Psychologists explained that the game desensitized Harris and Klebold to the massacre they were to commit, or that the game taught the assailants how to use assault weapons. (They overestimate Doom’s educational content.)

Screenshot of Doom from http://anthonydamasco.net

When it came out in 1993 Doom was a far cry from, well, Far Cry 2. The models are sprites – little cartoons made out of coloured squares – which make the barren rooms look as if they are inhabited by vicious paper dolls. The game was six years old by the time Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold arrived at Columbine High School on the day of April 20th 1999. By software standards it was a relic.

Screenshot from Crysis

Games in 2012 are far more ubiquitous and visually life-like, and America’s Army even commissioned a series of games over the last decade with a goal for mechanical realism. All the while violent crime arrest rates in the states have been down, compared to 1995. If these games affect youth, why is violence so reduced in a culture that has widely adopted these more realistic shooters?

Statistics haven’t stopped politicians from attempting to label video games like cigarettes, to state: “WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behaviour.”  Any game with rated for an audience of Teen or older by the Entertainment Software Rating Board would have been given the additional label. Let’s look at some of the games that would have been affected by this 2009 bill penned by California’s Joe Baca.:

Rockband 3 – A rhythm game where 1-4 players interact with a controller shaped like instruments in a virtual band. There’s nothing terribly violent about the game, unless you insist on calling your guitar an “axe,” you deviant.

Trauma Center: Under The Knife – The player takes on the role of a surgeon who battles wounds and infections. Maybe it will desensitize young children into being more willing to learn first aid.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day – This classic N64 game is rated M, and it’s not terribly realistic or violent. The violence is about on par with an episode of Tom and Jerry, and the “Strong Language and Mature Sexual Themes” are code for “strong language and immature jokes.”

This proposed law clearly does not follow the logic of the ESRB’s rating system, which illustrates how clueless these legislators are. The people who condemn these activities are generally not fans. They aren’t typically people who understand them, intellectually or intimately. See them second hand. As alien.

You really want to find a game that has a negative impact on it’s players, that makes them mad, bad, and dangerous to know? The game you should dissect and consider regulating is chess. The hall of fame for the gentleman’s game’s reads like the registry for a mental health ward: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, Bobby Fischer, Tony Miles. Justify your chessboard, your backgammon, and consider your Risk. Is any game safe?

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