Corpse Humping For Columbine

The news that a school district doesn't want to use Halo 2 for a fundraiser is probably going to provoke two kinds of reactions: rabid gamers will again repeat their mantra that there is no definitive proof anywhere that violent games encourage violent behavior (despite the axiom that absence of proof isn't proof of absence) and those who consider themselves upstanding, god-fearing, won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-children "family values" types will applaud the move and pay lip service to more liberal values by pointing out that just because other parents are morally loose enough to allow their tykes to play with violent games like halo 2 doesn't mean that they have to allow this scourge into their public schools.

And as happens in most such debates, both sides are partially right and partially wrong.

There's no reason why a school should be obligated to include an M-rated game in a school function that includes students who aren't of age to buy an M-rated game. The planners apparently did go so far as to get parental permission for participants, but that isn't really the issue. Just because students want something and parents agree doesn't obligate the school to do it.

However, that doesn't appear to be the district's logic; in fact, the real audience for their actions aren't the parents that approve of the event and did so in writing, it's the parents who wouldn't have approved, whose children wouldn't be at the event, but who would be ill-disposed to the school having the event at all, regardless of their non-involvement.

"Anything we do that even looks like we're endorsing violence is not appropriate." That line says it all. It cuts through all of the arguments about whether or not violent games are good, bad, or indifferent, and says "it doesn't matter-- it makes us look bad allowing kids to play this."

The most disturbing part, though, is the obligatory knee jerk association with Columbine, as if allowing violent video games is somehow analogous in some vague way with the events that led to that tragedy.

How any school administrator with even a passing understanding of the events of Columbine can believe that the school's endorsement of a video game would have an effect on students somehow comparable is absolutely astounding. Students willing to attempt to slaughter en masse teachers, fellow students, and then themselves, probably aren't that affected by what school employees do or do not endorse. If anything, having the school endorse Halo 2 would probably have convinced the Columbine perpetrators that Microsoft is just another tool of mainstream consumer society, out to grind the geeks and the weirdos of the world into grist for the mills.

Of course, the effect on the students is not-- and it rarely is-- the point. The real audience is the parents. They are the ones who the school is afraid will think the use of Halo 2 is inappropriate; and all they've really achieved here is convincing students that teachers and parents alike give children much less credit for the ability to think critically and to distinguish fantasy from reality than they deserve, mostly because they've grown into adults with far too little of both the former and the latter.

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Comments

Playing Halo is a great way to meet friends. People with friends usually don't go on shooting binges.

Nice argument.

...Or in Puyallup, or wherever. It's driving some pretty absurd decisions in public education. "Can't do it or the PTA will sue me" is a HORRIBLE way to think, and it sends the wrong message to kids in and of itself. And Narcogen DID nail it; had the school allowed the LAN, it would have lost its cachet for the "protest everything" crowd and be LESS likely to be an instrument of sociopathic kids. Up Halo and down the censors! Or next they'll be banning Spongebob Squarepants for [url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6852828/]turning kids gay[/url]. (If they can adopt an absurdly extremist position, so can I.) -- Steve

Hm. If we put aside the school board's justification for its own actions, isn't there another issue here? The Halo games are about one person's heroic battles in a genocidal war - a cartoonish, sanitized, imaginary war, to be sure, but a war nonetheless. Perhaps the idea of raising money and awareness for an enormous natural disaster that has destroyed the lives of thousands of people already living in poverty, by playing a game that celebrates, on an imaginary level, wanton violence and destruction, is just a little bit ... inappropriate? Insensitive, even? I say this as a longtime Halo player who doesn't think that vids caused Columbine. I think there's a time and a place for most things, and tsunami relief may not be the time and the place for Halo 2.

If the death and destruction caused by the tsunami were in some way linked to violence of any kind, if it was human making-- I could see the connection you're making and I would agree that it is inappropriate.

However, it was a natural disaster. Yes, it was death and destruction, but not violence. So I don't think the connection here is very strong. Most games with a strong plot focus around some kind of conflict, and often-- although not always-- that conflict involves violence.

