Tag Archives: Doom

Burning books and banning games: lessons we can learn from Germany’s example

What do Connecticut and Germany have in common?

Destroying media deemed “dangerous,” for one. Much like the German book-burnings, a town near Newtown is collecting and destroying violent video games on Saturday. But Germany has other lessons to offer: a decades-long ban on Doom games did nothing to prevent two major mass shootings in the country.

Read my full thoughts on Saturday’s events at the SF Weekly.

In Australia, video games will finally grow up


Australia’s new R18+ rating will lift the ban on games like Left 4 Dead 2.

Soon, Aussies will be able to get their hands on video games as the designers intended them to be played. After years of debate, Australia has finally adopted a law that will allow video-game makers to sell explicit games under a new adults-only rating: R18+.

Until now, the highest rating was M15+. But games under that rating were limited in what they could show, and dozens of games, such as Left 4 Dead 2, were banned or forced to alter their content in order to be sold in Australia.

The new rating — and sales of R18+ games — will kick off January 1, 2013. The new law is designed also to restrict the sales of games with the rating to buyers under 18. A with the United States, there’s still the possibility that adults will buy these games for teens. As it stands now, many folks are able to buy them from neighboring New Zealand and/or order them online.

Here in the United States, we’ve often compared the rates of juvenile violent crime to sales of violent video games, and many have found that as violent games have increased in prevalence, violent crimes have declined. Interestingly, in Australia, juvenile violent crime has held steady in some regions and gone up in others. While this doesn’t prove that lack of access to gory games causes kids to become violent, it does show that violent games aren’t the problem; something else is to blame. Alas, there are no new statistics on how German teens are faring, following last year’s decision to lift the ban on Doom.

So, what do you think will happen in Australia, now that these games are available?

Call of Duty: War game or propaganda tool?


Are video games making society more militaristic? One academic thinks so.

Did video games help Anders Breivik train for his terrorist attack in Norway? Victoria University lecturer John Martino says such questions are missing the point.

“What has not been addressed in the debate generated by violent military games is the role these games play in the process of ‘militarisation,'” Martino states in a CNET.au article published today.

In sum, he’s suggesting that the popularity and increasing realism of military-based games, particularly the best-selling Call of Duty franchise, is contributing to the “militarization of society.” But his article is riddled with errors and mistaken assumptions that leave his argument in the dust.

First, who is John Martino? His two most recent credits involve — you guessed it — looks at gaming and the militarization of culture, including “No Place for Noobs: Computer games and the Militarization of Youth Culture,” presented at the 6th Global Conference: Visions of Humanity in Cyberculture, Cyberspace, and Science Fiction in Oxford in July 2011, and “Gaming and the Militarization of Youth Culture: Some Initial remarks,” presented at the IADIS International Conference ICT, Society and Human Beings in Rome, also in July 2011.

Martino starts off with Wolfenstein and Doom, which are good places to start, if you’re going to talk about military shooters. He talks about how the military modified the game to help train soldiers. Anyone who thinks you can learn how to navigate a real-life war scene by playing through Doom‘s blocky mazes and fighting its pixelated enemies is arguably suffering from loss of contact with reality.

Anyhow, from there he gets into the fact that Call of Duty developers have worked with military consultants to make sure gameplay elements are realistic. This is the same as bringing in consultants for a film, such as Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. Nobody would call the latter an effort to turn these films into “recruitment tools” — they would, in fact, be described as working toward historical accuracy.

Not Martino.

Such partnerships share the goal of working to enhance the training effectiveness of simulation technology.

Military shooters add to the already potent cultural tools that political systems have at their disposal for propaganda purposes.

Then, he stacks up his evidence that society is becoming more militarized:

1. “The commemoration of war (think Anzac Day) has become integral to our view of Australian history, and the place of Australia in the world.”

2. “Recent data published by the Stockholm International Peace Institute indicates that Australia is one of the largest military-spending nations in the world.”

These are his examples? Has he forgotten that much of the Western world has been engaged in some way with the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade? Has he forgotten that Australia is within striking distance of the unpredictable North Korea, and might have good reason to want to defend itself?

Martino leaves out obvious counter-examples, such as child soldiers in Africa or other countries where high-end video games aren’t readily available.

I find it much more plausible that the military is responsible for “militarizing” societies, and that kids who grow up in societies undergoing such change might seek military-style games as an outlet, and as a chance to safely explore their natural curiosity about what wartime is like.

Do you think he’s on to something? Are Call of Duty and other games making society more militarized? And, if so, is that a bad thing?

