Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Art of War

How can I describe American Culture to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

The other day, I was in a friend’s living room, as their neighbor’s six year-old son sat in a trance in front of a 50-inch widescreen TV. His parents were nowhere to be seen. The child was completely oblivious to everything around him. His entire focus was dedicated to navigating his digital self through the mean-streets of the latest Grand Theft Auto videogame. The object of this game is to steal lots of cars and to commit as many acts of violence as possible. His character ran the streets beating people to the brink of death, robbing them of their possessions, and running over innocent pedestrians in stolen vehicles. He played for an hour or so until he became bored. He got up from his seat on the couch, he didn’t say any goodbyes, and he wondered out the door. Nobody seemed to notice him leave.

I thought of this boy, as I came across USF Art students working on a mural outside of Crossroads café last Wednesday. The piece was in its early stages, but its strong political themes were already becoming clear. What particularly brought the boy to my mind was a section of the mural where the artist painted a military tank in a harmless shade of pink. Using cut out photos from magazines, the artist has an ecstatic young boy driving the tank over the heads of babies, all of them smiling. The tank becomes a toy and its victims are happy. War is now a game.

The U.S. has fought a lot of wars in the mass media age, but none of them have been on U.S. soil. Instead they have been fought on our TV and computer screens and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. The average American comes into contact with war through images and words. We fight communists, Nazis, terrorists, enemy combatants, insurgents, or simply put “bad guys.” Thousands of Americans have died fighting these “bad guys” and they are recognized as heroes who died for their country. Many, many more “bad guys”, “bad guys” family members, and innocent bystanders who happened to be in the area of perceived “bad guys” have died as well. They remain nameless, and become statistics that are tallied during the nightly news in between commercials.

As technology improves, and our appetite for reality-based entertainment continues to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. I think of that little boy playing his videogame, and I wonder if he can still tell the difference between the digital people dying in his game and the real people dying on TV.


Michael Vick said...

It's sad that so many of our young people are being raised not by loving parents, but by market forces bent on feeding sex and violence to consumers who keep asking, "Please sir, can I have some more." There is no good reason for a teenager or adult to play a game like "Grand Theft Auto," which is bereft of any moral value and only serves to champion a thug culture that has overtaken so much of our country. The fact that a child as young as six is playing it is not only sad; it's disturbing.

Christina Kho said...

My brother owns two or three of the Grand Theft Auto games and I agree that it is violent. Depending on which game you have you could be working for a mob boss, beating people up and killing them on the streets for money, and stealing people's cars - it's a hard life. It's definitely something kids should not be playing. But, contrary to what Mike said, I think it's okay for adults to play them, just as long as they are aware that it's just a game. How is it different from video games with knights who walk around castles slaying dragons and other knights? In a way, those could be championing a culture in which everyone walks around stabbing people. Or how is it different from Splinter Cell where one goes around killing people. And Mortal Kombat? Violence can be incorporated in every video game, even in Mario where we are taught to stomp on the "bad people". Even the Sims video game which doesn't involve killing people, has some violence and sex in it. I think there are some games out there that kids under a certain age shouldn't be able to play, but I think with gaming comes great responsibility, to know and remember that it is a game and should not be incorporated into reality. Also with the times, gone are the frou-frou games of Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong. The new generation of gamers want the fast paced action, the thrill of the kill, the feeling of being a badass when in all reality they really aren't. And, ultimately, a game that transports them from their everyday lives into a place and time where for a few hours, they can pretend to be something they're not.