/ VIR­TUAL WORLD

Vi­o­lent power fan­tasies are par for the course in com­puter games, but is there a point where the sim­u­la­tions get too real?

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H ow­doy­ous­pendy­our week­end­sande­venings? At­the­mo­ment, Imainly spend­minekilling­peo­ple. Some­timesIteartheir­heart­sou­ton spears; some­timesIcrushtheir skull­swith­ham­mers. Some­times, in mo­mentsof­mur­der­ous­prowess, I killt­wowith­as­in­glewell-aimed swordswing, and­myfriend­scheer as­cle­aved­skulls­fly­throughtheair.

Ioftenget­soswep­tupinthethrill ofitI­don’teven­no­ticethesweat buildin­gupin­side­my­head­set. But, that’sGorn­foryou. It­maybe asim­pleglad­i­a­to­ri­al­com­bat game, bu­tit’sstill­so­much­funI caneasi­ly­lose­w­holeeveningsto the­joysof­mur­der. Han­gon, what? Ban this sick filth De­batesovergame­sand­vi­o­lence aren’tnew. It’son­lyev­era­mat­terof time­un­ti­lagame­suchasPostalor Car­maged­don­catch­es­thep­ub­lic’s at­ten­tio­nand­pun­ditssuchasJack Thomp­son­start­todom­i­natethe head­lines. Thosepun­ditscite re­search­point­ing­tolinks­be­tween re­aland­sim­u­lat­ed­vi­o­lence, while oth­er­s­point­tod­if­fer­entstud­i­esthat re­bukethem, and­soit­goe­sun­tilthe news­cy­clechanges.

Per­son­ally, Ifall­firm­ly­on­the games-don’t-cause-vi­o­lencesideof thear­gu­ment– an­dit’sapo­si­tionI re­tain­de­spiteth­es­cep­ti­cismto whichI’mabout­to­givevoice.

In­thep­ast, when­this­ar­gu­ment has­comeup, I’vesup­port­edmy view­by­i­na­gen­er­al­way­bysim­ply point­ing­totheHomeOf­fice’s CrimeSur­vey, whichshowsa de­clinein­vi­o­lentcrimesince1995, de­spiteth­e­con­tin­u­ing­pop­u­lar­i­tyof vi­o­lentgames.

Lately, though, I’ve­been re­con­sid­er­ingt­h­ear­gu­ments. Partly it’sbe­causeIfeelit’sim­por­tant­toask your­selftoughques­tions, no­mat­ter how­much­con­fi­dencey­ouhavein youropin­ion, and­part­lyit’sbe­cause vir­tu­al­re­al­i­ty­seem­s­likeit­could changeth­en­ature­ofthede­bate. We’restill­intheear­ly­daysoft­his tech­nol­ogy, but­the­fi­deli­ty­ofVR will on­lyget­bet­ter­fromhere. In-gamevi­o­len­ceis­about­to­get dra­mat­i­cal­ly­more­con­vinc­ing.

SoI’mwon­der­ing: is­there­a­point when­sim­u­lat­ed­vi­o­lence­be­comes too­re­al­is­tic? Is­the­re­alinewe shouldn’tcross? Ifthat­li­ne­ex­ists, on­what­ba­sis­shoulditbedrawn?

At­the­mo­ment, so­ci­ety­has gen­er­allya­greedthatthere’saline, an­dit­gets­drawn­base­donthe ma­tu­ri­ty­oftheau­di­ence. Weuse­age rat­ingsan­dad­vi­so­rymes­sagesto de­finewhat’sokay, andwe oc­ca­sion­ally­ban­ma­te­ri­al­which goes­be­yondthe­lim­it­sof­t­aste. Or­gan­i­sa­tion­ssuchas­theBri­tish Board­ofFilmClas­si­fi­ca­tion(BBFC) bearthere­spon­si­bil­i­ty­for­mak­ing the­se­judge­mentsand, on­the whole, they­seemtodoa­good­jobof pro­tect­ingy­ounger­au­di­ences­from in­ap­pro­pri­ate­m­ate­rial.

