Christmas, Kids, and Call of Duty


Rexis here!

(not up there… I’m not the baby…)

The holidays have come and gone and we are adjusting to the real world again. It’s time to get back to work in an attempt to replenish our bank accounts. We only have one year left until Christmas comes and we go broke again. Does the commercialism of the holiday annoy anyone else? Religion and beliefs aside, there is far too much attempt to appease children’s far flung desires during the Christmas season.

Before I rant too much, this isn’t about commercialism or Christmas so much. You see, I was in a Wal-Mart recently (the horror… the horror…) browsing for game related merchandise, shirts and the like, when I noticed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare pajama pants. Then it dawned on me that I’ve been seeing merchandise for this game EVERYWHERE! Good job, Activision. I’m aware of a game I’d have never been interested in. In fact, they found a way into my head and I want to try it.

Understand, the last FPS I bought was Call of Duty: Black Ops and only to play with a friend. I’m not really into FPS. It’s not my preferred genre. Yet, somehow, it’s invaded my mind. This got me thinking, if it got to me, who else did it get to? How many children woke up on Christmas morning to find this new installment of the franchise under the tree? How many of them suffered the god-awful wait time for the game to download updates and install on their system? How many children, on Christmas morning, found themselves on the frontlines of a war strategically delivering .308 caliber rounds to unsuspecting heads?

Some of you are immediately drawing back from this post. You know what’s coming. “It’s just a game!” I can hear you screaming your justification for plopping your seven year old down in front of a TV and cheering him on as he goes on a killing spree. That’s assuming you even know or care about what you bought your child.

Now let me be clear on this, I’ve said in a previous post that violent games do not cause people to become killers. I stand by that. This particular game is rated M for mature by the ESRB. The content is violent. It is bloody. It is war. It rewards your relentless kill streak toward victory. And we are exposing young, developing minds to this. How is it that we can watch a documentary about war children in Africa forced to fight and kill and we are appalled, then we turn around and enable our children to simulate the experience? Is it because it’s not the real world?

Grand Theft Auto 5 just saw a rerelease on new consoles. How many kids do you think received it for Christmas? This game features a broken family, a cheating wife, a murderous meth addict, and so many horrible moral situations that occur in the REAL WORLD! Top that off with strip clubs, prostitution, assassinations, torture, and all out murder. It is a real world simulator that uses the vilest aspects of humanity as a story telling device, then rewards you for doing it.

I think this is where I draw the line when it comes to media for my children and what I choose to expose them to. I want them to experience and to learn as much about the world as possible, but there are things in this world that are horrible that I don’t want them to know yet. As an example, my kids know that strangers can be dangerous and that there are people in this world who would steal children away from their parents. The part I leave out is the vile and repulsive things those people may plan to do. It’s horrifying and it’s a real world problem. It’s the sort of thing that once learned can never be unlearned. It feeds fears. It strips away innocence. It ruins childhoods. It can crush dreams.

I don’t have a problem with M rated games. I am a fan of many of them. My problem lies with the parents of the child who is swearing into his microphone as he shoots up a strip club or screaming obscenities at another player because they lost their kill streak and their k/d ratio is suffering. Are they even aware of what he is playing? Do they even care? I’d have to assume they don’t and maybe that is the most horrific real world problem, parents who simply don’t care.


Breaking the Game – Why do we test our boundaries?

The Box

Rexis here!

A few months back I was outside doing some yard work while my 5 year old son was in the game room playing Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast. He really enjoys this game and particularly like the free range that playing as Knuckles gives him. If you are unfamiliar, Knuckles must search an open map for hidden chaos emeralds. I took a brief break from my work and stood watching him for a moment. He was messing around with a Chao character, which is like a cutesy, small tutorial NPC. I watched as he picked up the little Chao, carried him over to a hole in the ground, and then dropped him in. I immediately realized he was testing the limits of the game he was playing. He wanted to see what would happen. Putting the Chao in the hole served no purpose whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the little guy flew back to his starting position.

I stood there, jaw hanging, because it was so reminiscent of the experiments I’d always done. When gaming. Playing Oblivion, can I kill this quest character? Playing Goldeneye, what happens if I shoot Natalia? Playing Mario Bros., Can I kill Bowser with fireballs? Splinter Cell, can I murder my team members? GTA, can I take Roman on a date and leave him there? Star Fox 64, what if I don’t save you, Slippy? All of these are testable questions which have no bearing on completing the objective. None of them are required. This is the line of questioning that leads you to enchanting a bow in Skyrim so powerful that you could kill dragons with a single arrow. This is how breaking the game starts.

Why do we do this? I’ve been holding off on writing about this for some time because I didn’t know how to phrase the question or even where to begin searching for an answer. After googling a bit, I arrived at a familiar metaphor: “Think outside the box.” We’ve all heard this before and it applies to video games as well as anything else. Some games limit what we can do and we are forced to take a more direct approach. An example of this would be a Zelda game where you need to use the hookshot and only the hookshot to progress. The opposite, lateral thinking, could be applied to games like Skyrim where you can accomplish a task a number of ways, so long as you attain the objective.

