I am in a bit of a quandary here...I am normally someone who attempts where possible to confront the criticism of games as learning tools where the criticism is made from quarters that I generally characterise as the moral panic-folk devil brigade. I think that much of the criticism thrown at games from this lobby can be dealt with quite readily as more often than not the attacks appear to come from people who have not played the games that they criticise or have any iota of understanding or appreciation of the modern games interface.
I often quote much of what Gerard Jones says in his book Killing Monsters to counter these arguments and I also make reference to James Paul Gee's use of Erickson's theory of the Psychosocial Moratorium when trying to establish young peoples appreciation of what is and is not acceptable in real and virtual worlds.
However, I have been reading a bit recently about Social Construction and I have to say that I am beginning to revisit my thoughts about some games. The main reason for this is that I have been looking at the Amazon review for an Xbox 360 game called Overlord. Here's how it is advertised:
"Discover how corruptible you are in Overlord, the twisted fantasy action adventure where you can be evil (or really evil). In the game's seriously warped fantasy world, players will become the Overlord and get first-hand experience of how absolute power corrupts absolutely". You could be a regular run-of-the-mill Overlord. However, with incredible power at your disposal and a team of evil-minded impish critters, the Minions, on hand to do your bidding, how will you resist the temptation to be wonderfully despotic?!
The Overlord has the power of concentrated badness right from the start and you'll know how much more of a total bad-ass you're becoming as the game tracks your 'corruption' throughout.
How corrupt you become depends on how you handle any given situation, your actions and how their consequences impact the game world. For example, if you and your minion horde dispose of a bunch of particularly nasty, violent Halflings that have overrun a once-peaceful village, the village's original peasant occupants will herald you as their liberator. Now each time you pass through, the peasants will welcome you as their new lord and protector, cheering your arrival and giving you offerings.
However, as an Overlord, it's worth seeing what more can be obtained from the peasants' gratitude. If you exert some proper feudal repression, they'll tremble and fall to their knees when you're in town. If you become truly mean, the poor peasants will resort to cowering in your presence, pray for their lives and even offer up their daughters in order to appease you."
Have a look at the phrases in red....they couldn't help remind me of the phrase shock and awe that was used at the beginning of the Iraq conflict. I appreciate that the game is a 16+ and that it is aimed at young and older adults and that in general people are not stupid but...I can't help feeling that games such as these can help construct an implicit acceptance of an ideology that says I'm bigger and stronger than you so I'll kill your family and rape your daughter, tie you up and lock you up without charge and and steal all your wealth.
What is going to come next in a game?
A bit of a rant I know, maybe a little over the top but even though I wouldn't mind playing this game I wonder if the implicit messages within games such as these do ever so subtlety condition people to accept violent deeds that happen, supposedly, on their behalf, or, .... are games like these just harmless hokum?