Random Tragedies

Though certain random acts of violence from around the world get more media attention than others, e.g. the many school shootings that blight America or the many bombings in the Middle East, Japan's spate of vicious random attacks remain largely unreported globally, until, that is, video games are involved and websites and blogs jump to the defense of the medium.

Troublingly Japan has a fair amount of random violence. It's not so much the quantity as the viciousness of these attacks that is so shocking. Crime that is reported on Japanese news mostly revolves around foreigners, as that is juicy reporting, but the other type is the freak-out violence. From a young Japanese man who strangled a foreign English teacher and buried her body in a disused bathtub on his balcony, the young teenager who brutally stabbed his sister to the man who grabbed a knife in a department store and stabbed a random baby in a pram, the kinds of crimes are truly shocking but remain unexamined, mostly. My own armchair psychologist's view is that it probably has something to do with the enormous pressures your average Japanese person experiences in daily life, socially and professionally, and the lack of any decent care for stress. All too often people take short "holidays" to mental institutions and, I guess, that is supposed to fix the problem.

Don't get me wrong, I in no way condone or excuse these terrible acts of violence and murder, but I am disappointed there is so little psychological research and introspection being engaged in by the Japanese, or seemingly so anyway. If the extreme readiness to be violent and confrontational on busy trains is anything to go by I wouldn't be surprised if a lot more Japanese are far more highly strung than we may believe. It's a social problem that is simply not being addressed. It's not easy being Japanese I shouldn't wonder.

And then a young man in Ibaraki stabs eight people, killing one of them, is reported to have played Ninja Gaiden on the DS and the Japanese media, following in its Western brethrens' footsteps, happily reports a game related spree of violence. Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi steps off a place and is immediately quizzed by the media as to his reaction, as if the link is a foregone conclusion. His reaction was admirably non-committal and made what should be considered the final word in reaction to media reporting on video game "related" violence when he said

"The media should not be the ones answering the questions or defining the reasons why this incident happened."
A sentiment I wholly agree with.

As if my views carry any kind of weight whatsoever I do feel the need to explain to my readers my own view on violent video games. As a Liberal lefty freedom of speech and artistic expression are dear to me, but I am often frustrated by people who fail to understand this also carries with it a certain responsibility. One can't just throw any old material into the public sphere and deny any responsibility when that causes a reaction or other consequences. Then again, I believe video games should be a free and uncensored medium in the same way literature and film and others are and not be blamed specifically if a mentally deranged person uses it as a trigger for his or her violence. Despite Mark Chapman and John W. Hinckley Jr. literature and film have not, despite some groups' claims, been responsible for the moral decline of our society (per se), and continue to thrive as respected forms of art and entertainment. I'm sure video games too will reach this point in time.

Video games should not be singled out by self-aggrandizing shysters and vote-whoring politicians, who so betray their utter ignorance, for censorship and extreme control, in the same way this doesn't happen for literature, films and art. There are systems in place which work as long as ignorant parents get educated and stop buying mature-rated games for their young offspring. That said, I am a little tired of publishers pushing out gore and bloodfests and then complain when the public reacts with distaste (just before they go out and buy the product anyway). When defending freedom of speech one so often is forced to defend terrible products, but that is the nature of the debate, I'm afraid. But personally I find utter gore-fests and extreme, bloody violence a little distasteful. Sure, I sometimes indulge but not exclusively so.

Personally, as a developer and gamer, I am not interested in violent games. Of course I play them, but the marketing blurb that a certain game features an X number of ways to kill people or that the engine supports bodies being blown up in realistic chunks or features realistic blood fountains simply does not excite me in the slightest. I am proud to say that my resume contains mostly non-violent titles. I have been very fortunate to have been able to choose this direction. At a previous company the bad pay was starting to grate but being put to work on a cynically and overly sexist game was the last straw and I handed in my notice to be able to work on more family-friendly titles. Not many developers have this luxury so I know I've been lucky, but I have made concerted efforts in this way.

And after all this chin-stroking, outrage and moral high ground inhabiting I must humbly return to Yosuke Hayashi's words that it's not up to the media who should realise, as we should, they are no longer the "voice of the people" and should not take the position of moral guardians and purveyors of outrage to suit their own political agendas. These random attacks are human tragedies and should be examined as such, and not be political platforms for the lowest form of human being to use as soapboxes.

There are too many unanswered and unexamined questions but one thing is for sure: the only thing violence in video games can consistently and demonstrably be blamed for is the preening hot air of the indignant ignoramus.

12 comments:

  1. Video games are just the newest Scapegoat Trend on which the media can blame society's atrocities. The previous recordholder was rock music (and its younger brother, heavy metal). The Beatles were blamed for Manson's murders, "experts" played records backwards for decades; it was ridiculous by today's standards. Now they have video games, which are less vague in their subject matter.

    The seams are starting to split, however. Jack Thompson's been run out of Florida courts, and now has to have somebody else file claims for him. Cooper Lawrence's condemnation of Mass Effect's sexuality on national TV was quietly recanted later, after she watched somebody play it. It's not much, but it's a start.

    Give the media some more time, and they'll find something else to blame for today's youth crimes. Until then, they'll continue to make themselves and everyone else look foolish.

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  2. I pretty much agree with everything you said here JC (not a terribly interesting comment I know!).

    I've worked on violent shooters for the lowest common denominator before and it was pretty soul-crushing. Working on a project you have basically zero interest in and having to maintain a certain standard of creative output is trying. Lessons learnt.

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