Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Byte: The Problem with Videogames

I stumble upon this via Comrade Gillen's blog.

In case you can't be bothered to click on the link, it's the standard argument about why violent videogames should be banned, and it goes like this:
Anti-gamer: "Suppose we had a perfectly realistic murder simulator, that people enjoyed using. Nobody actually gets killed, but the simulation is perfect - holodeck-like. Would it be okay to ban that?"

Gamer: "No - just because you enjoy killing someone in simulation doesn't mean you enjoy killing them in real life!"

Anti-gamer: "So you're saying as long as nobody gets hurt it's okay."

Gamer: "Yep."

Anti-gamer: "Did you know there was a case in the UK recently where people were making fake child porn? No actual underage models are used; nobody's getting hurt. Is that okay?"

Gamer: "... I guess not ..."

Anti-gamer: "That's what the UK decided. So why is it not okay to have fake child porn but okay to have fake murder?"

Gamer: "Because the people who read fake child porn are creeps?"

Anti-gamer: "Why? They would never actually have sex with a child in real life. They only do it in simulation."

There are quite a few logical fallacies with this type of argument.

Firstly, the argument is comparing sex with violence, which is like comparing apples with twin-engined jet fighters, not a like-for-like proposition.

Secondly, both sides of the argument assume that there's some kind of universal moral standard or code that has to apply. This is clearly rubbish. The only universal moral standard that has ever applied throughout the whole of history is "Whatever you can get away with is fine." and arguments to the contrary are, at best, wishful thinking. There is no higher moral sensibility - it's all completely arbitrary and relative to your social and cultural background. We have laws against speeding in cars, but the vast majority of drivers do it anyway, simply because they know that they can do it with relative impugnity. Likewise, militias in Africa recruit children to be soldiers because they know they can get away with it. The same can be said with regard to people using child labourers throughout the whole of South East Asia. And don't forget that not so long ago even us refined Brits had very few qualms about sending children down mines or up chimneys...

Thirdly, media censorship simply doesn't work. It doesn't reduce people's desire to see the content that's being restricted and if anything, probably increases people's curiosity to be exposed to it, because it can't be all *that* bad, can it really? It also doesn't stop people making it, either - you simply force it underground where it's much harder to monitor who is accessing it and assess what effect it may be having.

Finally, the argument makes no effort to provide a context. Why does a murder simulator and fake kiddie porn exist in the first place? Why would people want them?

Most damningly however, is that the anti-gamer hasn't grasped the colossal flaw in the central basis of their argument. A "perfect simulation" wouldn't be a simulation. It'd be the real thing. Simulation, by definition, implies that the event takes place in a virtual environment - a simulation is a virtual model of a real world situation. You can't murder a virtual person, regardless of how realistic the simulation is.

What Anti-Gamer seems to be arguing against is his inability to tell the difference between the real world and the virtual - that actions in the virtual world have a moral equivalence to the real world. This too, is patently bollocks. If I kill a thousand MetroCops in Half-Life 2, no-one's going to give a shit. Not only that, I can restart the game and lo! They live! Which isn't going to be the case if you take a five ton fertilizer bomb down to Canary Wharf and detonate it while all the yuppies are popping across the plaza to have lunch and a glass of white wine at the All Bar One.

I also like the somewhat less than subtle implication in Anti-Gamer's position that people who play violent videogames are morally equivalent to child pornographers (fake or otherwise) - that if you defend violent videogames, you're defending child rape. Again, utter poppycock, but it's a great way of assuming the moral high ground and putting gamers on the back foot. I would defend the morality of murder to the same degree that I would for child molestation - that is not at all - but I find it curious that somehow sex is by far more of a taboo than violence (or indeed, murder). Both are base survival instincts - sex for procreation and the succession of your genes, and murder to weed out your competition for land and resources - and both have been mankind's favourite pastimes for thousands of years (War, in effect, is simply institutionalised murder). One creates life, the other destroys it, yet if you make films about murder you're revered an artist, though if you glorify the other one you're reviled as a pornographer... Doesn't that strike you as odd?

It's the same brand of moral relativism from these self-appointed puritanical guardians of morality and goodness that expects us to fight wars these days without anyone dying. For them, the virtual world has become the real world - they can't tell the difference anymore, so they want to enforce the same restrictions on the virtual world as the real world, which is just madness - the madness of people who're badly detatched from any kind of reality - even the reality in their own head.

Or to give you the short, crystallised version: Morality is bollocks.
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