Friday, January 26, 2007

Learning poor behaviour from video games

This has been the summer holidays where our household has been overrun by video games. It all happened when my son (the 6 year old) went to play at another boy's house and his mother observed him losing dramatically in a video game we had but never let him play. Suffice it to say, he needed skills and plenty of practice. So the flood gates opened.

Basically, the six year old, the eight year old and the thirty six year old have been absorbed for hours and days on end on the GameCube. That has left me and the two year old to our own devices. Of course, the two year old is often amused by being handed a controller and so becomes part of the whole thing, leaving me just to watch.

One of the popular games is Super Mario Cart: Double Dash. My son played this quite a bit. The major event occurred when he finally won a race against his older sister. This was much to our delight but suffice it to say lead to tears, complaints about the intrinsic speed of the motor vehicle and arguments about the aggregate relative allocation of time spent on these games.

I ended up consoling my daughter that ultimately this was all her fault. You see in this racing game, there is an option that has one person drive while the other throws things. My daughter always took the wheel while my son was stuck on back throwing things. I argued that what this meant is that he had developed those skills while she had not. After he had practiced, finally, driving, he was able to tackle the race with a full arsenal and so won. That was part of the story. The real part that I also explained was that he had caught up and so with a bit of luck he might win from time to time so she would have to deal.

Anyhow, she dealt by switching games. This time to Pikmin. This is a game that obsessed our thirty six year old some years back and that obsession has resurfaced. Basically, this game involves some guy who crashes on a planet and in order to get off needs the help of little creatures called pikmin to gather parts and fight dangerous creatures.

Now there is alot of press about violent video games. You know ones that involve shooting, slicing open, punching and all sorts of other things said to cause children to learn poor behaviour. These games getting rated M or some such and so parents avoid them.

On the other hand, we have Pikmin that involves cute little creatures. However, to my observing eyes, it is truly horrific in its message. Basically, the pikmin are slaves. They are born and bred to serve the invading spaceman and to assist him in vast quantities just to leave the planet. A planet he leaves in ecological ruin by killing off natural predators; usually while they sleep. And this killing off is done by the pikmin who are unceremoniously thrown at the dangerous creatures and who died in vast numbers. Some pikmin also die by 'accident' drowning as they can't swim but blindly follow the spaceman across a pond or what have you.

I have argued that perhaps the pikmin need more respect and should have some rights but to no avail. Instead, the thirty six year old can be heard to say, "don't worry about them, you have plenty more back on the ship." Then fifty odd pikmin get abandoned, unprotected on the planet only to get eaten alive or squashed.

So apparently, rampant genocide and slavery are rated G. I am not the only one to think this. When it comes down to it, if we are looking for games that might lead to brutal dictators being bred, look to Pikmin rather than Grand Theft Auto. The latter at least is localised violence rather than the meaningless, short term exploitation of an entire planet.