Moral Kombat is a documentary from Spencer Halpin published in 2007. Apparently, the movie could be free to watch for only 20 days (ie until the end of February) at babelgum.com, so hurry! The Video Info says
Moral Kombat takes a look into the controversial subject of violence in video games. Director Spencer Halpin shows the constant conflict between the game creators' first amendment right to make a violent game and the imminent threat that violence poses on the next generation. In addition, the film is full of the latest green screen and high-definition technology that allow watchers to actually envision the world of gaming. Filled with interviews from lead game designers, politicians, parents, and psychologists, this film provides a candid take on the influence games have on youth today.
I feel like it is more relevant to first detail which parts of the movie are about what. This might be useful for those who have not watch the movie and do not want to spend time watching it. I also write down, from time to time, the comments I had while watching the movie [inside square brackets]. So much has been said, written, debated and repeated, that the post-Moral Kombat reactions are worth another entire post. In this post, I will rather bring the quotes from the people [stars?] who were interviewed during the movie. You will see when I do not remember who said exactly what ...
Quotes and talks
The first 15 minutes introduce violence in video games with games such as Doom, Mortal Kombat. Virtual flesh and blood. Senator Lieberman, attorney Jack Thompson and head of Mothers Against Violence in America Pamela Eakes as well as some video game industry insiders mention how video games are violent. [idealist.org mentions mavia.org is the MAVIA website, but mavia.org looks pretty broken. Maybe it has been hacked, maybe MAVIA do not have any website?]. Lorne Lanning explains that since the early video games like Pong or Asteroids, it was easier to
cancel things from the screen/system than adding things. [this echoes what Montfort and Bogost write in Racing the beam about their Atari VCS and the inherent game design of its games]. A publisher says
if we as publishers say what is inside the product we have done our job.
Columbine: Pamela Eakes says that video games
may have contributed to their deadliness [of the murderers],
it's more to it than a video game. A voice [that I did not recognize, Thompson?] says
when it came time for them to act out their anger, where did they get the ideas?. Other voices say
lots of studies over the years have shown connexions between violence in the media and violence in real life,
games have played a central role in killings, a kid
became an expert shooter because of games. [Instead of forbidding games, forbid guns!]
Jenkins report that there has only been
badly designed research about violence in video-games and kids.
At the 25th minute, I found the tone changed, it became a kind of response of the pro-video game side and the game developers. Jenkins mentions that the
60's moral panic was comic books and that video games can become like movies, going
down like comics. [there has been a lot said in the last few months about comparing video games to other medias, both in the research community and in the industry; by the way, I do not really think comics are a lower-zone media than movies: some European or Japan comics are very deep and can be compared to movies]. Jason Della Rocca mentions the speech from Stephen Limbaugh Sr.: "video games contain no conveyance of ideas, expression or anything else that could possibly amout to free speech" and reacts:
He had no understanding of games as an art form.
People talk about GTA. A publisher [was it John Marmaduke?] notices that since 7 million people have bought this game they may consider it acceptable. [poor defense...] Jenkins says
we have not pushed this medium to ask what the role of violence in society is. Jenkins also adds that
nothing suggests a normal kid is likely to become agressive simply because he played a violent VG. Nearly everyone seems to agree that our society is violent:
we have a gun society,
we need to see violence,
we are naturally attracted by violence. [but no one says the utopic "why do we not change it with games?"]
Then about the Sims:
from a genius are words that come back [but the background images are Picasso, Dali or Renaissance paintings ... there is not even any photo of The Sims' designer, Wright! That is a shame!].
An interesting part follows:
there is a difference between your right to make something and your moral or ethical right to make something and
As an editor, you have editorial responsibilities were said by a publisher. Jenkins continues
we think of video games as violence only [while there could be one violent choice and another choice to solve the same issue in a game; there could be diminishing violence rather than decreasing]. Fable is mentioned. Hal Halpin does not think violent games are not a responsibility for designers, they are a responsibility for publishers: designers and developers want to create but publishers want money, and violence sells.
Then the discussion turns towards parents: someone says he would rather have his kid play a RTS with no gore than a FPS war game. [once again, the background only shows images from FPS war games with blood everywhere!]. A publisher [I think?] says
the industry has to be honest with themselves. Pamela Eaks remarks that
sex and violence sell and someone else reports
wheteher it's a game, a movie, or music, the sales grow as violence grows. Back to GTA,
Rockstar is gonna make the game that sells.
Retailers are in the spot light of the discussions [even though no one represents them among the participants] for a while:
some retailers have seen it as part of their responsibility to keep inapropriate materials out of the hand of kids, other retailers have done absolutely nothing. But the parents responsibilities quickly come back:
all we can do is talk with our child about the game. Maybe Michael Rich [good link?] compares games and other art forms and the parents' awareness of these art forms for their kids. FOr instance, parents will go out of a concert if it is bad for their children. So parents should play with their children, and if they do not, they have big problems and have no communication. If the child gets GTA from the parents, it is a failure of the parents, no one else. There is no
silver bullet: it is parent's role.
Finally, the last words from Thompson:
the industry needs to be careful. Eakes asks video game developers to face a mirror and ask "Am I doing something good for children?" all the time. [but not all games are for children ... It is not because in general older people do not play that only children play. Currently, youth often means video games, but the opposite is false.] Jenkins suggests
we should grow up as parents, as government and as designers about what we can do with this media. A publisher wonders
what is our responsibility as publishers? At some point, the line is going to be completely lost between what's right and what's wrong.
Looking back, I feel I have put too many comments above and not been precise enough. I have completely forgotten some people's names and not taken notes really seriously. But I did not want to spend 4 hours watching the movie. So once again, if you want to make your own mind about it, watch it. I apologize, but I have more to say about the movie making in itself.
I did not like the mise en scène. The background images were very complex, useless and above all irrelevant to the speaker's point. For instance, showing printed circuit boards in a transparent background when someone is talking, or replacing a Serious Sam monster's head by the speaker's head seem to emphasize on the urban legend grey goo-like fear that machines are going to invade our society insidiously and kill us all. Henry Jenkins seems to agree:
Watching the film twice, I still struggle to make sense of the relationship between spoken words and images. In the same kind of low-level image-words matching, when someone mentioned
hard science from university the background turned into E=mc²... The videos we see in the background of World of Warcraft or Serious Sam for instance are only the violent parts of these (not-totally violent) games. WoW early trailer and Serious Sam battles do not show at any time the exploratory side of the game, or even the stealth part.
In the speakers, there were politicians, people from nearly any level of the industry (lobbyists, game designers, publishers, journalists) and people from the society on a broader view (parents). But only Jenkins for the research community. Even though Jenkins is a cheetah and he is very good at what he does, I think one is not enough.