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Morality Play

I imagine that it must be quite nice to have a job that involves making, for example, satellites. After work, on the bus home, in the pub, or in one’s living room one is unlikely to encounter a satellite, unless something has gone very, very wrong (and if this happens, it’s probably your fault anyway).

By contrast, I write about technology. And, as such, I come across other articles about technology that I should read – at home, on the train and at work. This means that, quite a lot of time, I’m annoyed by articles that display ignorance of the facts, general pigheaded stupidity, poor spelling and grammar, or even all of the above. RSS feeds make the situation even worse – they form a kind of drip feed, guaranteed to keep me irate when online*.

Lately, I’ve been getting particularly annoyed by articles about video games. Like, for example, this one.

Let’s start with the lede, as Bully is not really a “new video game”. The Scholarship Edition, out now, is really a minor update to a fairly old PS2 game, with graphics that have been (slightly) tarted up for the new generation of consoles and a bit of new content (new missions, new minigames etc). I know that “new” is an oft-abused word, but using it for this game is a real stretch.

Then there’s the content. The game apparently “encourages players to act out assaults on pupils and teachers” and players “gain extra points by terrorising other pupils with a range of physical and psychological abuse”. Having read this kind of stuff the last time the Bully controversy rolled around, I actually did the unthinkable: I went and bought a copy.

So, here’s what actually happens in the game. You play the character of a new child enrolled in an (entirely unrealistic, caricatured) school. From your first day you, like many other students, are bullied. You, by playing out a number of missions, fight back against these bullies, as well as the various other (American, stereotypical – jocks, preppies, etc) social groups that persecute you. Although it’s possible to rampage around the school terrorising the other students, doing so won’t get you very far – in fact, attacking the staff or children younger than yourself is a very fast way to get busted, setting your progress back. Early on the player is introduced to the most bullied kid in the school – rather than a four hour romp wherein you are encouraged to terrorise this child, your character helps him out on numerous occasions as the plot progresses.

It’s been said before, but it appears to be true: to criticise a book or film in print without having read or seen it would be considered the action of a charlatan (and will result in mockery). To criticise a video game without having played it, however, seems to be the norm.

And then, to go one step further still, why not criticise a game that hasn’t even been finished, yet alone released? The NYT reports on Nintendo’s statement that it will not publish a (still in development) game about the holocaust, and the author of the piece includes a few juicy quotes:

“Disgusting concept. Some people have no shame,” wrote one video game blog reader.

This is all well and good of course, because Lord only knows we don’t want children learning about the plight of children during the holocaust. And it’s not as if anyone else has ever made a video game based on World War Two. If anything, the “moral” here seems to be that it’s fine and dandy to play at killing people, but heaven forbid that video gamers should remember those who died without a gun in their hand.

Also annoying me today: wind, rain, and the effects of the above on elderly Victorian buildings. And this article on Flickr (which “required no complex technical infrastructure” – except, you know, enough servers and storage to hold gazillions of photos. I’ve probably got some under the bed in a shoebox). Gnergh. I need a holiday. And double-glazing.

* I should note that this is partially a type of masochism – rather like reading the Guardian Weekend magazine, knowing that it is likely to contain at least one article that leaves me bitterly, impotently angry, I sometimes find myself opening news articles online while entirely aware from just the headline that they are going to annoy the crap out of me. There should be a word for this – hatesurfing?

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