March 13, 2005

Perception Game

by Andrew Stern · , 11:59 am

Maybe it’s the lingering effects of GDC on my perception, and I’m really really not intending to make light of a tragedy, but aren’t parts of this horrific news report from Duluth, Georgia of a prisoner who overpowered a guard and killed several people perversely resonant with the simulated and networked age we live in?

In the course of Mr. Nichols’s escape, he hijacked at least three cars and a tow truck in quick succession, boarded the Atlanta commuter train and stole the agent’s truck, officials said. … Mr. Nichols, 33, surrendered after … apparently learned he was surrounded by watching television coverage of the operation.

I’m not suggesting any causal relationship between simulations of violence and real life violence, I’m just noticing how, for me, it’s becoming somehow easier and easier to compare features of the two, or at least to the media representations of the real life violence. It really bothers me that I’m compelled to make this (admittedly simplistic) observation at all.

Oddly enough, both Michael of this blog and Ian Bogost of Watercooler Games live in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta, and were returning home from GDC yesterday, presumably amidst this chaos. They’re preparing for Will Wright’s arrival in Atlanta this week for an award ceremony and symposium at Georgia Tech.

Unrelated but also disturbing to me, in San Francisco last week during GDC, a conference attendee described how he returned to his hotel one evening to find cops huddled over a body lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. The attendee said he was of course horrified, but couldn’t help a momentary thought of the imagery of first person shooters.

(Eds. note: I originally titled this post “GTA: Duluth”, but changed it 30 minutes later, concerned that while catchy, was really too tasteless.)

8 Responses to “Perception Game”

  1. Rob Walker Says:

    I think it just goes to show that games can be relevant to things that go on in the real world. As you said, it doesn’t imply any causality between the two (odds are this guy never played a game in his life) but when you can pop in GTA: SA and do the exact same thing this guy did it does make you think a little.

    I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing though, it’s just a little more “real” than people like, which I think has always been at the core of the video game violence debate. Because this stuff exists in reality, murder, grand theft auto, etc. should we not put it into our games? If you’re trying to represent a real city, with people and vehicles and an economy, wouldn’t it be lying to *not* include those aspects? Shutting that reality out doesn’t make it go away and it sure as hell doesn’t make it any safer for our kids.

    You’d probably have made a similiar connection if you had been watching a lot of low-brow action movies where the protagonists had been thieves, but since your media tends towards games, that’s what you connect it with.

    Sorry, kind of went off on a tangent there.

  2. Bacon Says:

    There is causality between them. Totally. GTA is based completely on what happens every day in North America. What would be happening whether the game had been released or not.

  3. Yusuf Says:

    Yes, crime exists, it is a part of life, but games magnify the proportion of crime, make it an everyday event when it is not. Would you even step out of your house if you thought your city was just like GTA? GTA is based on a sub-culture and an exagerrated one at that. It is no more a reflection of every day North America than Sims is.

    Movies, stories and games choose part of a culture, expand it, mould it, modify it and then present it to the audience for entertainment. In our over-regulated society “crime” has become cool, so too many games have been focused on that part of culture.

    We are shifting from seing similarities between real life and movies to seeing similarities between real life and games.

  4. Isaac Says:

    I am often reflecting on the models we present to players but now keep thinking about Brenda Laurel’s GDC rant.

    It would be interesting to see a good study on the “mean world” bias amongst the heavy users of games as opposed to television.

  5. mike d Says:

    “I’m really really not intending to make light of a tragedy,”

    can many game designers say this sincerely?

    is it really a problem if they can’t?

  6. Grand Text Auto » Authentic Interactive Characters To Solve Violence in Games Controversy Says:

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  7. why Says:

    why can we watch sex, and guys killing guys on T.V. but we cant play the guy killing another guy

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