Smithsonian: even violent video games are art


Sony’s M-rated psychological thriller “Heavy Rain” is included in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit.

There are still plenty of people in the world who say video games — particularly violent video games — are, at best, a waste of time, and, at worst, a form of homicide training.

And then there’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum, whose new exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” firmly says otherwise.

Here’s their introduction to the exhibit, which runs through September:

“The Art of Video Games” is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

The show features 80 games, selected from a ballot of more than 240 titles by 3.7 million video-game fans across the world. Among those games are a number of controversial and M-rated games, such as:

Doom II
Fallout
Diablo II
Metal Gear Solid
Halo 2
Fable
Bioshock
Mass Effect 2
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 2
Heavy Rain
Brütal Legend

These are, to be clear, games that have been demonized and reviled in the public eye, particularly a game from the Doom franchise, which many have (mistakenly) blamed for the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

These games offer more than senseless violence. They offer rich stories, characters, and a chance to explore other worlds and experiences. They are a chance to understand an alternate reality, and bring that understanding back with you.

As game developer Mike Mika puts it in the show’s trailer:

Your skill while watching a movie might be eating popcorn. Your skill while playing a video game night be that you’ve succeeded at learning something, and you’re GOOD at it.”

The show also comes with a calendar of exciting live events, from a Gamer Symphony Orchestra to a live talk from curator Chris Melissinos.

Will the Smithsonian help video games gain recognition as a form of art? Why or why not?

Germany lifts ban on Doom, but is its crackdown on gory games preventing youth violence?


Germans 16 and older can legally purchase and play the original — not blood-free — versions of Doom after a 17-year ban.

In 1994, the year Doom 2 was released — and a year after the debut game Doom was released — Germany banned the sale of these games, including Internet and mail-order sales. They were placed in the same category as pornography, meaning adults could own them, but had to purchase them from overseas retailers. It was illegal for minors to possess copies of the game.

Now, in 2011, the ban has been lifted. A lot has changed since this seminal first-person shooter went on the market. By now, Doom’s gore and violence seems cartoonish and mild compared to many other games — most of which still can’t be sold within Germany’s borders. Once a game makes the “index,” it remains there for 10 years, and only after that time can the game developer appeal the decision.

The agency responsible for rating and indexing such games is the German Federal Department for Media Harmful to Children, and being part of the agency’s index means:

1. It must not be sold, provided or otherwise made accessible to minors.
2. It must not be displayed where it can be seen by minors. This would, for example, include playing an indexed game in the presence of minors.
3. It must be sold only within a shop. Basically selling indexed titles per mail order is illegal, however it is permissible if the package may be handed over only to a specified adult person, who has to present ID.
4. It must not be rented out, except in a shop inaccessible to minors. This is why most video rentals in Germany are not accessible for minors – otherwise they would not be allowed to rent out certain horror (and adult) films.
5. It must not be imported by mail order. In this case even an adult buyer is subject to penalty.
6. It must not be advertised or announced in a place where the announcement or advertisement could be seen by minors.
7. If it is for one of the above six causes, production, acquiring, and holding in store are subject to penalty too.

It’s hard to tell exactly how this agency determines what is harmful to children — or what kinds of consequences it is trying to prevent by banning such games and other media. If, for example, Germany was hoping to prevent school shootings — since the Columbine High School massacre has been linked to Doom for example — then the ban wasn’t entirely successful.

In April 2002, Robert Steinhäuser fired a 9mm Glock 17 into the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt, Germany. He killed 16 people and injured 7, then took his own life. In July 2003, Florian Klein brought a gun to school at Realschule II in Coburg, Germany. He shot a psychologist in the thigh as she tried to take his weapon, then shot himself to death. In March 2009, Tim Kretschmer opened fire at a secondary school in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, ultimately killing 15 people and wounding 11 before turning the gun on himself.

Statistics from German police (PDF, see page 2) show that violent crime among young people was on the rise between 1984 and 1998 — and that there was a sharp increase after 1994, the year these games were banned.

Of course, we cannot say that restricting the sale of Doom games in Germany led to an increase in violent crime. Nor can we say that allowing them to minors would have prevented two mass shootings and a third attempt — or hundreds of other incidents. However, in the United States — where minors have had relatively free access to violent games — crime rates have decreased over time. Certainly it’s something to look at more closely.

Readers, what do you think of Germany’s approach to violent video games? Should the United States create a similar agency that reviews and restricts the sale of these games to teens (and adults)?

Doom creator: “Violent games reduce aggression”


John Carmack, who helped develop the classic first-person shooter Doom, says video games like his make players less aggressive. Should we listen to him?

