My baby beside me at the wheel. *riff*
Baby you can drive my car –
Ok, I could clearly go on for a while. Anyway, I don’t know if you caught yesterday’s post, but it was about Glenn Beck attacking the video game industry, and specifically Grand Theft Auto IV.
Mark from Me And My Drum yesterday posted a hell of a comment (thanks again) and got me thinking about the problem of realism in games.
It All Started…
With part of Mark’s comment…
Honestly, what’s the entertainment value in mowing down innocent bystanders or killing law officials? The answer: the value is zero. It only serves to “train” or desensitize our kids to morals, to decency, to the difference between right and wrong.
My head was a mess trying to figure out what to say in response to EVERYTHING he said, but immediately I started thinking about his comment about driving in GTA IV. And I thought about it like this..
Driving in Video Games 101
Forget about GTA for a minute, and lets think about video gamedom in general where you can drive cars. If anyone older than 5 picked up a game where you could drive, they would first and foremost expect that they would be able to drive which to me means being able to direct the car where you wanted it to go, much like a real one. If we stop right here and ask, “What if we weren’t allowed to direct a car where we wanted to go?” I think our initial reaction would be, “This sucks”. And I generally agree with that statement because if you can’t actually drive the car, you’re basically taking the interactivity out the game which is what video games are anyway (otherwise see: movie).
So if we at the most fundamental level agree that if a game has drivable cars we should be able to drive them, that immediately brings about the possibility of questionable behaviours. For instance, nothing would stop us from performing basic traffic faux pas including blowing stop signs, and drifting onto the wrong side of the road. But what’s the alternative? I think it’s getting into a car and letting the game decide where we are going and how we get there again removing the interactivity and turning this product into more of a film than anything. Continuing,
Most game environments are not empty. They’re usually filled with something. Either trees, items, powerups, people, enemies or whatever. And if we again agree that we should at least be able to drive our cars, we obviously have the real possibility of colliding with something. I think the only way to change that would be to have gamers either a) not be able to drive or b) drive in empty Langolier eaten worlds.
Driving in Populated Worlds 101
So let’s assume at this point we want gamers to be able to drive cars in populated worlds. As said before, there’s a real possibility that gamers will display “questionable” behaviours and for this example let’s say that I’m referring to driving on the wrong side of a road. What can happen if one does this? Well in a populated world, you can obviously crash into oncoming traffic. This would obviously be bad. So does this mean that games that allow us to drive are training us to be bad drivers because we are allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road?
Well because I’ve never heard anyone bring up this argument, I think the answer would be a resounding “no”. Which is pretty interesting because if you hit somebody going the wrong way in traffic, there’s a real chance they could end up dead. Much like as if you saw a person in front of you in a game and you mowed HIM over. So what’s the real difference between these two scenarios? I say nothing.
Does Grand Theft Auto IV Celebrate Violence?
Certainly the argument in regards to Grand Theft Auto IV anyway is that the game celebrates anarchy and violence. You should remember though that when you do these types of things in GTA IV, you’re slapped with stars indicating that you’ve created crimes and that the police are on to you which given any amount of time you observe as the cops try to take your a$$ to jail. And again – I know the argument coming : “The ‘star system’ in GTA IV may make the police try to take you down, but it’s still glamorizing these horrendous acts.”
Well what if the game was called “Click It or Ticket” and was made by the Department of Transportation to show you the consequences of dangerous driving and associated behaviours? The game would still be realistic because you’d have to be able to drive cars, the police would still come after you, and you’d still be facing points in the game where you’d have to decide what you want to do… Stop at stop lights? Run from the police? Stay in your lane at 35 mph… My bet is that if the driving portion, JUST the driving portion of GTA IV was made by the government, given a new title, marketed in a different way, but STILL had the EXACT same driving gameplay – You wouldn’t hear the complaints that it is teaching its players to be killers.
The Problem with Freedom and Realism in Video Games
The problem is that it’s a double edged sword. The gamer community wants to be able to do everything it can in video games but then with that opportunity, you immediately introduce the possibility to perform acts we would consider taboo in the real world. And unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you view the subject, if you’re allowed to drive a car in a video game, you’re inevitably allowed to make some questionable decisions in regards to how you drive it. Personally, I just hope in years to come we don’t see in game police forces upholding real world laws that carry real life consequences.