Christmas break – a full month of it, no less – has arrived for this anxious seminarian! That means, among other things, actually attending to the duties of blogmaster for once – an obligation I’m actually quite happy to have, actually, as it will doubtlessly keep me busy amidst the tedium that haunts Christmas vacation. As I wrote on my facebook status this morning: “It’s amazing how the luxury of free time can make one feel so despondent.” Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, which means that we have to, you know, do stuff now and then. In the words of the late and Great John Paul II:
"Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’."
Without turning this post into yet another episode of “Theology Amateur Hour,” let me just say that despite my numerous blog-vanishings, infrequent postings, and general ineptitude in maintaining this blog, I’m VERY thankful for the readership I have here, diminutive and infrequent as it may be. Blogging gives me a chance to do something, however menial, for the greater glory of God, and if any solitary reader gleans something worthwhile from what happens here, well, awesome!
*AHEM* Without further ado, then…
“Video game violence” has been something of a recurring theme here on CathVG throughout the duration of its existence, but it seems to me that the past few months in particular have brought the issue into a greater focus. This is evident both from my own individual postings and comments from this blog’s readership. My “review” of Soul Calibur IV, for example, defended the game’s violence as a sort of “icon” in which we one can see the “glory” of fighting – yes, even using lethal means, if necessary – for what the Psalmist calls “the cause of truth, goodness and right.”
Commenter j35u5fr34k expressed his reservation about anyone, let alone seminarians and priests, playing violent video games:
“You and these priests need to read what the Pope teaches about violence in video games. I also struggle with whether or not I should play video games that depict violence against humans. The Pope is outspoken against games that exhault violence.”
A fair point. Sadly, his and other commentators wishing to probe this issue further received no response from me, and thus any opportunity for intellectual and spiritual edification – the “fulfillment,” or at least a part of said fulfillment, that JPII talks about in the quote above – was ignored. No longer!
For me, the portrayal of “violence” in any given media context is justified based on, well, the context; the same applies for treatment of sexuality. I despise the brutality of movies like Watchmen; I likewise cringe at the gratuitous violence in games like Grand Theft Auto. At the same time, I’ve always been very sympathetic to those who claim that Halo and the like are basically this generation’s Cops and Robbers; a harmless role-playing/imaginative exercise. Everyone knows who the good guys and the bad guys are; the moral lines are drawn, and there’s no over-the-top brutality involved in anything that occurs in either situation.
Some games, however, not only blur the line between right and wrong, but seem to glorify in making the player feel as if they ARE engaging in actual acts of brutality. For an example of this peculiar game mechanic (I know of no better euphemism for this phenomenon), see the latest review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 from none other than the National Catholic Register, a Catholic periodical worth reading if there ever was one. It mentions the problem with the now-infamous “Airport level” in the game, which, as the article describes, involves the player
“…A group of men enter an airport where civilians are peacefully waiting for their flights. The image on the screen is the perspective of your character, gun in hand.Calmly, slowly, methodically, the men walk through two entire levels of the airport mowing down civilians. They scream, run and drag their wounded bodies through smears of their own blood until someone, perhaps you, puts a bullet in their heads. Scores of unarmed people are mowed down. At the very end, your character is shot in the head, left staring lifelessly at the ceiling as blood pools around him.”
The article then asks the question: “Is the cold-blooded massacre of innocent civilians really an experience on the emotional spectrum that we need not only witness, but simulate?” I would answer in the negative, as I hope ANYBODY would. The question is, what makes this game so morally objectionable in contrast to the other parts of the game? How is MW2 worse than Halo or another shooter? Is it because of the violence itself? The intensity of the depiction of the violence in question? Is it the act or object of the violence, in which the player is involved in such a powerful way?
I still need to sort out my thoughts on the matter a bit more, but my rudimentary knowledge of Catholic moral theology makes me think it’s a combination of the three. As per the catechism:
“1750 The morality of human acts depends on:
- the object chosen;
- the end in view or the intention;
- the circumstances of the action.”
Of course, there’s a such thing as an intrinsically evil act, too. Murder, needless to say, is such an action; is the virtual murder of civilians, then, tantamount to actual murder? It would seem so…moreover, does this carry into any act of murder in games? Is having a fragfest in Halo with friends also morally wrong (and, by extension, playing games like cops and robbers), too?
One of these things is not like the other. Trying to make a player feel accomplished for brutally killing civilians is certainly morally distinguishable from shooting a bald space marine who is also trying to kill you (lethal self-defense is also defended by Catholic doctrine). Yet, irrespective of how its depicted, it seems that there’s something wrong with killing people in any circumstance, regardless of how brutally its depicted. Is it really murder if it’s “just a game”? Where is the line drawn here?
Ok, enough of my ruminations. Readers, the ball is in your court. Fire away!