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ATPM 5.10
October 1999






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User Preference

by Scott Feldstein,

Guilty Pleasures

I got fragged by “Benjamin Spanklin” the other day. I thought I was doing OK, having just splattered his buddies, “Millard Killmore” and “Napoleon Blownapart,” when he managed to nail me mid-air with a rocket launcher. Such is life.

I’m talking of course about “Quake 3 Test,” the public test version of the much-anticipated game from Id Software, Quake III Arena.

For all six of you who don’t already know, the basic idea of q3test (and indeed all previous incarnations of Quake) is to get guns and kill stuff. Aside from awesome cutting-edge graphics via OpenGL, the thing that sets q3test apart from its predecessors is the fact that it’s built from the ground up as a multi-player game. That is, the focus of the developers has not been “dungeon crawling” from level to level, battling computer-controlled opponents, but rather getting online and fragging your friends and acquaintances. What could be a more rewarding pursuit?

In light of recent violence in the news, however, I must pause a moment to address the issue of video game violence and how it might be affecting our world.


There. Was that pause long enough? Seriously, I am much more concerned about hate groups and radio talk show hosts who spew intolerance and social poison than I am about games like Quake. Funny how it’s often these very same people who are the first to blame the entertainment industry when some deeply troubled person tragically takes the lives of others. Go figure. With all the problems that beset our world, it’s a shame that some folks can’t see any better ways to help than to criticize video games.

Quake is, admittedly, a somewhat guilty pleasure. It’s kind of like watching Xena: Warrior Princess. We may be a little embarrassed about the fact that we indulge, for to do so seems somewhat vulgar, but we relish it in secret delight nonetheless. Should we be alarmed? I don’t think so. Where I live Xena is on every night but I have yet to see any real persons dressed in Lucy Lawless-style leather, brandishing sharp objects and screeching like banshees. As a service to ATPM readers, however, I’ll be on a diligent lookout for any such persons in my area.

Still, everyone who’s had “Psychology 101" knows that what we see on TV can affect our behavior in the future. Remember the bobo doll? All the kids who saw someone beating the thing up on a video monitor were more likely to do the same thing when they were in the room with it. Those that saw no such actions were less likely to do so. This classic experiment and others like it do mean something. I don’t, however, think they mean we need to collectively campaign against the entertainment industry’s tendency for violent themes. After all, entertainment is not prescriptive. It’s descriptive.

What I mean is it’s not at all the proper forum for social engineering. The very nature of entertainment is that it’s what people like—not what we think they should like. It merely caters to that within us which must find a voice. People like romance stories because we have a built-in need for such things. People like horror films for the same reasons. They speak to things within us that we would do better to understand rather than to deny. It’s probably impossible that we as human beings will ever rid ourselves of all violent and aggressive tendencies—and downright ludicrous to believe that cleaning up the entertainment industry will accomplish this goal for us.

Frankly, if we really wanted a less violent world, we would do things like work toward economic justice (at home and abroad), pass and enforce sensible firearm legislation, implement laws and programs to break cycles of domestic violence in families, and curb the illegal use and sale of addictive street drugs. I’d be willing to bet that if we doubled our efforts in even a few of these areas we would get a measurable result—even if every citizen were given free copies of every violent video game ever made.

Sadly, ultra-conservative voices who are the first to indict violent entertainment don’t often show much interest in these issues. It’s not hard to understand why. After all, it must be terribly comforting to think that the making of a more peaceful world is just a “Quake ban” away, as opposed to dealing with messy, real-life issues. It’s a common human shortcoming, it seems, to seek simple answers to complicated questions.

I say, “Quake away” if the spirit moves you. And if you are concerned about reducing violence outside of your Mac, then do something meaningful about it. Meanwhile, if you see that “Benjamin Spanklin” guy, gib him for me. Tell him “Steve Jobz” sent you.

apple “User Preference” is copyright © 1999 Scott D. Feldstein, Scott D. Feldstein is a full-time techie at Marquete University where he also a graduate student in educational psychology.

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Reader Comments (1)

anonymous · April 26, 2002 - 10:50 EST #1
I think that it's obvious that video games help children to take out their rage. They help calm children down so they won't use violence to solve problems.

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