Sonic Adventure 2 lays out a very succinct objective pattern for each set of playable characters. It doesn’t waiver much. It required pretty straightforward thinking, as far as we know. So what pushed him to testing this Chao thing out in the first place? This is something I found a little harder to identify, but I believe it stems from being an expert at something. He had conquered the Knuckles level and proceeded to test its limits, similar to how a speed run is done by someone who has mastered the game, often times taking advantage of glitches they have uncovered or learned from another source. Being an expert tends to lead to faster and better ways to achieve a goal. We’ve all done this in video games whether we are aware of it or not. RPG gamers are probably more apt to experience this as those games often require strategy.

So many games out there offer us so many possibilities. Chrono Trigger alone offers us 13 different endings that all revolve around when you, the player, decide to beat Lavos. How do game designers know what we will and won’t try? This is where scenario planning comes in. Now, I’m not a game designer, but I do study management and strategic planning, and I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that once a game is fleshed out and defined, someone has to sit down and think about what the players are going to do to poor, poor cousin Roman. How much sense would it make to kill off a main character then have him show up in the next scene? Those planners must have to put in some serious hours to keep us grounded in reality.

Naturally, someone is going to miss something. That bow in Skyrim I mentioned earlier can be done within the confines of the games rules. No cheating. No glitching. Did someone miss something during development? Perhaps it was left in there because they never would have thought gamers would bother to create something like that? I don’t think we’ll ever really know, but it is safe to say that gamers are a crafty lot. They will master any title and they will always find ways to ultimately break the game.

This isn’t a bad thing at all. In life, we test our boundaries all the time. We want to know what we can do and how we can do it better than anyone else. The same mentality drives us in gaming. There are so many correlations between the two. Life is a game after all.

And I’m pretty psyched that my son is already trying to break the game.



Video Gamers Divide – Racism and the Bit Wars


Rexis here!

Guys (and gals), I was in the gym yesterday when I saw something on TV that kind of shook me a little. Another police officer has killed someone in an attempt to detain them for some reason. I wasn’t keeping up with the captions. What shocked me though was the deliberate attempt to sell that this was a white on black homicide, as if no other facts mattered. Seriously, google the articles and you’ll see “white police officer” and “black male.” These two individuals are being described at their absolute basic level. Just looking at them, this is ALL we know about them. (This is important; we’ll come back to it later.)

I was watching CNN and they were parading Charles Barkley on the stage, letting him share his opinion. This bothered me because what does the OPINION of a retired basketball player and television analyst matter? Especially one who lost millions of dollars to gambling and has two charges related to DUI under his belt. Is this is the man we want telling us what is right and wrong when it comes to racism? Mind you, he presented not one shred of evidence to his claims which were scrolling across the screen: “Not all racial profiling is bad” and “Most cops are good.” Really CNN? This is the best you can do? The only thing Charles Barkley is right about is his pro-gay marriage stance, but he does claim to be a republican so perhaps he is lying about that one.

Rant over.

Charles Barkley’s antics aside, this whole ordeal got me thinking. I wondered what makes people racist. You can say upbringing, fear, really any number of things. I wasn’t researching at this point, only pondering, and, as I so often do, I thought of gaming. Much has been written about racism in gaming. From Pokemon’s Jinx being recolored for a western audience to Resident Evil 5 replacing infected Africans with a more “racially diverse” group. Just this week I saw news that Australia is pulling GTA5 off shelves because they fear it promotes abuse against women. Sexism at its finest. Seriously, if you think a video game is the cause of your domestic violence issues, you’re in for a surprise. Then there is Gamergate, which I’m not even going to address.

So we’ve got prominent racism and sexism running rampant. But why? Then it hit me. The bit wars. Do you remember the bit wars? Were you even born yet or did you hear about it in passing? I was there, man (or woman). Sega or Nintendo? This is echoed in today’s own version. Sony or Microsoft? Playstation 4 or Xbox One? Or Wii U? I’m a Wii U kind of guy myself, but that’s not the point. Wouldn’t you agree that there are fan boys (or girls) out there? Perhaps you are one? Do you scoff when you hear that someone bought a PS4 or Wii U? You’ve assigned yourself to a group! Have you ever heard of PC gamers refer to themselves as the “master race”?

A few days ago I was watching a video and reading the comments when I saw something along the lines of “Oh, he’s a COD player. That explains it.” This individual was a Battlefield fan and had an obvious dislike for Call of Duty, so much of a dislike that he was using it as an insult. I’ve seen similar comments about Minecraft or Wii U titles being “for children” in favor of bloodier, violent games. These people have assigned themselves to groups as well!

White or black? Xbox or Playstation? Cod or Battlefield? McDonald’s or Burger King? Coke or Pepsi. What the hell are we doing to ourselves?! Such animosity over trivial, benign BS. Why? Then I started to research.

As it turns out, when we perceive someone as being a team member, regardless of any other trait, we are more apt to feel positively about them. However, if we identify someone on a different team, we feel more negatively about them. The studies backing up these theories were conducts by William Cunningham, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State and Jay Van Bavel, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University, and they focus primarily on race. You can check it out yourself in the links below.