Whether Halo 2's violence is "wanton" depends mostly on your perspective. The game portrays the situation as a desperate struggle for survival against an implacable and superior enemy; if that was the situation I'd damn well want my species to be capable of "wanton" violence, and only the most dedicated pacifist would consider that a character flaw.

But for a moment let's just look at this from the practical, events-planning side. If you're sympathetic to the tsunami victims, you want to help. That means money. Most people, not being full-time altruists, need something to interest them in a relief effort aside from just the satisfaction of doing a good deed. They want to see some competition, or engage in an activity. That's why events of this kind often involve marathons, contests, or similar activities.

The event was organized by school students. Many students like playing console and computer games.

There were two top runaway selling console games for 2004, and they both came out just a few months ago, so they are new, fresh, and in the front of people's minds. In short, perfect if you wanted to draw attention to your event, and if the most important thing to you was how much money you would raise.

Those two games were Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 2.

Anyone want to make an argument that GTA is somehow MORE appropriate than Halo 2 for a tsunami victim relief event?

Anyone?

Didn't think so.

What bothers me here is school administrators putting their own fears of retribution from parents who put their own personal qualms about-- in your words-- sanitized, cartoon violence-- in front of the success of the event. They said they would do the event if it involved another game. Odd how we never heard about what game, if any, they chose. More likely the event was just cancelled so that tsunami relief efforts are a few hundred dollars short of what they could have had, and a few school board members can sleep soundly.

Good trade? You be the judge. For me, it just doesn't sit right.


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Rampant for over five years.

Hm, with all due respect, I think you're attacking some imaginary targets. I didn't suggest that "GTA is somehow MORE appropriate than Halo 2 for a tsunamivictim relief event". I didn't suggest that the moon is made of green cheese, either. Try to stay focused. Also, we don't know whether the school administrators cancelled the event, or substituted another game, or what they did. It just wasn't reported, so your argument based on what you think they might have done is beside the point. And, yes, of course Halo 2's violence is wanton. The cool fighting-against-genocidal-aliens plot is, in the end, mainly an excuse for blowing stuff up real good. And then there's multiplayer! No defending-humanity story there. Lots of fun, definitely, and precisely because it's wanton. But on the main issue, that it's a tenuous connection from a natural disaster to simulated violence, well, you do have a point. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive. Or maybe not. The Halo games are fun - at least for me, lots and lots of fun. They're also games about war, genocide, and militarism. Inside the game, being a soldier in a kill-or-be-killed situation is a harmless thrill, and the threat of genocide to my people is a cool opportunity to be a hero. That's a fantasy of course. I can distinguish reality from fantasy, and so can most people. But it's a fantasy with a definite content. What's the reality? Many of the countries hurt by the tsunami are countries that have suffered under military dictatorships, bloody civil war, or even outright genocide: Somalia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia. It's partly because of this legacy of bloodshed and tyranny that these are poor, underdeveloped countries. Because they are poor, underdeveloped countries, they have fragile infrastructure, limited resources for disaster relief, and large numbers of people who live at a subsistence level. And it's because of this poverty that over a hundred thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more had their lives completely shattered, by this natural disaster. The connection is straightforward: militarism - poverty - vulnerability - death & destruction. So, yeah, maybe a fun game about shooting people is not the best imaginable way to raise money and consciousness about the tsunami.