When John Carmack helped develop the first Doom video game, released in 1993, chances are good that he didn’t realize what its effect would be. The game became so popular in the mid-1990s — when it was played by an estimated 10 million people — that it is credited with turning the practice of playing video games from a nerd hobby into a semi-mainstream pastime. So many people enjoyed this early first-person shooter, with its immersive quality, its low-fi horror, its ability to leave you craving your next turn at the computer, that it was bound to offend someone.

It has been called, among other things, a “mass murder simulator,” despite the fact that the single mass murder connected with Doom — at Columbine High School in 1999 — seems more closely connected with the mental condition of the teens who pulled it off. In general, according to research by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education, school shooters tend to be much less interested in video games than other boys their age, and much more prone to depression and attempted suicide.

And yet, in 2011, when Carmack claims that games like his are not progenitors of aggression, people still pause. After all, didn’t video games have something to do with Anders Breivik’s Norway rampage?

Here’s what Carmack told IndustryGamer:

“I really think, if anything, there is more evidence to show that the violent games reduce aggression and violence. There have actually been some studies about that, that it’s cathartic. If you go to QuakeCon and you walk by and you see the people there [and compare that to] a random cross section of a college campus, you’re probably going to find a more peaceful crowd of people at the gaming convention. I think it’s at worst neutral and potentially positive.”

I can hear you saying, “Of course he would say that. He helped create these kinds of games. He’s biased.” Yes, of course he’s biased. Probably most of the people involved in this topic are biased. To his credit, Carmack is closer to the gaming culture than most of the people who oppose violent video games are — and closer, even, to that culture than the researchers who claim such games are harmful. By “closer” I don’t mean he’s part of it, although he is. By “closer” I mean he sees it on a regular basis, the same way a waiter in a restaurant sees hundreds of people eat and knows that most of them don’t overeat, or get sick from their meals.

In the shouting about violent video games, it’s easy to forget that when you’re playing the game, you’re not usually just the protagonist, you’re the hero. In Doom, you’re a space marine whose job is to keep a demonic horde on Mars from attacking Earth after the rest of his regiment is killed by those demons. You’re saving your own planet, and all of mankind. That’s pretty heady stuff, no matter who you are.

As it happens, a new study reveals what many of us already know: people play video games to experiment with different roles. More specifically, to try on an idealized personality and see how it fits:

“A game can be more fun when you get the chance to act and be like your ideal self,” says Dr. Andy Przybylski, a research fellow at the University of Essex who led the study. “The attraction to playing video games and what makes them fun is that it gives people the chance to think about a role they would ideally like to take and then get a chance to play that role.”

Why do you play video games? Does the ability to play your “ideal self” appeal? Do you think Carmack is right about violent games’ influence? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The art and history of violent video games


An upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian called “The art of video games” will include the M-rated 2009 game Brütal Legend.

On March 16, 2012, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will kick off an exhibit called “The art of video games,” paying tribute to games that have stood out since Pac-Man first hit home console screens. One of the things that makes this exhibit unique is the fact that voters picked which games would be included in the show, which runs through September 30, 2012.

The games will run the gamut from the petal-strewn Flower to the, er, alligator-strewn Pitfall. What’s interesting is, “M” rated games, including some pioneers in the violent/first-person shooter genres, will rub shoulders with other famous art pieces in the Smithsonian. Clearly, the art world — including that portion supported by the U.S. Government — feels that there is value to these games.

Here are the “M” rated games to be included:
Doom II
Fallout
Diablo II
Metal Gear Solid
Halo 2
Fable
Bioshock
Mass Effect 2
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 2
Heavy Rain
Brütal Legend

That’s quite a list, one that includes games some say caused teens to kill fellow classmates (Doom II) or toy with the occult (Diablo II). I can imagine that some people — parents included — might say such games shouldn’t qualify as “art.” Before we go down that road, consider historical works of art and fiction that might have been suspected of holding similar sway over viewers and readers. Would you keep your kids from seeing them today? Although the Smithsonian is known for pushing cultural buttons, it’s also one of the most widely respected art museums in the world.

Which is to say: there’s more to video games, particularly violent and “M” rated games, than blood and guns. There’s breathtaking art and storytelling, emotional stories, moments of tragedy and heroism. Just like in other forms of art that, though controversial in their day, have come to hold a place of respect in world culture. So why not let kids enjoy these works of art in their contemporary setting — the setting in which they were created, and in many cases the setting they are commenting on? There’s much to be said for these games.

Readers: What controversial works of art can you think of that were reviled or banned in their day that are widely respected now? Do you think video games compare?