Extrapolating that data is not hard. When an Xbox fan sees another person wearing a PlayStation shirt, his unconscious bias takes over and an argument ensues. He sees himself as belonging to the Xbox crowd and views any other fandom as a competitor due to biases he may or may not be aware of. Remember when I said “These two individuals are being described at their absolute basic level. Just looking at them, this is ALL we know about them.” This holds true in gaming as well. People judge you by the team you are on, ignoring all else. In the case of racism, we judge by what we can see. I am white. You are white. We are on a team. And the media sells it this way.

But why the competition? If we assign ourselves to these teams subconsciously, why are we competitive. The answer here is simple. It’s nature. Darwin proposed that competition between groups could have selected for individual traits such as courage and faithfulness that contribute to a group’s success in conflict. Isn’t that why we play games like COD and Battlefield in the first place? We enjoy the feeling of grouping up and fighting for our survival, especially winning. Does it matter if the user “butthurt_7” killed you 50 times in the last round and then was slotted to your team? You’re more likely to be glad he’s there because you’ll be in the winning team this time.

Now I’m not advocating that racism is a good thing. It’s a cancer on our society, but to immediately use race as an excuse for EVERY act of violence does a disservice to the people. Media outlets, as mentioned in a previous post, want to sell information. It’s what they do. And racism sells. The problem lies, once more, in the fact that we are only scratching the surface of a deeper issue and parading it as fact.

Unfortunately, there is likely no real fix for this. Any situation that causes people to see themselves as part of a team will lead to competitive behavior and acts of violence. It’s been this way since the first human-like tribes warred and it will be this way forever. The best we can do is to learn to tolerate, and I really don’t like the negative connotation with that word. There will always be people of other races. There will always be fans of different consoles and games. There will always be someone who thinks differently and acts differently than you. Accept that and move on.

And don’t laugh at me because I love my Wii U.

Do video games inspire mass killings? (Spoiler) No. No they don’t.


Rexis here!

Sometime last year I had to write a paper for school in a psychology class. Naturally, being the game obsessed introvert I am, I chose to write about killers and how video games affect the psyche in regards to violence. After some research, I discovered that there is something of an epidemic in the media blaming violent video games for mass killings, but not so much for serial killers.

At this point, it is important to understand the difference between the two. A mass killer attacks many people all at once. A serial killer operates over a number of years, usually with one victim at a time.

I found this to be intriguing. It’s as if the media needed to place blame for incidents with a number of casualties, whereas serial killers were often diagnosed with mental instability. It’s not hard to find a case where the media immediately points a finger at, oddly enough, media itself.

My investigation grew at this point. I decided to focus solely on mass killers influenced by media. I found references to music, violent movies, video games, even Dungeon and Dragons as an influence to these types of violent outbursts. We, as gamers, are not new to these claims and controversies.

I continued to follow the white rabbit and arrived at an interesting study from 2010 by two guys, Anderson and Bushman, which claimed video games were a stepping stone on the road to violent behavior. I was floored. To think I’d been a ticking time bomb all along… Jokes aside, I dug into similar studies and contrary opinions. I poured over all this information that really isn’t worth repeating here to arrive at one very important conclusion.

There are too many ways to interpret data.

That’s where this particular rabbit hole led. I was standing on a set of tracks with no clear destination. Then it hit me. All of these researchers seem to be asking the wrong question. When you start out with a question like “Do video games cause acts of mass violence?” your answer can only be yes or no. We have to step off the tracks and look back…

The real question we need to ask is “Why did this killer have a game like Hobo Slayer 8 in the first place?” As it turns out, psychology is deep. Like, really deep. People who would commit such horrific acts do so to exercise control in a world they otherwise have no control within. Then it dawned on me, these games allow them that freedom. Games like Grand Theft Auto allow the freedom to do whatever you want, to be unstoppable if you choose to be. These killers are drawn to these types of games just as a little girl might be drawn to a Hello Kitty title.

A person doesn’t simply play GTA, and then decide to have a killing spree of their own. It takes years of inner turmoil to lash out on society. I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to stir up imagery, but if you do the research you’ll find that most mass killers have suffered horrendously before committing these types of acts and most certainly suffer from some sort of mental illness.

The media jumps on the chance to call out video games because, in my opinion, it sells. People want to know why bad things happen to good people. News outlets want to answer that question as fast as possible. It gets them ratings, views, and clicks. It’s a lot faster to point at the media a killer indulges in rather than to wait for a proper psychological analysis.

If you need further proof of the ridiculousness of this media ploy, I found one story of a mass killing blamed on, and I kid you not, Dynasty Warriors which they described as “shockingly violent fantasy war game.” Violent? Yes. Shocking? No! It’s a game about war! You fight masses of enemies. To be fair I can see the correlation, but there isn’t an ounce of blood spilt in this game. If this particular killer had been influenced by video games, I can think of much worse titles he should have owned.

I could take this further and discuss gamer aggression and the ratings system, but those are posts for another time. For now, rest assured that playing GTA isn’t going to turn you into a killer any more than playing Phoenix Wright will make you a lawyer.