[quote=]Hm, with all due respect, I think you're attacking some imaginary targets. I didn't suggest that "GTA is somehow MORE appropriate than Halo 2 for a tsunamivictim relief event". I didn't suggest that the moon is made of green cheese, either. Try to stay focused. Also, we don't know whether the school administrators cancelled the event, or substituted another game, or what they did. It just wasn't reported, so your argument based on what you think they might have done is beside the point.[/quote] Actually, the story did report that the school would be happy to continue with the event if the students chose another game. My argument wasn't based on speculation about whether they did that or cancelled the event, but based on the conflict that the school introduced into the situation by colliding these two premises:
  • 1. For the event to succeed, the game should be popular. This is an a priori assumption I'm making, and as I established the reasoning behind this before I won't repeat it.
  • 2. That game should not be violent. I did not say you suggested that GTA was somehow more appropriate. What I was pointing out was that the school's restriction that the game not be violent is in direct opposition to the most obvious choices available at the moment: the two currently best-selling games, both of which are violent.
[quote=]And, yes, of course Halo 2's violence is wanton. The cool fighting-against-genocidal-aliens plot is, in the end, mainly an excuse for blowing stuff up real good. And then there's multiplayer! No defending-humanity story there. Lots of fun, definitely, and precisely because it's wanton.[/quote] You keep using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=wanton The included definitions include:
  • Marked by unprovoked, gratuitous maliciousness; capricious and unjust
  • Immoral or unchaste; lewd.
  • Unrestrainedly excessive
  • Frolicsome; playful
All of these I think are potentially applicable to the subject at hand; and I think that the only one that applies to Halo is the last, given that it is a game that included violence. However, if you want to stay in the context of the storyline, I think it's hard to justify that it's unprovoked or gratuitous. Of course, as you rightly point out, multiplayer is something entirely different, which is relevant given that it is most likely that the event in question would have been multiplayer. Of course, the violence in multiplayer I'd say is considerably more sanitized than that in the single-player game; a bunch of faceless cyborgs that don't bleed that much being blown around on silly-looking vehicles. The single player campaign is more gory in its treatment of alien corpses, I'd say. [quote=]But on the main issue, that it's a tenuous connection from a natural disaster to simulated violence, well, you do have a point. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive. Or maybe not. The Halo games are fun - at least for me, lots and lots of fun. They're also games about war, genocide, and militarism. Inside the game, being a soldier in a kill-or-be-killed situation is a harmless thrill, and the threat of genocide to my people is a cool opportunity to be a hero. That's a fantasy of course. I can distinguish reality from fantasy, and so can most people. But it's a fantasy with a definite content. What's the reality? Many of the countries hurt by the tsunami are countries that have suffered under military dictatorships, bloody civil war, or even outright genocide: Somalia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia. It's partly because of this legacy of bloodshed and tyranny that these are poor, underdeveloped countries. Because they are poor, underdeveloped countries, they have fragile infrastructure, limited resources for disaster relief, and large numbers of people who live at a subsistence level. And it's because of this poverty that over a hundred thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more had their lives completely shattered, by this natural disaster. The connection is straightforward: militarism - poverty - vulnerability - death & destruction.[/quote] That's really reaching, and I'm sure never even occurred to anyone involved in the event in question. None of the news coverage of the tsunami has touched on the role that their governments played in their people's vulnerability to the tragedy; in fact, the only mention has been the lack of a warning system on the Indian Ocean, which was deemed unnecessary and too expensive. And, of course, there are highly militant countries that spend far more on their militaries, also have poor at home, but somehow this also doesn't get called into play when hurricanes hit Florida or tornadoes hit trailer parks. [quote=]So, yeah, maybe a fun game about shooting people is not the best imaginable way to raise money and consciousness about the tsunami.[/quote] I think the key here is your linking these two concepts that I don't think need to be linked. The goal of the event, as I read about it, was to raise money and to raise awareness of the existence of disaster victims-- not the geopolitical causes of why poor people are more vulnerable to natural disasters than others, and the link between this and militarism and poverty, which while valid, probably isn't relevant. If one were to place the emphasis for this event on education and raising awareness, no gaming tournament at all would be appropriate, unless somebody's going to make a game specifically about the topics mentioned here. Then again, I suppose a game involving using subterfuge, nongovernmental organizations and promises of foreign aid to subvert a supposedly militaristic, tyrannical government might also end up being wantonly violent at some point. Just a thought :)

