There comes time in every child’s life that a frightening and game-changing discovery is made. After this moment, there’s no going back; the universe is forever a terrifying place. The moment I’m talking about the realisation that the adults around us aren’t the wise sages we once thought. These elders that we rely on for shelter, food and knowledge – they’re just winging it.
I made this discovery at the age of twelve. My parents were watching the news when a news story began that, for a change, wasn’t concerning the war on terror. I had to do a double take, because I was sure saw images of Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Had my PS2 magically connected to the TV? No, they were discussing games. On the news. My world and the adult world were merging.
The news piece centred on the murder of a teenager in the midlands; The killer, apparently, was obsessed with Rockstar’s Manhunt. Of course, this led to a conversation about “violent video games” – a term so naïve and meaningless that I can’t help putting it in quotation marks.
What made 12-year-old me verbally object at the time, however, was when a Mary Whitehouse-type stated that GTA encouraged the player to have sex with prostitutes, then murder them to steal back the money. With fear I realised that I – a twelve-year-old – understood more about a hot-potato issue than an expert on the news. GTA allows one to do anything – anything. You can get a job as a pizza delivery boy if you want. If someone chooses to murder prostitutes, it’s on them. Blaming the game is akin to calling for a ban on plain A4 paper because schoolkids keep scrawling penises on them. This was (and still is) obvious, but there they were, on the news, smartly dressed, talking bollocks. They didn’t know what they were talking about, these adults, and it was scary.
I have since played Manhunt a few times, and can safely say that it’s quite intelligent; not the brainless gore-fest they thought it was. What the concerned parents worried about was the scoring system; the more gruesome the kills, the higher the score. Yet if they actually sat down and played the game, they’d see that there’s a bit more to it than that. The protagonist is James Earl Cash, a death-row inmate, who has been saved by a mysterious benefactor. His saviour tells Cash that he’ll be a free man as long as he follows a few instructions. This involves murdering masses of sociopathic gangsters; the more brutally, the better. Also, to twist Cash’s arm a bit more, this guardian angel has kidnapped his family. So we don’t really have a choice. The twist is that we are taking part in a snuff film – the benefactor is a murder-film director named Lionel Starkweather (voiced creepily by original Hannibal Lecter Brian Cox). This explains why the scoring is in stars – five stars for a great movie, one for a flop.
It seems unnecessarily brutal at times; your first weapon is a plastic bag to suffocate your enemy. But what Manhunt achieves is quite chilling – it holds a mirror up to the media’s obsession with violence – it’s asking, is this what you want? Just listen to Brian Cox screaming “Cash, you’re gettin’ me off here!” after a particularly stylish kill with a hammer, and see the parallels with how we frequent brainless action films. It’s a smart game, and the violence is necessary to make its point.
When kids play it, the nuances will go over their heads. Kids just want the action – they’ll enjoy a Tarantino movie for the blood and guts, without giving much thought to the auteur’s unique take on non-linear chronological storytelling. They’ll listen to Eminem for the swearing, watch Caligula for the sex, and play Manhunt for the blood and guts. Golding wasn’t joking around when he wrote The Lord of the Flies.
Quick disclaimer; this isn’t to say that brainless violent games don’t exist – obviously they do. Just look at Call of Duty. But if the media continues to refer to the vague genre of “violent video games”, then we’ll never understand anything.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Trump has blamed games for the two recent shootings in the states. (It’s ironic after the role Gamergate played in his election success, but that’s a different story). What’s more frustrating is that Walmart have decided to remove violent games from their shelves, but they’ve kept the assault rifles.
It’s hardly new, though, is it? Folks will continue believe new art forms will trigger the end of civilisation. Elvis Presley’s hips, A Clockwork Orange, Marilyn Manson, and too many video games to mention. Yeah, that’s what we need to worry about. Not the fact that, in the foremost superpower of the world, mentally deranged individuals can buy an assault rifle from the supermarket with their pint of milk. They still don’t know what they’re talking about, these adults, and it’s still scary.