You’ve got to feel sorry for videogames. All they want is a quiet life sitting on a shelf or in a disc drive, providing a few hours’ entertainment as their makers programmed them to do. Yet, just lately videogames can’t do anything right; they blunder from one public relations catastrophe to the next, inadvertently upsetting an MP there, accidentally starting a fire there, before tottering into the foyer of The Daily Mail and provoking deafening screams of moral panic.
Now hopelessly woozy and confused, videogames have somehow managed to upset a Swedish human rights organisation, and by extension, the good old Auntie Beeb. As our esteemed editor Simon wrote yesterday, the BBC has carried a story that reads “Video games depicting war have come under fire for flouting laws governing armed conflicts.”
Understandably, videogames feel extremely bewildered by all this. Already accused of corrupting children and condoning the slaughter of civilians in an airport, they’re now found guilty of breaking the Geneva Convention.
“[We] call upon game producers to consequently and creatively incorporate rules of international humanitarian law and human rights into their games,” the Swedish report says. “The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is… astonishing.”
It’s difficult not to read the BBC’s story without a groan – the same groan I groaned when The Daily Mail’s Anne Diamond wrote about the horrors of playing Jericho where “something splattered blood all over my visor”. It’s a groan of frustration, annoyance, and complete and utter boredom.
All the thoughtful, reasoning counter-arguments could be trotted out in defence of videogames, but media hysteria and moral panic can’t be argued or reasoned with. There’s little point in mentioning that humanitarian laws are frequently broken in movies and literature too, or that the contravention of human rights in video games pales into complete, absolute, meaningless insignificance compared to the horrors that are visited on innocent people every day in the real world.
What’s most frustrating is that videogames actually hold the secret to a peaceful future without battlefields or bloodshed. We don’t need real weapons, armies, tanks, soldiers, bullets, rockets or mutually assured destruction. All we need is a LAN tournament.
With war becoming increasingly mechanised anyway (the US military is busy in its shed building the first prototype Terminator as I write this), there’s no particular reason why warfare can’t make the leap into the realm of zeroes and ones.
The next time there’s a dispute over land or oil, our governments can leave the jet fighters in the hangars. The soldiers can rest easy in their bunks. Wars waged by PC and console – by geeks in darkened rooms, with joypads and mice, with headshots, frags and frantic clicks – could open up a whole new way for politicians to resolve their differences without causing the deaths of thousands or millions.
And fear not, sinister weapons corporations – I’m referring to you Lockheed and Rand – there’s room in the future of virtual war for you too. Ditch the blueprints for aircraft, tanks and missiles; instead, you’ll be making competition-level mice and keyboards, ergonomic wrist rests and headsets.
By digitising war, we can finally sublimate one of our species’ oldest and darkest vices. Digital war will be televised, thus saving ITV and Channel 4 from the slow death of Heartbeat, Wife Swap and reality TV. After all, Starcraft tournaments are already a ratings smash over in Korea.
But even in futurity, there’ll be chunks of society horrified by what they see. They’ll tut at the pretend brutality, the ersatz gun battles, the pixelated violations of the Geneva Convention.
In that far off future, free from real-world battles, there’ll still be a Daily Mail (or its equivalent), and there’ll still be an Anne Diamond (or her descendent), and she’ll no doubt wring her hands, raise a disapproving eyebrow, and moan about blood spattered on visors.
Poor old videogames. They’ll never win.
Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.