The (IM)Morality of Playing Video Games

It was perhaps seeing the sight of a bright blue flag with a single star in the middle that finally caught my attention. Or perhaps, it was the villainous character’s name that I was suppose to hunt down and kill. Maybe it was seeing the eerily familiar landscape with the dilapidated and bullet-ridden buildings that finally made me stop and put down the controller. I always have these kinds of moments when I’m playing a video game. It was not a surprise then that I would have a very visceral reaction when I played the latest shoot ’em up game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 last week. In the chapter called “Return to Sender,” the character that I play (the ‘”good guy”) is sent to Bosaaso, Somalia to hunt down a warlord named, interestingly enough, “Waraabe” (Somali: hyena).

It is a thinly veiled attempt to recreate the famous Black Hawk Down battle that took place in Mogadisho on Oct. 3 1993 between the American military’s Delta Force/Rangers and General Aidid’s militia. Like the 2001 Ridley Scott recreation on celluloid, Modern Warfare 3 does an excellent job of recreating the battle for the glory of entertainment on video games. As I started playing the chapter, going from room to room, street to street gunning down the avatars on screen, the irony of a Somali guy playing a video game killing Somalis was not lost on me. Like the Germans and Japanese people who play World War II video games depicting the killing of their ancestors, albeit an avatar. But playing Modern Warfare 3 was Modern Warfare 2 all over again. In MW2, I played a US Marine who goes to Fallujah, Iraq to kill people that I co-share with religion, albeit an avatar representation. Then within the same game playing an undercover Russian spy that is given the choice of slaughtering civilians at Moscow airport or simply doing nothing.

For many people, video games are simply something violent and immoral. But the truth is more gray than black or white. As the advancement of technology has enhanced the realism of the design and execution of the technical aspects of the games, so has the moral ambiguity of the plots and storytelling. For example, in the above example of civilian slaughter at the Moscow airport in Modern Warfare 2, the undercover agent, who’s the “good guy” trying to prevent WWIII, is given a choice to either participate in the mass murder of civilians, or he can just simply watch and do nothing so as not to blow his cover. Here, then, lies the moral ambiguity of video games today. Is preventing world war 3 more important than participating (or simply not doing anything to prevent) in killing hundreds of innocent people? More and more games today force the player to make moral choices. But in my case, I had to stop playing the game and reassess my values. Even though I was playing a ‘good guy’ trying to stop World War III from happening, how could I justify playing a recreation of something as horrible as the Black Hawk down incident? Or any real life based conflict? For me, I simply had to return the game, not because it is based on a real event but I couldn’t find it entertaining in shooting, however virtual and unreal, someone that I can recognize.

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Feeling This…

Over to you, Mr. Kiba.

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That’s Interesting…

Turns out that Nigeria produces the second most feature-length movies in the world. Only India produces more. Quite interesting.

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M. Night Shyamalan Must Die

Although I consider myself as a movie aficionado, I never take the time out to write a movie review on this blog. That changes today. Over the weekend I saw The Happening, the new M. Night Shyamalan movie, who is known for making “horror” thrillers. I have to be honest, I wasn’t too keen on seeing this Happening. The only movie of Shyamalan I remember enjoying is The Sixth Sense, only because it had a nice twist at the end and all the symbolism he infused throughout the movie.

But watching The Happening was like a very tired person unable to sleep – waiting for something exciting to Happen for one hour and half, only to see the end credits roll. To his credit, he had a good premise – toxic air causing unexplained “happenings,” albeit a laughable Happenings. But having a science teacher as the main character (Mark Walhberg) and not having him do anything remotely science-y is just absurd and insulting to the audience. Without exaggeration, this is the worst horror/thriller movie I have ever seen and that just makes me want to kill M. Night Shyamalan since I can’t ask for a refund. 

My friend took me to see this film and paid for it but I couldn’t be more infuriated than if I had paid this Shamalam asshole my hard-earned money. He is a thief and the worst writer I have ever seen write multimillion dollar movies. What is more outrageous is how this con-man is allowed to make films while hundreds of fantastic scripts languish in some talented screenwriter’s hard-drive and a bigger number of gifted directors are out of work. I digress…

See The Happening only if you are a student of cinematography, which isn’t Shyamalan’s work; otherwise avoid This Not ‘Happening’ film at all cost. I guess this may arouse some people’s cat-like curiosity to see just how bad this movie is, but if this is the case, wait for the dvd release or google is at your finger tips. Use your imagination, my friend. 

And yes, M. Night Shyamalan Must Die. 

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Suicide Vests

The good folks at The Onion News Network debate a new Iraqi law requiring 5-day wait period for the purchase of suicide vests because lawmakers “want to make sure only responsible individuals blow themselves up.” After all, free people have the right to blow themselves up! Also, it is not a good idea to take your suicide vest with you when participating in kerosene-soaked American flag burning (just a suggestion).

P.S. This is a satire and is not intended for serious consumption. If you find yourself angry or disturbed by the end of the video, call your doctor or psychiatrist or whatever.

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It is over!

Yep, the Writers Guild of America’s strike is officially over! I didn’t realize how important these writers are to society until they started striking. I know what I’m saying sounds quite childish and non-important in the bigger picture, but let me convince you that television and movie writers are very important. Number one, at least in my opinion, television writers contribute more to society than say, the diamond industry altogether. Secondly, writers of television programs actually start discussion on various issues that are usually not talked about at all until a television program brings the issue to the forefront. These issues range from teenage delinquency to drug abuse, spousal abuse, sexual ambiguity to religious differences.

But what I’m so happy about right now is the return of nightly satirical programs that poke fun at society’s dysfunctional problems while at the same time get their point across. It has been quite difficult watching shows like The Daily Show, which depended on their writers to put the day’s news in perspective while at the same time tickling our funny bones. Without these writers, we would’ve been stuck with absolutely abhorrent “reality shows” – a sign of society’s internal degeneration.

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