Confessions Of A (Virtual) Serial Killer: How violent video games triggered my appreciation of Death
I’ve killed a lot of people. And dragons. And robots. Especially robots. I’ve killed gorillas who’d kidnapped my princess, soldiers who happened to be on the wrong side of a war and innocent people roaming the streets of L.A. simply because it was a darkly comical transgression.
I’m a digital native and some of my earliest memories are playing violent video games. I can’t tell you how many digital lives I’ve taken. I can tell you that it’s been a lot of fun.
I‘m not an expert on childhood. I’m far closer to being a child than being a child expert. And I have no idea what the enjoyment of playing out violent fantasy says about me, or about society. I’m far closer to being young than being Jung.
What I can tell you about is the key moment from my childhood that first helped me deeply respect the vast difference between deadly fantasy play and death itself.
This is nothing more than musings from a digital kid who recently grew up. When I was young, around ten, my older brother and I were in the habit of playing video games pretty much constantly. If we had nothing else to do (which was more or less all of the time) we’d be playing video games. One of our favourites was Time Crisis, a game where you shoot-to-kill any minions who get in your path on the way to saving the day. It was a blast.
Merida, the spunky heroine and iconic lead character of 2012’s Disney/Pixar Film Brave has caused controversy after Disney revealed her new more “glam” and some say more princess-like image. After this new slimmer, older and more sexualized Merida was released to the public, 200,000 people signed an online petition urging Disney to re-think their decision.
The new Merida looks nothing like the image portrayed throughout the film; in fact, it essentially undermines the entire message of the film. Merida is not your average Disney princess. She is not interested in waiting around to be rescued, she has no interest in fancy clothes or parties. Mostly, she is interested in riding and adventure. In short, this is a Disney princess that is more realistic and that more girls would be able to relate to. That’s the Merida that a nation of girls championed!
By giving her a new, more glam, more “come-hither” look, Disney is basically telling girls this is what a real princess should look like. Apparently her original look was not good enough to be shown along side the other Disney princesses. Read between the lines of the Merida Makeover, and what Disney is REALLY saying is that in order for a girl to be truly accepted in society she must change her physical appearance. As mentioned earlier, 200,000 unhappy Disney fans, moms and other concerned citizens find Disney’s judgement, lacking.
Chances are you know someone who has read The Hunger Games. Maybe you even read it yourself. And it’s also likely you’ve thought about whether the dystopian trilogy is appropriate for younger readers.
Set in North America, The Hunger Games portrays a grim future, where provinces, territories and states have been replaced with districts.
Twelve Districts are ruled over by a dictator who enforces the annual Hunger Games, where child is pitted against child. Each district has two representatives, one boy and one girl, and they each must battle each other to be the last one standing. And therein lies the controversy of Suzanne Collin’s novels: children killing children.
On its website, Chapters lists The Hunger Games as appropriate for ages 13 to 17. I know from firsthand experience that The Hunger Games has drawn in readers of all ages, but is it appropriate for younger readers?
But outside the centre’s walls, if we look at the history of these games, there’s a troubling undercurrent over time.
Certainly, they’ve come a long way — from Pong to Call of Duty. They have evolved, and with them, so have their violence levels. Today’s games are more realistic, more graphic, and more engaging than ever before. Players are immersed into these realistic settings, like war zones.
And an important question that has been debated over the years — and has escalated in importance in light of recent tragic events, such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — is simple: are these games promoting and encouraging people to act violently?
It seems like there’s some sort of electronic book for everyone these days. Whether you’re a comic book lover or if you like curling up with a novel, epubs and ereaders have something for you. And of course publishing houses have realized that with the increased use of ereaders, new focus has to be given to children’s publications.
Puffin Publishing is an example of a publishing house rising to the occasion. Their website has everything a kid (and a parent) could hope for in this new age of digital publishing. The Puffin website is filled with activities for kids, but the activities are related to the books that Puffin publishes. Unlike most online games, Puffin’s games and activities build upon books kids are reading. It encourages them to engage with a community that loves the same books as them, and to participate in conversations happening about their favourite books.