How­ever, theBBFC­doesn’tjudge sole­ly­on­the­ba­sisoft­heau­di­ence. Tech­nol­o­gyandthe­con­textsit fa­cil­i­tate­s­playan­im­por­tant­role, whichiswhythe2005Doom­movie go­ta15cer­tifi­cate, but­thegameon whichit­was­based(Doom3) gotan 18cer­tifi­cate. They­haves­im­i­lar con­tent, bu­toneis­in­ter­ac­tive­and mor­eim­mer­sive, andtheBBFC thinkswatch­ingde­mon­icvi­o­len­ceis very­d­if­fer­ent­topar­tic­i­patinginit.

Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion

Sowhere­doesthisleave­vir­tual re­al­ity, whicheveninthe­seearly sta­ge­sisal­ready­taking­in­ter­ac­tiv­ity andim­mer­sion­tonewex­tremes? There’saplayableVRver­sionof Doom3al­ready­widelyavail­able on­line, not­to­men­tion­aVRup­da­teof there­cen­tDoom­re­bootjus­taround thecorner.

Ifthed­if­fer­ence­be­tween­play­ing onascreenand­watching­ona screenise­noughto­goupanager­at­ing­notch, is­playing­inVRwith 1:1mo­tion­trackingandtheop­tion toac­tu­al­lyteardemon­sapart with­y­ourhand­se­noughto war­ranta­ban?

Inal­l­like­li­hood, prob­a­bly­not. The­waygame­sar­erate­dintheUK meansthatsince2012, theBBFConly re­views­gameswith­porno­graphic con­tent, whileal­lothergame­sare re­ferred­totheVideoS­tan­dards Coun­cil(VSC).

TheVSCrate­sus­ingth­ePanEuro­peanGameIn­for­ma­tion(PEGI) rat­ingssys­te­mand­can­is­sue­ban­son games, bu­ton­lygames­sol­da­tre­tail need­to­ber­ated. Dig­i­tal­ly­dis­tributed games– suchas, oh, ba­si­callyall vir­tu­al­re­al­i­tyti­tles– don’tneed­tobe sub­mit­tedan­d­ef­fec­tive­ly­can’tre­ally be­banned.

Devel­op­er­scan­choose­to­sub­mit theirgames­for­rat­ing, but­they­have topay­forthep­riv­i­lege­andtheyget no­re­al­ad­van­tage­for­do­ingso, since Steam­doesn’tre­quireit(un­like con­sole­plat­forms). Re­gard­less, it’s stil­lan­im­por­tant­dis­cus­sion. Is Doom3onascreen­worsethan Doom3inVR? IsDoom3al­ways per­mis­si­ble­be­cau­seit­fea­tures fan­tas­ti­cal, de­mon­icvi­o­lencerather thanre­al­is­tic­sim­u­la­tion­sofhu­man vi­o­lence? Should­we­draw­lines base­don­fi­deli­tyratherthanfor­mat or­con­tent? How­dowe­judge­whena gameis­too­re­al­is­tic?

There­are­noeasyan­swer­stothese ques­tion­san­dul­ti­mate­ly­it­doesn’t mat­ter­any­way. Tech­nol­o­gy­marches on­re­gard­less. We­may­have­barely scratchedthesur­face­oftheeth­i­cal andpsy­cho­log­i­calis­sue­sp­re­sented byVR, butHTC, Valve, Face­bookand oth­er­sare­al­ready­ploughin­ga­head with­newver­sion­sof­t­hetech.

Moretellingly, even­the­crit­i­cal dis­cus­sionofVR­tend­sto­fo­cus­more on­whether­it­can­suc­ceed­in­termsof unitssold, and­lesson­whetherit should­be­bought­tomar­ke­tatall. ShouldVRbe­bannedor­lim­ite­din some­way? Idon’tthinkso. Is­there ali­neover­which­weshouldbe mind­ful? Ithinkso. Whereisit, ex­actly? Ihavenoidea, butI’dlove to­heary­ourthoughtsabouti­tat let­ters@cus­tom­pc­mag.org.uk

Is a power fan­tasy more dam­ag­ing in VR?

At what point should we ques­tion our hob­bies?

Are mil­i­tary sim­u­la­tors in VR more wor­ri­some?

Should we judge Doom 3 dif­fer­ently in VR?

Is vi­o­lence okay as long as it’s ab­stract?

The Doom movie has a 15 rat­ing, but the Doom 3 game was 18-rated

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