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.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

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.

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