That's odd: you think I'm "really reaching" and "linking two concepts that don't need to be linked", but to me the geopolitical causes of the tsunami disaster are as obvious as the natural ones. It's *separating* the two that takes an effort of imagination, or just plain ignorance - at least, to my way of thinking. But yours is the mainstream way of looking at things. I think what I'm really reacting to is the tendency for hysterical and irrational fears about the social effects of violent video games to be countered, in the gaming community, by only slightly less hysterical and irrational reactions to those fears. It's true that definite causal links between violent media (movies, games, whatever) and violent individual behaviour have not been demonstrated convincingly, despite mounds of research. It's true that blaming Columbine on Marilyn Manson and video games is a stupid and dangerous way of ignoring the real social issues involved, like bullying and harrassment in our high schools. It's true that the school we're talking about could probably have held a successful event using Halo 2 as it's selling point. But it's not like the Puyallup School District's decision represents some great injustice crying out for redress. And it's not like there are no legitimate reasons whatever to be concerned about violence in video games. Like books, movies, and TV, video games are part of culture. As such they have definite cultural contents. Games that celebrate wantont violence (see below) committed by cartoon characters in a mostly bloodless imaginary world, still celebrate violence. They take the imagery of war and bloodshed and make it into a sport. That's something that a reasonable person might reasonably be concerned about. It doesn't mean that vids are evil, but it suggests that they aren't an unqualified good either. There's nothing more boring than a debate where neither side will admit that the other side's position has anything going for it at all. Just a thought. As for wanton: well, my good sir, you condemn yourself with your own argument. You've stated that wanton means, among other things, "frolicsome, playful" and the violence in Halo is definitely frolicsome and playful. I contend that it is also "unrestrainedly excessive", at least if you're doing it right (warthog jumping, anyone? kill-taculars?). And the storyline does feature violence that is "marked by unprovoked, gratuitous maliciousness; capricious and unjust" - the Covenant's gratuitous and unprovoked war on humankind, of course, which provides the raison d'etre for the Master Chief's every heroic action. As for "immoral or unchaste; lewd" - well, that is the touchy point, isn't it? That's what the censorship advocates implicitly maintain. As I've said before, I'm an avid Halo player, so *obviously* I don't think that that playing Halo is immoral. But last time I checked, using a word by one of its definitions did not imply using it by all the others.

That's odd: you think I'm "really reaching" and "linking two concepts that don't need to be linked", but to me the geopolitical causes of the tsunami disaster are as obvious as the natural ones. It's *separating* the two that takes an effort of imagination, or just plain ignorance - at least, to my way of thinking. But yours is the mainstream way of looking at things. I think what I'm really reacting to is the tendency for hysterical and irrational fears about the social effects of violent video games to be countered, in the gaming community, by only slightly less hysterical and irrational reactions to those fears. It's true that definite causal links between violent media (movies, games, whatever) and violent individual behavior have not been demonstrated convincingly, despite mounds of research. It's true that blaming Columbine on Marilyn Manson and video games is a stupid and dangerous way of ignoring the real social issues involved, like bullying and harassment in our high schools. It's true that the school in question could probably have held a successful fundraising event using Halo 2 as it's selling point. But it's not like the Puyallup School District's decision represents some great injustice crying out for redress. And it's not like there are no legitimate reasons whatever to be concerned about violence in video games. Like books, movies, and TV, video games are part of culture. As such they have definite meaningful contents. Games that celebrate wanton violence (see below) committed by cartoon characters in a mostly bloodless imaginary world, still celebrate violence. They take the imagery of war and bloodshed and make it into a sport. That's something that a reasonable person might reasonably be concerned about. It doesn't mean that vids are evil, but it suggests that they aren't an unqualified good either. There's nothing more boring than a debate where neither side will admit that the other side's position has any legitimate basis at all. Just a thought. As for "wanton": well, my good sir, you condemn yourself with your own argument. You've stated that wanton means, among other things, "frolicsome, playful" and the violence in Halo is definitely frolicsome and playful. I contend that it is also "unrestrainedly excessive", at least if you're doing it right (warthog jumping, anyone? kill-taculars?). And the storyline does feature violence that is "marked by unprovoked, gratuitous maliciousness; capricious and unjust" - the Covenant's gratuitous and unprovoked war on humankind, of course, which provides the raison d'etre for the Master Chief's every heroic action. As for "immoral or unchaste; lewd" - well, that is the touchy point, isn't it? That's what the censorship advocates implicitly maintain. As I've said before, I'm an avid Halo player, so *obviously* I don't think that that playing Halo is immoral. But last time I checked, using a word by one of its definitions did not imply using it by all the others.

