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NYT on Halo 3 used in evangelical youth programs October 8, 2007

Posted by joshg in General.

What a weird article.

Not once does anyone in the article ask the obvious question – “Why Halo?” If the violence of the game is a concern, why don’t they simply play something else? A church I used to attend had video games in their youth drop-in area, but they deliberately avoided M-rated titles. People still had lots of fun. This was in Canada, so the usual choice was a hockey game, but surely a football game would have the same effect south of the border. But I guess too many of us evangelicals have bought into the idea that we need to ride the hype bandwagons to be “relevant” to kids, instead of teaching them to step back and think critically. Bleah.

The repeated use of “Thou shalt not kill” was also just weird. Talk about what morals the game is passing on, or whether we should be exposing kids to more media violence. Don’t try to clumsily equate killing sci-fi aliens in a game with a literal act of murder. I guess it’s true that the game may be passing on morals and values which encourage violent response, but I don’t see that as a given. Are you even killing humans in Halo 3? I guess in deathmatch mode probably; I haven’t played a Halo game yet, I’ve been too distracted defending the intelligence. (No, TF2 probably shouldn’t be used in youth outreach programs either.)

I’m still a little muddled when it comes to how I want to respond to an article like this. Part of me wants to ask if this would be just as controversial if the youth group was being taken out for a game of laser tag* or paintball**, which are arguably more realistic experiences of gunfighting (especially paintball). I’ve taken in enough gamer culture over the years that it’s hard for me to drop the defensiveness that rises up when it feels like video games are being scapegoated.

But I do believe there are reasons why we should be concerned by what messages and values violent games are bringing to kids. I just don’t think that the outside-perspective analysis given by sources like this NYT article capture the depth of the issues.

For a better example of what I’d like to see more of, in Hartmut Gieselmann’s recent paper, “Ordinary Gamers – The Vanishing Violence in War Games and Its Influence on Male Gamers”:

But when you take a closer look at war games, you will realize that the violent scenes that are shown there are not nearly as gruesome as in fictional games featuring monsters and vampires.

…violence will only be recognized as entertaining for the gamer… when he (much more than 90 Percent of war gamers are male) can draw a strict line between the real world and the non real gaming world – otherwise he would be scared by what he sees and stop feeling comfortable.

…By just pointing at the most violent games, critics overlook that war games have a much greater impact on gamers’ opinions and their world views because they do not show the actual violence.

Which is more dangerous in the hands of our children – fantasy-setting violence which jars the senses, or toned down violence depicted in real-world settings which numbs us to the ugly reality of real warfare? (Answering “both” is fine; it’d be an improvement over most critics and watchdog groups who fixate only on the most bloody games.)

I clearly can’t end this in a way which wraps up my thoughts into a coherent conclusion, because I don’t yet have one. How about I just end off by saying, anyone who buys Halo 3 for a youth group and hands it uncritically to 12-year-olds that I know and care about will probably get a scowl and a talking-to from me. Grrr!
*which is awesome, by the way.

**which, when I played for the first time about four months ago, hurt like heck and left a still-visible mark on my body. Also the masks fog up in the first 30 seconds which is lame. My ideal solution: outdoor laser tag.

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