I had wanted to write about this before today, but I only rediscovered the article a few days ago. It is, however, quite relevant to today.
On October 2 (during the Feast) I came across a USA Today article entitled “Nintendo Wii takes a murderous turn.” It reported on the new videogame to be released today, October 31, for the Wii: Manhunt 2 — a game in which players “take the role of a psychiatric escapee who has murderous rages as he tries to uncover his past.”
Well, how nice is that? Sadly, this aspect of the game — that it the player must take on the identity of a murderous lunatic — is not that controversial for today’s society, which paradoxically does not pay enough attention to the videogame world while simultaneously turning it into a kabillion dollar industry (“kabillion” being a technical term used in the Smith family to represent a whole bunch).
What struck me was that Manhunt 2 is being released for the Wii, the game console with the controllers that allow you to physically mimic the action on the screen — say, swinging the controller like a tennis racquet, or holding it and moving your arm like you’re rolling a bowling ball. I will admit that the marketing of the Wii is working on me and my family. We have played virtual tennis on the Wii in mall demo kiosks, and the kids and I had a blast. Swinging the handle-like controller was a lot more fun than using a joystick or a button-based controller. I was actually able to work with the kids to improve their “swing” and we had a lot of fun — just like the pictures of happy families playing together like you see in the Wii advertising.
But using the “you do the motions” controller to play a homicidal maniac?
Yep, it’s apparently just what you think it would be like. USA Today reported:
On the Wii, players physically make killing motions with the controllers — slashing for stabs and lifting to strangle — rather than simply pushing buttons.
What? Is there anyone else out there who thinks this is a bad idea?
I mean, it’s bad enough that such games are played at all. Their social acceptance (and massive profitability) are due to a (literally) horrific change in society’s standards. I knew a very young woman once who was a stalwart and assertive feminist (by her own admission) and who eschewed the use of violence in almost any form whatsoever — very much the stereotypical “liberal pacifist,” if you understand me. But she loved these kinds of games. The bloodier the better, I do believe she told me once. Grand Theft Auto? Good stuff, she would say.
I tried to challenge her on the questionable moral ground one stood on if she enjoyed pumping bullets into someone’s head on screen with gory, photorealistic detail, yet believed that it would be wrong in real life, but it did not go anywhere. Perhaps she and I can discuss it again when a videogame producer comes out with something like Serial Rapist or Wifebeater 2. Thankfully, we have not yet degenerated as a society to the point that such games would be socially acceptible — yet, I suspect we are on the way there. And even now, if sold underground, I suspect that there would be huge profits to be made.
But here, with Manhunt 2 on the Wii, we have the player not only taking on the role of a murderous psychopath, but we have the player physically going through the motions with his own body, stabbing and strangling people. Don’t tell me that this does not make a heavier impact on the brain and mind of the player — the game’s producers, the company Rockstar, are banking a lot of money on their expectation that it will. After describing how the Wii’s players will act out each killing with the innovative controllers, USA Today says (emphasis mine):
Rockstar’s goal is to put players in the horror genre in ways that films like Saw or Hostel cannot.
“It’s a different level of engagement in video games,” says Rockstar’s Rodney Walker. “You can literally experience the emotional responses of the character.“
Wow — exactly what we want, right? We want young people for whom watching “torture porn” like the movies Saw or Hostel isn’t an intense enough experience to go further — actually acting out vicious murders while watching increasingly visually realistic depictions of their slaughter, as we try to actively and purposefully reproduce within them the emotional responses of a murderous, raging psychopath. Brilliant!
Who thought of this garbage? You know, other than Satan?
When I was in high school theater, I remember walking around my home after school rehearsing a scene in my mind in which I was to be playing a character who was supposed to be getting angry about something. Then I stopped “rehearsing” and moved on to other things. Yet, after some time I noted that I was still unthinkingly behaving as if I were angry. Even after I had stopped the “mental rehearsal,” I was stomping around the house, slamming doors, etc. — acting just plain mad. I remember that moment as sort of an epiphany, realizing just how powerful emotions can be; even dragging one up artificially for the sake of acting in an imaginary scene, I noted that the effects lingered. The emotion — brought up effectively and thoroughly, however artificially — was hard to turn off.
That observation, among others, has helped me to grow up wary about whom I give permission to fiddle with my emotions. For instance, when I pay for a movie ticket, I realize that I am paying professional and effective emotion manipulators — a decision that should not be made idly. And it makes me all the more wary of a game purposefully designed to “help” you feel the emotions of a psychiatric escapee experiencing murderous rages.
Though often quoted out of context, I do believe the “verse snippet” is true: As a man “thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Christ said that the evil we do flows from the heart — from the person we are inside (Mark 7). And I think that by playing games like this (as many will do, hour after hour, day after day), we are performing open heart surgery on ourselves — cumulatively adding things to our psyche unintentionally, and changing the people we are. The Scriptures warn us to protect our heart with all diligence, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NASU). Based on what I’ve read so far, playing Manhunt 2 is quite the opposite of protecting your heart.
As far as I’m concerned the fundamental effect of this game and others of its ilk will be to further us along the path to the place described prophetically by Christ when he said that “the love of many would grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). I know that I use that verse a lot, but it’s hard not to when you see the time it pictures becoming so horribly real.