[quote=]That's odd: you think I'm "really reaching" and "linking two concepts that don't need to be linked", but to me the geopolitical causes of the tsunami disaster are as obvious as the natural ones. It's *separating* the two that takes an effort of imagination, or just plain ignorance - at least, to my way of thinking. But yours is the mainstream way of looking at things.[/quote]

I call it a "reach" because the primary cause of tsunami deaths is not geopolitics. The primary cause was a natural disaster. The situation was exacerbated by geopolitics, but that was not the causal factor.

Furthermore, poverty and lack of readiness on the part of local governments can be caused by many factors other than militarism; there are many countries whose governments are corrupt, incompetent, or just plain poor without being military dictatorships.

These links are associative, not causal-- that's why I call them a "reach"-- it's a move beyond the obvious causal factors of the tragedy to other, contributory, but not essential elements. For instance, one could argue that while Italy has, in the past, been extremely militaristic, but they are not now; however, I think the tsunami would have been no less a tragedy had it hit Venice rather than Thailand.

[quote=]I think what I'm really reacting to is the tendency for hysterical and irrational fears about the social effects of violent video games to be countered, in the gaming community, by only slightly less hysterical and irrational reactions to those fears. [/quote]

I agree. That's why I was careful not to object on that basis. I don't think their school, or any school, should be criticizing for refusing to endorse or embrace any videogame, let alone a violent one. However, this isn't a decision that was made in a vacuum; they weren't asked to wholeheartedly endorse Halo as a worthwhile and didactic work of art; they were asked to allow it as part of an after-hours fundraiser that would involve leisure activities. As such I think it's quite a different question.

Some might even laud them for taking a stand, for sticking by their moral principles. However, I think in this case the moral principles that are really relevant are those of the students who were going to take part, and the parents who had apparently already given permission. For the school administrators to put their own personal moral principles, or what they assume are the principles of nonparticipants in the event, over those of the individuals in question and their legal guardians-- that strikes me as a case of misplaced priorities, not to mention a bit of grandstanding unbecoming in an educator.

[quote=]It's true that definite causal links between violent media (movies, games, whatever) and violent individual behavior have not been demonstrated convincingly, despite mounds of research. It's true that blaming Columbine on Marilyn Manson and video games is a stupid and dangerous way of ignoring the real social issues involved, like bullying and harassment in our high schools. It's true that the school in question could probably have held a successful fundraising event using Halo 2 as it's selling point.

But it's not like the Puyallup School District's decision represents some great injustice crying out for redress. And it's not like there are no legitimate reasons whatever to be concerned about violence in video games.[/quote]

I agree completely-- and as I mentioned in my original post, my objection was not to the decision itself, but the reason and the context. If some student had simply wanted to start a Halo club and use school property and resources to play videogames apropos of nothing, then the only factor to be considered would be whether or not this was an appropriate use of school resources and facilities, and I think only the most rabid critic would argue that it is; I, for one, don't.

I didn't characterize their decision as an injustice requiring redress; what I did accuse them of was what I would consider to be an odd ordering of priorities. I'm willing to admit that kids like violent games, and so using such a game for the fundraiser would have given it the best chance for success, and I'd be willing, on that particular occasion, to subjugate any objections I might have to the game's content to the laudable goal of the event. I think to not do so intentionally hampers their efforts to raise money, and is sacrificing their charitable goal in order to protect themselves from criticism from the same people who blame Columbine on Quake.

It's not injustice-- just cowardice, in my opinion.

[quote=]Like books, movies, and TV, video games are part of culture. As such they have definite meaningful contents. Games that celebrate wanton violence (see below) committed by cartoon characters in a mostly bloodless imaginary world, still celebrate violence. They take the imagery of war and bloodshed and make it into a sport. That's something that a reasonable person might reasonably be concerned about. It doesn't mean that vids are evil, but it suggests that they aren't an unqualified good either.

