Playing for Keeps
Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
From time to time, well-meaning people, and I consider myself to be such a person, attempt to explain the tsunami of violence that seems to be washing away inhibitions, all sense of self preservation, all decency from societies around the world by pointing an accusatory finger at the violence portrayed on television, movies, and yes, video games.
Ah, yes, video games, what a disaster they have turned out to be. My grandsons dash home from school to sit at their screens playing games for hours on end. I claim that they are anti-social while others, clearly more enlightened, maintain that they enjoy a rich social life by playing games from their home with kids sitting perhaps miles away, even continents away, at similar screens similarly in their homes. Socializing is no longer an act of coming together physically; it has become an interaction in cyberspace where the keyboard is the closest you'll ever get to the person you are talking to. And it's not only kids; I know a very important person who holds down a very important job yet spends all his free time playing video games.
It all began, you might recall, in 1958 when a physicist, who went by the highly unlikely name of Willy Higinbotham, invented the first "video game" at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York; his table tennis-like game, was played on an oscilloscope. Three years later in 1961, Steve Russell, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created Spacewar, the first interactive computer game. Violence, it seems, was present in at the beginning, almost at the birth of the video industry.
Half a decade later, Ralph Baer, an engineer at Sanders Associates, received funding from his employer, a military electronics consulting firm, to explore the idea of creating interactive games using a television. In 1971, Computer Space became the first video arcade game ever released. 1,500 games were distributed but the consensus among buyers was that it was too difficult to play.
In 1975, Gunfight became the first "computer" game ever to be released using a microprocessor instead of hardwired solid-state circuits. The following year, a Video Entertainment System, known later as Channel F, appeared. It was the first programmable, cartridge-based, home game console that allowed users to change games by switching cartridges.
In 1980, Battlezone became the first 3-D game ever created. It was set in a virtual battlefield and later became enhanced by the US Military for training exercises. In the same year, 300,000 units of Pac-Man were released worldwide by Namco. Defender, the first game incorporating a "virtual world" was introduced, using a "radar" scope at the top of the screen to inform users of the surroundings since the screen was too small to display all of the action.
By this time people were beginning to join the dots and what emerged was a picture of rampant violence that left no physical scars on the combatants. Senators Lieberman of Connecticut and Kohl of Wisconsin launched a Senate investigation into violence in video games, hoping to initiate a ban on the worst offenders. By 1994, as the result of a Senate investigation, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was created. Ratings were given to video games that were marked on a game's packaging to indicate the suggested age of players and violent content. Things became so bad that in 1997 the State of Arizona attempted to restrict the distribution of violent video games by making it illegal to display or distribute violent material to minors. The proposed bill was not approved, but a year later the Walmart retail chain decided to ban over 50 video games that it deemed inappropriate for minors.
In 1999 after the shootings that occurred at the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Sega announced that it would not release a light gun with Dreamcast in the U.S. In addition, it prevented the use of imported guns with American consoles, which forced Americans to use standard controllers to play the popular House of the Dead 2.
What is interesting today, almost 60 years on, is that video games have become a reality. Players can sit behind their consoles somewhere in West Virginia and play their deadly games far from the dangers of the battlefield. They can create bedlam and havoc with their drones, spray innocent civilians and terrorists alike in streets thousand of miles away with bullets and bombs, without ever risking injury or feeling the pain of shrapnel tearing at their flesh. We no longer distinguish reality from virtuality. War is just a game to be played with impunity.