The Games We Play

The Girl and her boyfriend are upstairs playing on the X Box every boy seems to possess.  There are sounds of rapid gunfire, the whine of fighter planes, pursuit vehicles, men's voices.  I suspect that almost every household will have purchased some kind of game for Christmas, many of them digital, with enhanced CGI.  They are frighteningly real.  And most of them seem to involve killing on an industrial scale.

Two of the most reviewed games at the moment are Red Dead Redemption 2 (above) and the God of War series.
Not a woman in sight.

Decades ago there was a debate about whether watching violence on TV or on the cinema screen increased the tendency to violence on the street among young people.  It ran alongside the debate on whether watching pornography made pedophiles and abusers more likely to abuse.  I disagreed with censorship (still do) and thought, naively, that perhaps watching it got something out of the system that might otherwise have been performed in real life.

I don't think like that now.  Playing violent games and killing people in a virtual reality somehow normalises it.  And it decreases inhibition.  In modern warfare there's little difference between pressing a button that wipes out an entire village and pressing a button on a console that fires a real missile that wipes out an entire village in an explosion you can watch on screen.  It has no reality, no consequences for the button presser. 

Some of our favourite TV programmes and films are so graphic, so violent, they're almost unwatchable.  Many of them, as if to legitimise the action, are rooted in our blood-thirsty history, real or in some fictionalised past or future like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings.  Even Harry Potter involves a lot of killing, which has a moral justification.

Missiles or dragons the result is the same.
What is it about us, as a human race, that has such an obsession with  killing other human beings, often in the most painful and horrific ways possible?  Why do we venerate war and its 'heroes'?  Why do we still go to war when there are so many civilised alternatives to settle our differences? Watching Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump waving their penile missiles at each other and boasting about who has the bigger button, chills me to the bone.

My partner, who is a peaceable sort of bloke, commented, 'Where are the games that grow relationships?'  It set me thinking. Where are the games that set challenges people are likely to encounter in real life?  Surviving a plane crash, a tsunami, shipwreck, escaping from tigers in the wilderness, or saving the planet - without having to kill people?  Games that nurture the other side of human nature - the constructive, empathetic side.

The problem with individuals (regrettably almost always men) who crave power in order to dominate, control and sometimes abuse others - men like Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Savile, Joseph Stalin, Kim Jong Un, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler - men we allow to have that power -  have to be confronted.  All that testosterone, all that money, all those weapons.

The human consequence of war.
Genetic anthropologists say that there were probably about 15 species of human being on the planet originally, where now there is only one.  Us.  We have dug up the remains of at least 3 others, so we can presume that they are right. What happened to these other species?  Are we a branch of the human tree so aggressive that we wiped them all out?  All I can say is that, looking at human history, both past and present, the ancient human being sitting in his cave eating fish and peacefully raising his children, would not have stood a chance against Us.  We'd have killed him and his male relatives, raped their wives, eaten their fish, taken over the cave with a sea view and kept the most personable of their children as slaves.  Much as we do now.

Wicked Game from Peaky Blinders.

With climate change staring us in the face, we are being told by experts that war is increasingly likely over scarce resources.  I would like to think  we can all cooperate to solve the biggest crisis the human race has ever faced - one that could, according to some scientists, result in our extinction.  On present showing there isn't much cause for optimism.  Can we change?  Can we raise our children to be more empathetic and less aggressive?  Do the games we play affect how we act in real life?  


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