It is an easy website for kids to use, with different categories available. Children can access games, competitions and even a history of Puffin. They can also access a section called Children’s Activities. Here kids can browse by author and book for different games and activities to play.
“19th century culture was defined by the novel, 20th century by the cinema; the culture of the 21st century will be defined by the interface.”
—Lev Manovich, referenced by Aaron Koblin in his TED2011 talk, March 2011
I’m only just finishing my first year of a three year college program, but already I’ve been apprised of this sobering truth for the aspiring graphic designer: if I want to find employment upon graduating, it would probably be a poor career choice for me to skip my classes in web and mobile app design! This is the direction in which a lot of the work I’ll be doing in the foreseeable future is going. Children are some of the primary consumers of digital media, and recently there has been a lot of thoughtful consideration of intuitive and engaging UI design, so as to create a positive and entertaining UX for kids as they navigate these media.
Based on recent studies, media multitasking is one of the newer trends among kids and young people. Recognizing this shift in kids’ engagement with media, Cartoon Network recently had an app designed that would really facilitate multitasking. The version of the app for the iPad has three possible configurations. In portrait orientation, the screen is divided in half, allowing kids to play games in the bottom half while watching TV in the top half. Turning the tablet into landscape format, it becomes solely a gaming device. Rotate it 180 degrees, and you have a portable TV. The popularity of the app — there have been millions of downloads — suggests that this design resonates with kids.
Hay Day (iOS) is a kind of Farmville knock off. The premise is straightforward – grow crops, raise livestock, sell the goods and use the coins you earn to build and improve your farm. It starts well enough. In about 10 minutes you’re growing and selling, and zipping through the first level. It’s engaging enough to keep you playing, and it’s fun. It’s also a great lesson in buying and selling…. demand economics if you will.
But by the middle of Level 2 that changes dramatically, and your progress grinds to a snail’s pace. By Level 3 (which came nearly two days later) the motive is obvious; you need to buy in-game currency to speed up the action and you need to click on the link to Facebook so you can sell your virtual goods to a broader audience. That in-game currency comes at various price points from $4.99 to $99. That link to Facebook has no monetary value; all it costs is your privacy and your contact list.
The social media blitz that Twitter provides has allowed individuals to craft and share short messages with the world. The beauty of the system is that anybody can Tweet, but it’s the celebrities and the athletes that have the biggest following. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast, but if Danica Patrick took a photo of her waffle; it’s news.
Through these personal sound bites, athletes’ followers can wait for word on where that player may be heading next, who they’ve been hanging out with, what movies and music they like, and other personal details.
It’s like a dear diary, but the entries are exposed for the world to see instead of hidden under a pillow.
At the beginning of the new year, Coca-Cola released a health focused ad campaign. Awesome is a soft drink company that isn’t sugar coating the reality of rising obesity rates! The campaign tackles the age-old fact that over consuming sugar (or any food group) will lead to weight gain and other health problems. The ad also notes that Coca-Cola’s various drinks are now sold in ‘’diet’’ or low-calorie choices.
What is so special about this ad? Coca-Cola is creating awareness, which is what a leading brand should do. BUT, what really caught my eye was the fact that there was not a single polar bear used in the campaign. Various polar bears and their progeny have inhabited Coke’s advertising since 1922, and in 1993, Coca-Cola launched the “Always Coca-Cola” TV campaign with animated bears. We don’t know if Coca-Cola has set the bears free, forever, but the fact that a health-focused, bear-free campaign was launched, shows that Coca-Cola has been doing their homework on their audience.
All right, I admit that the effect of Horror movies and violence in video games on children is no stop-in-your-tracks exclusive and we have all heard the talks and seen the studies one way or another. You see for me, that is the problem. If it is so common place a debate, how have the producers and game developers just decided to ignore it and take things to a new extreme?
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