Wednesday, March 29, 2017

VR Games and Murder - Should It Be Illegal?

Thought crimes. If your mind went to the Tom Cruz movie 'Minority Report' well you're not far from what this writer is suggesting. Angela Buckingham, is raising a stir among gaming theorists with an opinion piece she has published, stating that murder in virtual reality should be made illegal.

A number of gamers and non-gamers have since commented on the article in the defense of games. Even ex-military and current safety officials remark that games, even in VR are harmless. Most people will not kill on command. The declining murder rates world-wide are proof of this, which even Buckingham referenced in her opinion. Not to mention, the accuracy of video games, including VR, with how to hold a weapon and use it are completely wrong. You don't tap the R1 trigger to fire ammo, or hit R to reload. The weight of a real weapon is something that has not been replicated in a game. Even in VR where you have the ability to act our your movements, you are still tethered to a headset and 2 controllers where buttons are used to walk and use objects.

By paragraph five, Buckingham loses her credibility when she cites an article about video games and aggression that is currently undergoing a peer review for invalid facts/results. And while her intro is meant to soften the blow, stating that she's been in the film industry for 20 years and that "this is not the argument of a killjoy," a quick Google search shows that her history is a bit muddled. She has 5 television and movie credits to her name, with only 1 of them as director and writer, another writing credit, and the other 3 as miscellaneous crew members. The bulk of her work is in theater, which is on the opposite spectrum of film, television, and video games. Not to discredit Buckingham, but it's difficult to take your words seriously when you state you have nearly 20 years of film experience, and it amounts to 5 films, 2 being documentaries, and a load of space between each project. That's not the work-load of someone who is actively in the industry. Everyone is allowed an opinion, but I'd see Buckingham as more of a playwright, and not a filmmaker. Her viewpoints on media violence may be skewed because of it.

Unfortunately the opinion piece continues to go down from there, focusing on articles and studies of how people reacted to disembodied avatars - somehow having longer arms and taller frames makes it okay to murder in a game? I don't really know how she's connecting the thread with this one. The only clear point I can see is that doing things in VR is akin to doing it in reality, and by giving people the tools to kill in VR they will want to do it in reality.

Let's think about this logically for a moment. Assume that "thought crimes" is a legitimate concern for VR; do games allow you to murder? I would argue that no, they do not within reason. When you have to kill another avatar in a virtual world, there is typically a reason behind it. Generally it's self-defense (Mass Effect: Andromeda does this quite well when meeting new species of sentient beings) or you are part of a larger war scenario with an "us vs them" mentality. There are games like Party Hard and Manhunt that do focus on murder as the primary actions of the Player Character. With Party Hard the pixilated rendition is so goofy that it, in no way, can be taken seriously. Manhunt has you playing as the murderer, but it's to save your life. And in theory you are killing people that deserve it. But the way Rockstar approached the subject was delicate - you felt horrified by the game that gamers, in no way, would want to repeat the actions in reality.

Murder as defined by Webster is "the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime[.]" There is intent behind the action that is sadistic. With video games, killing an avatar/NPC comes with a reason that doesn't border on murder. It's usually with a just cause and gamers are aware of this. You don't see them turning around in the real world, killing people senselessly. We're smart enough to separate fantasy from reality. Even with the emerging immersion of VR, we get the difference.

We also have to ask the question of do these thought crimes lie with the gamer or with the developers? Because the people who made the games are allowing us the ability to live out these fantasy worlds. Wouldn't they be just as fault for creating such a product as we, the gamers, who think about playing them?

It's entering a realm of legalities and censorship that we haven't reached. Yet. Just because you think a bad thought doesn't mean you are going to act on it. How many people have wanted their bosses or co-workers to have car trouble so they don't have to deal with them at work the next day? Does it mean they are going to cause the trouble by slashing tires and filling the gas tank with sugar? Most likely not. Imagining some things can help ease stress in this frantic world. It in no way makes them a bad person, until they act on it.

We can't make laws for the 1% or less of the world population that may do something bad with video games. Not without it affecting the other 99% who are being decent human beings. Policing VR games would be another step to a 'Minority Report' landscape. I don't know about you, but I don't want Tom Cruz to show up at my door to arrest me for thinking about aiming arrows at non-existent, hostile robots in Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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