Wherever there is change, there is fear. In everyday life, we all fear change; the price of bread going up or a slight altering of a bus route lead us to a transition period in which we aren’t especially keen to adjust. Popular culture is full of this “change”, and video games are the latest in a long line of mediums that have developed in ways that have left those used to the past consumed with a sense of anger and worry, leading to a certain degree of backlash. But, right or wrong, the collection of extreme knee-jerk reactions that our beloved hobby has garnered are by no means the first of their kind.
When Elvis Presley was first broadcast on television sets across the globe, there was intense moral panic from many facets of the community. While much of the youth in the 1950s viewed his “violent hip-swinging” as a revelation – a symbol of freedom and excitement in post-World War II America – many of the older generation believed it to be obscene; a physical representation of the devil himself. Of course, Elvis was arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back; the cherry on a cake made up of various ingredients, from Bill Haley’s timeless hit “Rock Around The Clock” to the music put out on Sun Records.
Before rock ‘n’ roll, the music industry was predominantly profiting from sales of sheet music – vinyl records were seen as a niche market, publishing was where the money was at. That was until youngsters began expressing their own financial independence in ways that were seen as a rebellion against adult society; the backdrop of WWII being a primary catalyst for this hunger to eventually cut loose and let some hair down.
More players = More haters
Fast-forward to 2009 and video games appear to be at the height of their popularity, yet there is greater opposition to their existence than ever before. Just like rock ‘n’ roll in 1955, games are not a brand new entertainment form. Granted, we haven’t had the opportunity to hold a control pad and blast some aliens as long as people had the chance back then to strum a chord on a guitar, but, in a literal sense at least, games have been around for a while now.
Before the Haleys and the Presleys of this world appeared, rock ‘n’ roll itself was, just like games over a decade ago, confined in terms of audience. While video games were very much a specialist hobby for less obvious reasons, rock ‘n’ roll was denied a wider popularity due to the genre being made up of predominantly black artists in a music industry dominated by rich white men. However, once “Rock Around The Clock” was unleashed, the gloves had come off. Rock ‘n’ roll was, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, loved more than ever, for it was being marketed to a demographic that included excitable young white kids.
This wide-scale popularity led to a sudden state of panic. This “offensive” material was a disgrace to the values that people – in particular Middle-America – held so dear; the “poison” running through the veins of teenagers everywhere – young people who just wanted something to shake-it to on the dancefloor, oblivious to the kind of lessons they were supposedly taking from “hidden messages” within the music and performance.
Typifying the state of affairs at the time, the assumption that his moves were that crude and invasive led to the banning of any television show picturing Elvis from the waist down. Of course, this type of blind belief has carried on since, taking many forms and targeting a fair few mediums, including games.
I guess this would be a good time to draw some similarities but, reading back over the last two paragraphs, it’s very easy to see comparisons merely by replacing the word “music” with “games”. Games, while growing in a far more organic manner than popular music, are now encroaching further than ever into the mainstream, public consciousness being forced into a realisation that they do actually exist outside the realms of geeks and social outcasts. And the resulting attitudes are disturbingly similar with that of those half a century ago. Elvis Presley was to music what Grand Theft Auto has been for games.
Video games made me you it, didn’t they?
The older generation will always oppose what they perceive to be a “bad influence” on the younger people in society, regardless of what kind of proof they think they may have to suggest any claims being true. The Grand Theft Auto series has been played by many, many people, but it would appear that no matter how far it reaches out, it will always suffer from press who write pure lies in order to drag it down – claims that you rape prostitutes are completely unfounded and ridiculous yet lapped up by the uneducated masses nonetheless. Why bother with the truth when you can sell a few papers, right?
As the graphical prowess of games becomes increasingly more vivid and realistic, the content, naturally, seems to push towards the more extreme end of the spectrum. The goals may be just as they were back during a time when we were merely firing small spots of colour across the screen to illuminate large collections of these spots, but the representation of such actions are far more explicitly represented in 2009.
During the late 1970s, rock music developed in much the same way. The possibilities within guitar playing were expanding as artists like Jimi Hendrix began experimenting with more and more techniques, both within style and sound. The introduction of wah and distortion pedals inevitably led to more aggressive forms of rock music like punk and heavy metal; the latter falling victim to claims that it influenced young people to murder and commit suicide.
Bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were finding their extreme ways were being picked apart and challenged much like GTA and, more recently, Far Cry 2 have. But while records were played backwards to reveal satanic verses and demands for listeners to “shoot, shoot, shoot”, video games are analysed and over-analysed enough for evidence of direct instructions for players to steal cars and shoot people in the real world to appear – all of which leading to “conclusions” being wrongly drawn in courtrooms and newspapers everywhere. It’s a truly baffling mix of a shifting of responsibility, looking for a scapegoat and a denial that society as a whole has a role to play from the ground up.
Please appease me
Before I run the risk of solely pointing out how adults and mainstream press are keen to damn controversial new forms of entertainment, I’d like to draw your attention to one measure that was taken to enable rock ‘n’ roll gain a foothold with adults, families and a less understanding or liberal audience in the 1950s.
“American Bandstand” was a television show that presented the latest hit songs, new dances and fashion trends to teenagers. As well as listening to their favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs, teenagers learned the latest dances such as the Bunny Hop, the Bop, the Stroll and the Walk. This user-friendly approach was designed to attract more people to the genre, the power of television at the time helping to leave even the most stubborn viewer unable to resist.
Nintendo Wii, anyone?
I’m not saying for a minute that Nintendo introduced a more accessible console in order to stem the tide of bad publicity towards the industry as a whole. It’s just very interesting that even a section of the video games business has discovered a greater importance in seeking out new demographics, just when certain so-called “hardcore” consoles and games are taking a great deal of heat. Very clever indeed from Nintendo, who are slowly but surely easing the dreaded blood and gore into millions upon millions of spacious front rooms throughout the world as I type.
What ever happened to my rock ‘n’ roll?
Fifty years ago it seemed that the apocalypse had arrived. The kids jumped out of their windows, raced down to the local silver bullet cafe, soda fountain or bowling alley (I’m English, this is my picture of it and I won’t be told any different) and danced their days and nights away. The adults were shocked, afraid and probably a little jealous of what the new generation were getting up to.
Now, just like certain kinds of film, comic books and other mediums that have in the past felt the wrath of the ignorant – articles all in their own right, but I could be here all night – rock ‘n’ roll is held as a cornerstone of modern entertainment; a milestone in musical history, embodied no more so than by the “The King”, Elvis Presley. Yes, that guy who’s dance moves were impregnating young girls with impure thoughts a few years back.
Times change, generations move on. Crikey, even Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince Of Darkness and eater of doves, is everybody’s favourite mumbling, drug-riddled cutesy pie now.
A day will come when video games are respected and thought of in the way that we feel they they deserve to be too. It’s just a case of riding a storm that appears to be part of human nature – the fear of change, the disruption to the norm. We gamers of today will be tomorrow’s press, judges and parents. And I have no doubt that we will be making the same clumsy, ill-judged assumptions about the kind of shenanigans our children are up to as our ageing hippy parents are today.