Video Killed the Radio Star

Dennis R Redmond dredmond at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Sat Apr 24 14:12:51 PDT 1999

On Sat, 24 Apr 1999, Michael Pollak wrote:

> From Need to Know, the sarcastic Brit-nerd newsletter:
> ...hold on. If it was Doom, how come they could shoot under tables?

Hold on a second here. I keep hearing videogames being cited over and over again as this source of alienation, evil, and violence. But is this true? If culture produces killers, why doesn't Japan's incredibly violent mass culture produce legions of psychopaths? The EU countries have all the videogames we have, so why aren't their kids slaughtering each other like ours are? Speaking as a connoisseur of the genre, I have to say that the first-person shooter videogames are a powerful anaesthetic: they're a symbolic realm where you have to think, act, run around, and explore environments. They soak up frustration and aggression, and allow info-geeks, jocks, riot grrrls and all manner of mutants an opportunity to participate in a new kind of cybercommunity, the kind congregating around the Quake servers, where people play each other in these teams. The logic of these games is that of sports skills: movement, coordination, rapid ducking. It's totally unlike real combat, where to see a target means that the target is dead, instantly. Example: there's a variation of Quake where you fire rocket launchers at each other. Real RL's move at supersonic speeds; in Quake, you can see the thing coming at you like a tennis serve, and you have time to duck. Note also that the fundamental narrative trope of the first-person shooter is the Vietcong-style insurrection: it's you against the minions of an Evil System which ruthlessly colonizes the bodies and minds of its victims (in Quake, the Strogg; in HalfLife, the minions of the Nihilanth, as well as a paranoid US military). Ho Chi Minh was the true author of the first-person 3D shooter.

This isn't to say that the shooters are beyond criticism. Some of 'em have pointless violence, stupid sexism, and the rest. But on the whole, this bourgeoning new branch of the info-culture is amazingly progressive, multi-cultural, gender-balanced and multinational.

-- Dennis

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