Understand that I am not one of those who blames video games or movies for the violence in our world. I don’t believe that the violence of The Three Stooges or Bugs Bunny or the Roadrunner made me want to go out and hurt people. I don’t believe that playing cops and robbers and playing with toy guns when I was a kid made me a more violent person. In fact, I’ve been a pacifist since I was a boy of about thirteen even though I shot and killed many a childhood friend with my finger, cap guns, plastic guns, and others. And I think that those toys of my youth and the video games of today are probably more a reflection of the violent culture in which we live than the creators of that violence.
Still, the messaging bothers me. When we got toy guns as kids they didn’t come with advertising that said things like, “Kill anyone who gets in your way,” “Kill or be killed,” etc. Instead we created our own scenarios where we all wanted to be the good guys, and that’s probably not much different than the current spate of video games. Of course, our cultural upbringing taught us that cops were always good and the robbers were always bad and cowboys were always good and Indians were always bad. There was no room for gray and no understanding that sometimes the cops are not on the right side and just as often the cowboys were bad guys who slaughtered Native Americans. And I guess whether you were the good guys or the bad guys the inherent messaging was exactly the message of “The Last of Us”–kill or be killed.
I’m trying to figure out why this is bothering me so much. Maybe it’s just that it’s so blatant, and maybe it’s that I have always believed that there are ethical considerations to everything that we do. As a pacifist I don’t want to believe that I would sacrifice my morals for a little more time on this earth. What value is there in that extra bit of life without my soul, without everything in which I believe? For me physical survival would be meaningless if I lost my moral compass in the exchange. My morality is what gives me purpose in this life and to throw away everything I believe in for a few more hours, days, or even months does not make sense to me. I am not willing to do whatever it takes to survive. I’ll be okay when my time is done as long as I die knowing that I did what I could while I was alive to make this world a better place and to always do what I believe to be the right thing (this, of course, does not mean that I have never failed my own moral code).
I think it also bothers me that the messaging of “The Last of Us” has been incredibly successful. It is the biggest launch of a video game so far this year, selling over one and a quarter million copies in just over a week. It may very well be a great game. In fact, it is getting rave reviews in all aspects, including its emotional depth. Maybe there is a higher purpose for the characters’ survival. Maybe they are truly good guys in an evil world. Maybe it’s just Madison Avenue finding a message that somehow resonates with the public. And maybe that’s my greatest fear about it, that if it is a resonant message our society is in a lot more trouble than I ever thought before. For me, as I’ve said before, I’d rather die for peace than live in violence.