Has 9/11 Made Us Immune To Violence In Virtual Versions of New York City?
This is a very risky title to use for an opinion piece. Partially because 9/11 was, is and always will be a very controversial and sensitive topic in the American and global psyche, and partially because violence in video games has been under fire for years. This issue has played on the minds of the media since long before you could sleep with hookers in Grand Theft Auto, and murder them to get your money back. For the purposes of brevity, I will steer clear of the “violence in video games is destroying our moral fabric one virtual bullet at a time” arguments and counter-arguments.
That said, the “No Russian” level in Modern Warfare 2 generated an absurd amount of negative feedback and criticism. I am not saying killing innocent civilians by the dozens should be a “normal” activity, even in a video game that centers on world war and massive global conflicts; all I am saying is that other mediums have depicted the horrors of war in much more graphical, gory and gratuitous ways, yet they are regarded (largely) as art.
Damn it, I said I wouldn’t get into this argument. Let’s backtrack from that little tangent.
The Modern Warfare series then went on to depict World War 3. Entire cities such as New York and Paris getting ripped apart by the ravages of war, the death toll reaching millions globally, and yet, this did not attract the ire of the anti-video game lobby, the self-appointed moral police, or the right wing fundamentalists as vehemently as the No Russian level did. Is it because the nature of said violence is not so gratuitous and personal as was the case in the “No Russian” mission? Or is it because the perspective is largely from the point of view of the perpetrator in a heinous act in “No Russian”? Or is it because we are largely immune to seeing skylines collapse because we have seen it happen in a horrifying detail from dozens of different angles in the real world?
A cynic would claim that the last argument is grasping at straws, trying in vain to create a controversial pattern simply because I want there to be one. I can respect their perspective, but let us look at some games from the last decade that suggests that video games depicting New York City getting torn up seems to have increased dramatically over the last several years.
Prototype is one such game. The fictional events happen in the very real city of New York, which gets increasingly infected. The (questionable) protagonist rampages through the city destroying iconic locations and murdering civilians and law enforcement personnel by the hundreds. The upcoming Prototype 2 is set in the same location, told from the perspective of a different anti-hero.
Grand Theft Auto IV too was set in (a scaled down version of) New York City as well. Although you could do little to alter the terrain or level entire buildings, the level of chaos and destruction that you could wreck was conducted within the confines of the city. In the same vein are games like ]Max Payne 2 and Mafia II, which are both set in New York City, and allow you to create a veritable orchestra of murder, mayhem and mischief in the iconic city.