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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Play on!

I owe a debt of gratitude to one of the bloggers I follow for posting something that made me examine the folly of rushing to judgment. To quote (and translate) a lyric from one of my favorite bands (Poogy), "...it's not good for an idiot to be quick." I don’t expect that everyone will agree with the following analysis, but I hope that it will at least encourage people to think before they flame.

Before leaving for work this morning, I was checking e-mail and doing a little web surfing when I noticed that Gavin had posted a link to a 'Suicide Bomber Game’ along with the comment, “This is so wrong…and so fun…”.

When I followed the link, I found myself looking at a caricature of Arafat, and a simple-to-use computer game. The game shows a suicide bomber wearing a bulky jacket over an explosive belt, while random groups of men, women and children walk past him in either direction. The goal is to make the terrorist blow up (by clicking on him) at the moment when he will cause the most carnage (i.e. when he is in close proximity to the most people). The explosion itself is surprisingly graphic, portraying blood and flying body parts, and ending with a pile of dead and injured people. After the explosion, your score (i.e. how many men, women and children were killed and injured) is displayed.

When I saw this, my first instinct (which, unfortunately, is nearly always wrong) was to post the following self-righteous comment on his blog:

“Some of the charm of that little game is lost on those of us who have to live here with those ticking men and women.”

Before I hit the ‘submit’ button, I tempered the comment somewhat by adding,

“A+ for originality, though.”

…but it was a classic case of ‘too little, too late’. I reacted to the subject of suicide bombers (why the media calls them ‘suicide bombers’ and not ‘homicide bombers’ is still beyond me!) as though only Israelis owned rights to the public discussion of the topic. Further, I had pounced without any thought to the different ways the game could be interpreted.

True to the name of my blog, it wasn’t until I was on the stairs, leaving for work, that I began to think about the game from more than one outraged viewpoint. The fact is, once something is in the public domain, it is usually pointless to argue that it shouldn’t be there. Rather, one should take a good look at all the different ways that people might react to it.

I knew nothing about the person(s) who had designed the game, or what their intention / agenda might have been, so I was left to consider the various people who would be forwarding the link around cyberspace, and the impact it would have on them. Here are the three basic archetypes I came up with:

1. Anti-Semites: The kind of person who enjoys the idea of Israeli civilians being blown up is not going to be swayed by this game. The hate was there before the game was created, and it will be there long after the link goes dead.

2. Anti-Arabists: The kind of person who considers all Arabs to be potential terrorists (or at least sympathetic to terrorists) is not going to be swayed by this game either. Again, the hate and distrust were there long before the game landed in their inbox.

3. Apolitical Gamers: There are a lot of people out there who know (and care) as much about the conflict in the middle-east as they do about conflicts in, say, Bosnia, Ireland or Liberia. That is to say, not a bit! What they DO care about is the never-ending search for new and interesting ways to spend time on the web.

This last type of person, ironically, is the most susceptible to subtle messages since the information is delivered in a Trojan Horse of sorts, along with the fun. For this reason, I started thinking about what subtle messages the game was delivering to the user along with the ‘fun’, and was surprised at what I found:

1. The game does not assign any value (score) to the loss of the bomber’s life…only to the loss of civilian life. Think about this for a second…it is a very powerful statement!

2. The game portrays the victims as (fairly realistic) men, women and children…not just by a generic label (e.g. Jews / Israelis).

3. The game portrays the terrorist as agitated (bouncing up and down…a ticking bomb) while portraying the victims as calmly going about their normal everyday lives.

4. The game makes a clear connection between Arafat / PLO and the killing of civilians – something the mainstream news media still refuses to do.

5. The game allows the abstract idea of terrorism to be experienced outside the numbing scope of a real terrorist attack…without the finger pointing, spin-doctoring, and (unfortunately) too-familiar imagery. Instead, the typical person using the game is exposed to relatively ‘low-impact’ imagery that is more likely to slip past his / her preconceived notions of who is wrong or right in the conflict, and get directly to the issue of whether terrorism against civilians is a legitimate tool to further any cause.

By the time I arrived at work, I was convinced that my knee-jerk reaction to Gavin's post was 180° wrong! Instead, I’ll say to you what I told him in my follow-up message:

Play on!”

Posted by David Bogner on March 10, 2004 | Permalink

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I share your initial response, David, and probably would haver written a sharper, nastier observation, something about how sick and tasteless video games seem now, with this instance, slipped into a wallow of osscenity. For, indeed, the point of he game and the point of the suicide bomber lead down a dehumanizing path to rabid bestiality.
I'm not sure I would have been bright enough or sensitive enough or flexible enough, wracked intellectually by mental images of anyone (kids?) playing this game, to calmly consider other possible rationales for posting the game and other, more useful responses down the line from those who play, or even consider the playing of this game.
It would be the strangest of blessings if vicarious proximity to one of these events might serve, better than the reasoning of any commentator, to bring about true understanding of just what is being perpertrated. And with that perception may come a new and very powerful unwillingness to condone such actions. That would be a consummation devoutly to be desired, as someone once said.

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Mar 11, 2004 2:27:53 AM

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