Last summer for my birthday, my generous in-laws purchased a gift certificate for me at the local Game-Stop store, and the certificate came with a year’s subscription to “Game Informer” magazine. (Incidentally, I was able to purchase used and new versions of Shrek 2, Top Gun, and Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III for our Gamecube.) Each month as I have scanned the magazine and actually read a few articles, I have been shocked as well as disgusted by the mainstream bread and butter of the videogame industry, as reflected in this periodical: first person shooters, reckless violence, blood and guts. Good grief. It seems clear we have not come too far from the Roman colosseum. Human nature has an essentially dark nature, always prone to sin and give in to the temptations of the flesh.
I thought about posting this comment in my education or technology sections, but because of the theological philosophy expressed above, I am posting it here.
This weekend, I admit I spent some time (probably a combined total of about 30 minutes) looking through the latest edition of Game Informer, reading some articles and looking at what the “top games” of the past year were reported to be, as well as the busts, etc. I do not want to even recount the name of the game whose images stuck in my mind, or describe in detail those images which clearly left a much more lasting impression upon my mind than I expected or would ever have intended.
Have you had the experience of feeling that your mind has been defiled, by the mere exposure of your eyes to images which are best not seen at all? Certainly there are many, many, many images on the Internet’s world-wide web which fit this definition– it is scary to realize that today more than ever online, if people seek, they shall find…. but in this case, we are talking about a print magazine that is circulated for a largely juvenile / young audience interested in video games. We are not talking about a website that says “for adults only,” or even a movie at the theater that is rated “R.”
I did stay up quite late last night finishing a new article that is scheduled to be published in the March edition of Technology and Learning magazine on videoconferencing. Yet just the fact that I stayed up late should not have, necessarily, made any images I had seen during the previous day have a disproportionate impact upon my conscious or subconscious brain.
I awoke this morning having had a nightmare, in fact waking up in the midst of it– and I am a person that basically never dreams. Or at least I never remember my dreams, if in fact I do dream– I know that some experts contend that we all dream, we just don’t all remember them. Whatever the case, it is RARE for me to remember a dream, and I cannot even remember the last time I had a nightmare. I mean, I just never have them. I didn’t have them as child, and I don’t have them as an adult. At least I thought I didn’t.
I would describe my dream / nightmare as a Lord of the Rings / Return of the King remake with over-the-top violence and special effects. Now, many people (my own mother included I am sure) would already regard the violence included in scenes of LOTR ROTK as “over the top.” I am a huge fan of both J.R.R. Tolkien as well as these movies by Peter Jackson and company, however, and although we have not allowed our young children to see them and don’t plan to for many years– either I have become desensitized sufficiently to LOTR style battle-scenes and violence to not regard them as objectionable or a big deal (for me as an adult)– or they truly are not bad in terms of their emotional and cognitive impact. Clearly this one idea, as well as this entire posting, is an opinion open to debate….
Anyway, it was clear to me a few moments after waking up from this nightmare (which again I don’t want to recount in detail here, because I don’t want to reinforce the images even further in my own mind and therefore prolong their halflife within my own brain– which has already been much longer than I would want) that the impetus for this twisted dream was some of the game screenshot images I had looked at the previous day in Game Informer magazine. I had no idea reading those articles and looking at those images would lead my subconscious mind to weave them together with other images and characters I really do like (from LOTR) and create a nightmarish dream. Of course no one can really predict dreams, I suppose, but dreams of any type so rarely are remembered by me– and (until now) never a nightmare that I can recall– so this really did seem to be a significant event.
The fans and creators of GameInformer magazine may scoff at this and discount what I say out of hand– they and others may likely respond, “So what? If you don’t like the magazine, just don’t read it.” And to that retort, I would reply: of course– I don’t, and I won’t– I plan to throw the rest of my magazine subscriptions directly into the trash before I can even read a headline. Obviously, there will not be a magazine renewal here in my future….
But my thoughts on this issue are not limited to the effect these images from the magazine had upon my own mind– my thoughts are for the many children as well as adults who actually play the games that I only saw static screenshot images of— if the impact for me of just seeing static images can be so clear and undeniable, what of the impact for someone playing an immersive, violent, first-person game with those types of images repeatedly flashed in front of their eyes for hours on end?
Can anyone deny with a straight face and an ounce of truth that the one-time, as well as cumulative effect of those images upon the minds of the individuals watching and/or participating in those games, is TREMENDOUS? I don’t think so.
As I observed several years ago in a presentation I did regarding Luddite perceptions of educational technology, the video game industry wants to have it both ways: they want us (and I am speaking not just as a parent, but as a citizen) to buy into the idea that videogames are really harmless virtual activities– that it is much better for little Johnny to be playing out violent and aggressive fantasies in a computer or console game rather than going out into the neighborhood or into the schoolyard and physically beating up schoolmates.
Yet this same videogame industry, as well as a myriad list of other commercial interests in the US and elsewhere who directly market their wares to our children, are spending an estimated $15 billion per year to change the perceptions and the buying influence wielded by these young consumers. The same industry that attempts to convince us, “images are harmless,” violates the philosophic law of non-contradiction in their own marketing behaviors. If images and repeated exposure to them do not matter / have no effect, then why the $15 billion dollars of marketing money, guys? Clearly exposure to images makes a big difference…. it has a sizable impact not only on our perceptions, but also on our behavior. (For a bit more on marketing to children as well as the source for this estimate, refer to Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology published by the Alliance for Childhood, chapter 1, pp. 14-15.)
And the last sad footnote to this line of thinking this evening is this: like it or not, my daughters are going to be going to school and eventually dating boys who are heavily influenced by games like those I saw magazine images of this weekend. How terrible is that? Is anyone setting up any communes in the Rocky Mountains where we can escape the influences rampant in these evil days? Not likely…. but I am sure there are many things we can do. I am not sure what they are yet, but I have not stopped thinking about these issues.
I pray I do quickly forget the images which gave rise to my dream and this entire line of discussion…. As Jesus said over two thousand years ago, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Let us all commit ourselves and our children to live in the light, to stand up and fight against the darkness– and know that it is not by our own strength that we shall prevail, but by the grace and through the strength of He who is our rock and our salvation.
See, I couldn’t really have put these thoughts, with these essential theological trappings, in any other blog category!
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[…] iFilm (the site who owns the blog linked above) is quite an eye opener into the world of viral video. I first learned about iFilm a couple of summers ago, at the Digital Media Academy’s workshop on Digital Storytelling. Of course YouTube can be a bad place to explore as well– there is more there than any of us should go out and try to see and find. I have real mixed feelings about all of this. I guess in the online environment of the flat world, there are less “checks” and “boundaries” on individuals’ access to content of all types, good and bad. That is simultaneously exciting and horrifying. I wrote about some of this back in January 2005, in terms of the power of mere still images to powerfully affect the mind and the imagination. […]