Saturday, August 13, 2011

"It was all Pac-Man and board games"


As of this writing, things seem to be calming down over in England after days of rioting; eventually, a point is reached where folks are just kind of done with smashing and burning, you know? Now comes the fun part: blame. And amid all the rhetoric, I've encountered only one person who's got it right, an unnamed cop who dares to acknowledge to power of video games:
“When I was young it was all Pac-Man and board games,” the officer told the Evening Standard. “Now they're playing Grand Theft Autoand want to live it for themselves.” A columnist for the Telegraphagreed, saying “The riots were like a video game that had kicked its way out of the Xbox.”
If you detect a tone of bemused, kids-these-days headshaking, they come by it honestly. Today's rioters have it easy, with photorealistic virtual worlds and instant online communication to inform and inspire their depredations. Back in the early Thatcher Days, though, young thugs looking to get stoked for a night's looting really had to apply their imaginations to the era's blocky mazes and bleep-blorp sound effects.
What do you think they had to be inspired by when they ripped Brixton apart in '81? Pac-Man — and its explicitly extralegal knockoff, Lock N' Chase — excellently modelled the tactics of darting down narrow alleys, gobbling drugs and occasionally turning the tables on the coppers, but games at the time were more concerned with outer space than the inner city. Berzerkand Kaboom! had to suffice, mostly by their titles alone.
Our nostalgic lawman does miss the mark a little, though, in naming Grand Theft Auto the culprit. Sure, the GTA games are a little rampage-y — and GTA IV protagonist Nico does use text messaging! — but their antisocial romps are exactly that: antisocial. Solitary, single-player sprees, without looting, amid indestructible buildings! Surely, the hoodie squad must be getting their inspiration elsewhere.
I can imagine only one scenario: there is in England an underground of would-be rioters passing around bootleg copies of 2002 riot simulator State of Emergency. That game's got it all: huge crowds of screaming humans-turned-animals, karate-versus-cops action, and a sickly veneer of “anarchist” justification. Disaffected, violent youth congregate in dingy “bedsits,” hunched over chugging old PlayStation 2s, working themselves into mob mentality through the most efficient means: their thumbs.
It's sad, really, that a few bad apples have been inspired by a 10-year-old bargain-bin title. It paints such a skewed view of their community as a whole. Every day, people in these neighbourhoods go about their lives under the influence of honest, work-positive video games. These places aren't just rat's nests filled with thugs who play State of Emergency; they're communities filled with people who live decent lives inspired by games like Cooking MamaBus Driver and, yes, even Police Quest.
Troublingly, authorities ignore the simple fact that, as well as inspiring antisocial violence, the mind-controlling properties of video games can empower civilized society's response. Mayor of London Boris Johnson broke off a vacation to return to the city and ... make some statements? What a missed opportunity! He should instead have been whisked to the nearest Super Nintendo and made to play a couple hours of Final Fight, the street-fighting simulator featuring pro-wrestler-turned-mayor Mike Haggar.
If violent video games could inspire a few thousand wannabe toughs to riot, imagine the effect Final Fight would have on an actual, real-life mayor! A few rounds in the role of the shirtless Haggar, cleaning up his town with nothing but a lead pipe and a single suspender-strap, and the game's irresistible mesmeric power could have turned Johnson into a living weapon, worked up to the point where he was ready to clear the riot zones singlehandedly. Or, at least, alongside a friendly karate expert.
I wish I could do something videogame-inspired to help. I could go and be inspired by Vigilante, say — except plane tickets are expensive and I unfortunately never got inspired by Airline Tycoon. No, all I can do is sit here, inspired by Reader Rabbit, following the story on the news sites before finally allowing myself to be inspired by Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing to comment upon a world that seems everywhere inspired less by LittleBigPlanet than by Run Like Hell.

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