Unreal Tournament

The game is a blast. You race around, snatch up incredible weapons, and annihilate anyone who gets in your way. You need quick reflexes combined with careful precision to do well. The twitch of your index finger combined with the satisfaction of blowing your brother-in-law’s virtual guts out soon becomes addictive. One more frag. One more frag and I’ll take the lead. We have many happy memories together, at home during Christmas-time, lights on the tree and egg-nog in our bellies, sitting at our laptops while we snipe, explode, electrocute, and detonate one another. Mutual virtual decimation makes for great family camaraderie.

And yet.

You know what I worry about? Call me neurotic if you will, but I wonder about the virtual life of my community. At any moment, there are broadcasts of wretched trials of adolescent mothers, accounts of children sexting because their sophomoric national leaders must twitter their groins, adolescents using video-controllers fashioned as pistol grips and slaughtering hundreds of virtual antagonists.

You know what I hope is not is not the case? What if the words of our Lord applied to these virtual displays: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5.28).

I think most would agree that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 about lustful looking and adultery apply just as much whether the receiver of such looks is real or virtual. What struck me about the above quote, from here, is that the same may go for virtual acts of murder.

But is there a line? Is Angry Birds right up there with Call of Duty? Is there a difference between killing virtual human beings and killing virtual evil-monster-aliens? Or virtual round green pigs?

I don’t have a clear answer to those questions, and I actually gave up violent video games like Unreal Tournament quite a while ago. I began to recognize disorder inside my own spiritual house after playing them. The quote above helped put a little meat and bone on what was little more than a feeling, so I thought I would share it. The comment box is below, and any insights are welcome.

Dehumanization

The danger of devaluing human persons has oft been noted in books and around the internet. The danger is insidious. I have a few recent stories that have caused me to think about this.

1) My wife and I went to see District 9 a few weeks ago. It’s a very well-done film, with some very interesting allegory in the first half hour or so, but you should be prepared for the non-stop onslaught of action and adrenaline that makes up the rest of the film.  (Also, it would seem that people in South Africa know only one curse word.)  Anyways, without giving too much away, one of the characters in the movie starts losing his humanity, both physically as his biology changes, and socially as the pressures of an evil megacorporation leave him few options for survival.  The definition of humanity becomes blurred.  Then the lightning gun comes out.  By the time it was all over, we were left in a state of shock.  Driving home, the people around us did not seem like people at all.  They were nothing at best, threats at worst.  I didn’t quite feel like a person myself, and the trip home was more like floating than driving.  We sat up and talked for a few hours over tea to get “back to normal” so we could go to bed.

2) I’ve had similar feelings, though never quite as acutely, after playing first-person shooter video games like Unreal Tournament.  When you spend a few hours running around blowing computer people away with a rocket launcher, something in you about the nature of human persons disconnects.  However, the regular little spurts of adrenaline can make such games quite addictive.  I see the same thing in some of my younger relatives, who frequently play historical first-person shooters, like Call of Duty.  The graphics and the gameplay are indeed impressive, and it was clear that the designers of the game had done their historical homework, but I ended up a bit disgusted at the same time that I was amused.  Different people had different reasons for fighting in WWII, and while my own understanding of Jesus’ teachings would make it very difficult for me to fight in a war, I’ll not fault the men and women who went to war in the 1940’s for being willing to sacrifice themselves to protect what they loved.  I’m pretty sure their decision to make a sacrifice was not so that bored teenagers (and increasingly, “adult” men) could get a few kicks in a battle simulator, where the bombs sound real but don’t shake your house, where the blood and smoke smell like Febreeze, and when you die you immediately come back to life with a shiny new gun.

Those are just two recent and relatively minor examples of the larger war on the human person.  Of course, the actual wars of the 20th century were some of the biggest volleys, and we continue to see their aftershocks in (for instance) the ongoing killing of unborn children.  All of this has been well-noted elsewhere.

How can we “fight back” and affirm the integrity of the human person?  I’ll list a few ways that occur to me, but perhaps some wise reader will have better answers.

  • Pray and commune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Pray and commune with other humans.
  • Refuse to idolize the violence culture.
  • Try, as far as possible, to avoid the “benefits” of the dehumanization of others.
  • Make things from scratch, and enjoy them with others.
  • Unplug yourself as far as possible from anything powered by flowing electrons.
  • Talk to, listen to, and love your family.