Friday, 28 August 2009

'Horror in other forms', or 'Modern Pastimes'

THQ and Games Workshop's Dawn of War. Is this one big waste of human potential!? My feelings on computer games are very mixed. Half of this is a general critique and half of it is directed at me and my particular weaknesses. 

First, the facts. I have spent many hours of my life playing computer games. Most of those hours were in my teenage years, but twice since then I have picked up the cudgels, so to speak, on the flickering screen (aside from the obligatory Wii-ing when round friends’ houses, getting crushed by small children at that Mario racing game and spraining various joints in the bizarre dance of Wii Tennis). In the spring of 2007 I had a burst of activity on Dawn of War, and since New Year this year I have played on a few console games with Ad and Phil (co-op military/mercenary shoot-em-ups) and have rekindled Dawn of War in the shape of the expansion pack Soulstorm.

A note on the silly names. Like the imitators of Tom Clancy or C-movie action flicks (Ultimate Force, Zero Tolerance, Death Kiss, Colateral Damage, Colateral War, War Kiss, Death War, Death Force…) the names just get sillier and sillier, and are often unrelated to the content of the game. Some of them are (unintentionally?) poetic – I particularly like Gears of War, in which one apparently descends to the earth’s core in a team of muscle-bound troopers and attempts to riddle various odd creatures with bullets. Gears? Mundane, but oddly wholesome in tone.

It should also be admitted that I have also wasted hours on computer-hosted more traditional pursuits – playing chess and shogi… So much so, that a few years ago I threw away my copy of Chessmaster7000 since it was the only way to keep me from gratuitous use. (That painful decision sprang from the maxim “know your limits”!) I have also uninstalled the Japanese shogi programme and that has now ceased to be any sort of temptation to indolence, thankfully. It’s not that chess/shogi/gaming in itself is bad. There is value in intellectal activity and game-playing as mental exercise and exploration. Furthermore, playing against human opponents over the board is a very sociable activity, so that should not be considered a waste. Admittedly, at the moment I am reduced to correspondence chess which largely lacks that personal interaction, and is more of a luxury intellectual tussle.

What of the ‘violence’ in computer games? Dawn of War and Call of Duty are, if you look closely, pretty red in tooth and claw. However, neither of them dwell on the gore, or are driven by gore. There are games that revel in graphic shots of entrails or mutant human forms served up to be chopped up. These seem to me to be more disturbing than those whose premise is war and whose cash value is in tactics, strategy and a developing storyline. Of course, the nasty games can often claim those things, too, but why all the nastiness? Why dwell on it? I must admit, however, to being fearful of wielding the WWJD sword here since Dawn of War would not have been in Jesus’ repertoire, no matter how tame it might seem in comparison to some games.

I guess the conclusion has to be – everything in moderation, unless it’s a genuine stumbling block. And just as the most gory games are a stumbling block (to all of us, or ought to be), so is (to some of us) the very idea of computer gaming, and the problem there is idleness rather than love (or misplaced tolerance) of violence. In either case, sin is sin.