So according to Fox News, playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 makes you a terrorist.
This does more to prove the Obama administration's assertion that Fox News isn't really a news service than convince anyone that videogames are the equivalent of jihad. But Fox News isn't the only so-called news service linking Modern Warfare to real-world events and calling the title out for its violence. The Toronto Star did it too, juxtaposing a Fort Hood update with the coverage of Modern Warfare's sales. Even the hint that a man who was turning more and more to radical Islam was also putting quality time in on Xbox Live is utterly ridiculous.
However, there was another article in the paper, this time in the Globe and Mail, about a resurgence of interest in Remembrance Day.
"There's a real fascination among young people about the war experience and, surprisingly to me, particularly the First World War," said Queen's University military historian Allan English. "I think what it is showing is a real kind of renaissance and interest in part of our history."
The article credits the bodies of soldiers being flown back from Afghanistan instead of being buried overseas, various speeches and media coverage. The CBC gets singled out, even though the youth viewership on that network is practically non-existent. Nowhere, however, is the possibility brought up that kids playing videogames about war could possibly, maybe, just kinda, sorta, influence their interest in people who served in real wars.
Come on. Really? These games have no effect at all? They allegedly border on youth mind control but they don't influence interest in things kids used to not care about? That's hard to believe.
This draws into sharp focus the terrible media bias against gaming. When videogames are part of something positive, like encouraging sick kids to take their cancer drugs, or helping people learn to use artificial limbs, only the dedicated tech media cover it. But when interactive entertainment could possibly be leading our kids astray... well, then the "real news" services stand up and take notice.
This leads to an informed ignorance in the public that makes them unnecessarily afraid of gaming and its effect on today's kids. The same people that insist "Guns don't kill people; people kill people," claim that a game will turn an 8 year-old into a murdering terrorist, and no one takes a moment to realize that's strange. Conversely, I've been playing violent games since I was sixteen, but any time I'm in the presence of an unholstered firearm I'm completely freaked out. Anyone who isn't a sociopath realizes the difference between a plastic gun with a light beam, and one that can actually kill you.
This negative-influence-only theory is further proven absurd because the power of media doesn't work along lines of morality. If we are to believe that interactive experiences are inherently more influential than film or television, then they must be more powerful both positively and negatively. If we allow for a possible positive influence, then it makes sense to assume that videogames have a lot to do with us overcoming the dangerous national lie that Canadians are peacekeeping hippy soldiers who shun "real" war. Frankly, though, I'd like to see some nation-building missions incorporated into these games. It's time for a real world military RPG, because these games are powerful tools to help us understand what the hell our soldiers are really doing over there.
The anecdotal evidence in my family is pretty strong. One of my nephews, Stefan, played the Halo games extensively when he was younger. He's only sixteen now, and pretty much over that. He is, however, a military history buff, wanting to go to the war plane museum for a birthday present. His wish list on Amazon makes me really proud.
Another nephew, Andrew, is twelve, and into games like The Force Unleashed and Arkham Asylum, both games that are, on paper, a little too old for him. He used to also play World of Warcraft, which I do not advocate for kids that young. But he loves the console games, and he's the most peaceable kid you'll ever meet. He's also in Air Cadets.
Both these kids have siblings that aren't into these types of games. They also aren't into anything involving military history. The connection is only co-incidental, but it's something that requires study that hopefully has better methodology than some of the studies on videogame violence.
Furthermore, I've found myself pulling up Wikipedia to find out more about the battle of Antietam after playing Darkest of Days. I discovered that an Uroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent swallowing its own tail after playing Resident Evil 5. Those are only a couple of examples of the real-world things I learned from gaming. The Tomb Raider series alone is a wealth of knowledge.
Because they are interactive, videogames are capable of teaching nuance and difficult choices. Fallout 3 was an excellent example of what is possible in that regard, including missions that led to dozens of unintended deaths, even as you were awarded good guy points. We could learn some compassion and empathy for the soldiers who are currently fighting in Afghanistan without respawns, instead of taking these infantile, depthless "support the troops!"/"stop the war!" stances that are really more about showing what wonderful people the protesters are for caring so much about the world.
It astounds me that time and again "concerned citizens" flip their lids about violence in games, then sit down to watch TV shows like 24, Heroes, and Lost, all of which depict scenes of torture performed by the so-called good guys. The Sopranos, Oz, and Dexter are all critically acclaimed programs, and all feature morally corrupt protagonists. These shows are allowed to be transmitted into our homes for passive consumption because there is a ratings system for them, just as there is for videogames. What's the difference? There's no debate panel on Fox News when Dexter systematically hunts and kills somebody every frickin' week.
Now, I don't know that it was advisable for me to be playing Resident Evil when I was under the age of majority, but it didn't turn me into a bloodthirsty criminal -- it just gave me nightmares. That's my main concern for a kid under 17 playing Modern Warfare 2. It's intense, and it might be too intense. This, however, does not justify the spastic headlines of this past week. The general public still thinks gaming is a kids' thing, even though the average gamer is over the age of thirty.
We need properly conducted research, and a proper education campaign, to inform the public about the real perils and the real potential of gaming. Reliable consumer data is still a few years off, but we still need to have these discussions, because it might be that gaming is actually good for getting our kids reconnected to important fading values.