There is a price to pay for everything –and I’m not just talking about the shekels I shell out at the 99 Cents Store (where I know I can afford almost all they sell). I’m talking about the big trade off in each transaction. In marriage, we trade independence for security and love. In our careers, we sometimes trade tiresome labor for wealth; or at least sustenance. We are constantly faced with choices that measure the value of these trades. Science can genetically modify crops to increase yield, lower costs and feed the hungry; but how safe are they? We want to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco quickly and conveniently, but is it worth the price of California’s High Speed Rail project? Are the protections in place against terrorism eroding our liberty?
I remember a line from Lawrence and Lee’s play, “Inherit the Wind”
Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “All right, you can have a telephone but you lose your privacy and the charm of distance…Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”
My son is studying Computer Science and Interactive Video Gaming at a university in Texas. His senior project is about the responsibility of the gaming industry to society at-large regarding the content of popular video games. For those of you who don’t know, many games involve conflict—armed conflict—between armies, zombies, armies and zombies, soldiers and even gang members. They are called “interactive” games because the player enters the world portrayed as a point-of-view participant in the conflict. Some have suggested that playing a “first-person-shooter” makes it more likely that the person playing will become a first-person-shooter (or at best a more violent person) after the game console is turned off. Others insist if that were true, the crime rate would be incalculable as these games have become massively popular and more profitable than many other forms of mass entertainment.
Here is the trade we are considering. The games are popular because they are entertaining. Entertainment is good. Societies have been keeping the idle entertained since Roman times and we currently have a lot of “idle” (Perhaps the industry is responsible for holding down the crime rate?) Video and computer games generate billions in sales, boost the economy and employ hundreds of thousands (one day, perhaps, my son). But does the daily dose of violence contribute to a more violent society? And does the industry have a responsibility to do something about it.
I see the challenge in two areas. First, there may be a harmful effect on a single individual. Is there a player out in the universe so vulnerable to violent suggestion, that constant daily contact with aggressive play will push him to violent crime? The game is the peanut butter and the gamer is the boy in the bubble. Second, does brutality as entertainment have an overall coarsening effect on our society as a whole? (Consider Amy Schumer and we are all the boy in the bubble.)
If your answer to both these questions swings toward the affirmative, what is the duty of the creators to police their content? This is the question my son is asking in his senior project. I’ll let him answer it.
However, my own feeling is that gaming is in its infancy. Like all entertainment, it runs after and copies what sells. Today, violence sells. Remember that the pornography industry was responsible for moving internet technology forward. Now look what’s happened—I can ask Alexa to ship me paper towels 24/7. There are so many more uses for interactive technology that writers and directors need to explore. Perhaps they will use the current profits to invest in a better, less violent future.