The USS Quad Damage

On republican violent rhetoric

I talk a little on the shooting of a US congresswoman, and the wisdom of the republican party's rhetoric.

It's just not classy being CliffyB

I had a quick toe to toe with @avantgame (Jane McGonigal) about the violent rhetoric used by the republican party vs the violence seen in video games. We ended on agreement:

avantgame: In other words, the danger of violent rhetoric is how it mixes with people predisposed to do bad things. “He was crazy” is NOT a defense.

thesunnyk: @avantgame if it isn’t for the games industry, then it isn’t for politicians.

avantgame: @thesunnyk it is true for games industry as well see my tweets from yesterday :)

thesunnyk: @avantgame Touche. The point is that it’s unacceptable for one to be OK and the other to be not OK.

avantgame: @thesunnyk completely agree with you :)

But the lack of subtlety in twitter kind of left me feeling a little uneasy — to have that on the public record, as it were, without clarifying statements1. Then, the day after, John Stewart conveniently summed up what I would’ve said. However, there was still a little left unsaid. Barry Schwartz fills in the missing pieces (The paradox of choice is another good Schwartz piece).

In short, the law isn’t going to stop you from doing things that could kill someone. Not ever. No matter what you stop people from doing, what punishment you force people into, what types of things you ban. To use a childish phrase: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This is a deeper insight than it seems at first. Further: it is important that you don’t force people into a pinball map of trying to min-max their incentives -- “exercising” your ethics is an important way of making sure they don’t atrophy, and a choice is not moral if it is coloured by incentives. Similarly, punishing bad behaviour might actually increase the behaviour, because people think the punishment is “paying” for the behaviour.

So, what I’m trying to say here is “banning” violent rhetoric won’t work, and even if it did that would likely be bad. We would slowly kill speech until we couldn’t consider ourselves living in a free society any more. What you need is something more akin to bodyline — a polite letter that results in a change of behaviour. Otherwise, we get cringeworthy advertising like the Dead Space 2 commercial or the Bulletstorm thing. I think the reason for the puerile advertising is because of the uproar on the issue of violent video games. Stop caring, and the ads (and the games) become more sensible.

Historically, we know that the violent video games have been generally garbage. It’s only been recently that a ban on a game has caused us (Australians) strife (Left for Dead 2). And FWIW I think both Bulletstorm and Dead Space 2 will be great, despite the ridiculous advertising. The problem here isn’t that the games are adult, it’s that they’re childish — appealing to visceral thrills. I don’t believe they’ll harm children, and I think that both sides of the R18+ debate are looking at the wrong things when they look at violence.

Once blood and gore stop being the metric on which we judge games, I believe that games will generally move away from such genre cliches. Importantly, when no one cares, they probably just won’t sell that well. When gamers and game designers are free to make whatever they want, they’ll realise that it’s just not classy being CliffyB.

1 Not that I haven’t said many, many other things on the public record that are monumentally retarded.