There's nothing more boring than a debate where neither side will admit that the other side's position has any legitimate basis at all.

Just a thought.[/quote]

I certainly don't deny that there are games that celebrate wanton violence; what I do suggest is that this is not nearly as troubling as some would make it out to be. In any case, I'd suggest that celebration of virtual violence is not as bad as the celebration of real violence, and it seems natural to me to imagine that it is possible that the former provides a more socially acceptable form of expression for normal human behavior.

[quote=]As for "wanton": well, my good sir, you condemn yourself with your own argument. You've stated that wanton means, among other things, "frolicsome, playful" and the violence in Halo is definitely frolicsome and playful. I contend that it is also "unrestrainedly excessive", at least if you're doing it right (warthog jumping, anyone? kill-taculars?). And the storyline does feature violence that is "marked by unprovoked, gratuitous maliciousness; capricious and unjust" - the Covenant's gratuitous and unprovoked war on humankind, of course, which provides the raison d'etre for the Master Chief's every heroic action. [/quote]

"Heroic" doesn't mean frolicsome. I think that only applies to multiplayer, which as I mentioned, I was considering mostly the single player. (I have XBL but can't use it since I don't have broadband, and literally no one within thousands of kilometers of me owns an Xbox, so multiplayer isn't usually a consideration when I think about Halo.)

I wouldn't even consider Warthog Jumping violence unless you're doing it wrong-- more like vandalism :)

"Excessive" means something that is more than necessary. In the context of humanity's struggle for survival against an aggressive and superior enemy, what would not be excessive? Lots of violence, but not quite enough to win?

Also, with regard to the Covenant, I think Halo 2 has certainly tried to show their side of the conflict and not portray it as unprovoked at all. They are misguided, certainly, and aggressive. They consider their war Holy and their objective justifiable. Of course, humanity differs with them on that point, but it does not seem as if the majority of the Covenant are battling in bad faith, if you'll excuse the bad pun.

Humanity is battling for survival, the Covenant for salvation. Given that Halo actually bothers to have a plot (even if some consider it hardly original) I do think it is reasonable to take the motivations it ascribes to characters at face value, and as such, I don't think the violence from either side is "unprovoked" or "gratuitious". Just for comparison, I'd say that it is possible for players to commit such violence in the game should they so choose-- for instance, the game doesn't prevent you (except in particular cases) from killing your own men for no reason. That's certainly unprovoked, gratuitous, wanton and, if you want to ascribe a moral parameter for events that occur only in a virtual space, immoral or lewd.

[quote=]As for "immoral or unchaste; lewd" - well, that is the touchy point, isn't it? That's what the censorship advocates implicitly maintain. As I've said before, I'm an avid Halo player, so *obviously* I don't think that that playing Halo is immoral. But last time I checked, using a word by one of its definitions did not imply using it by all the others.
[/quote]

Not all of a word's definitions are relevant in every context; certainly "lewd" and "unchaste", in their more common usages, aren't applicable at all, as they most often are applied to the moral aspects of sex rather than violence.

"Immoral" of course is much broader, and could apply. Of course, many systems of morality do condone self-defense; but if one wanted to play Halo as a pacifist I suppose one could-- but the game I think would be quite short (or a speed run). That's an interesting way to play the game, but I don't think returning fire in Halo is "immoral", and only a true pacifist that does not allow for self-defense would argue that it is-- again, even assuming you can assign moral values to events that dont' actually occur. In this case, I don't mean whether Halo, as a work of art, is moral or immoral in its portrayal of such events, but whether or not the actions of a player in acting out these events are immoral-- this seems to be applicable in the context of wondering whether or not placing people in the situation of enjoying violence is bad because it might encourage immoral acts in the real as well as virtual worlds.

On that, my feeling is that the urge to commit immoral acts is a basic component of human nature that will, most likely, never be purged, and is safer expressed in virtual worlds or enjoyed vicariously through music, theater, literature and film, rather than experienced firsthand.