Let’s pretend, for a second, that everything bad anyone ever said about videogames was true. Why, we’d all be suicidal pixel-junkies, protected from our desperate self-hatred only by our own slovenliness! The world would be safe from our sociopathic, car-jacking, handgun-happy death wishes merely because we were too busy installing an IV drip to provide us with the powdered-cheese sustenance necessary to gain another level in World of Warcraft! It would be a dire state indeed.
But while the vast majority of dire claims against videogames can quickly be dismissed as ridiculous (particularly those advanced by teenage hooligans trying to cop a plea), every once in a while a brouhaha flares up that actually might have roots in some of gaming’s less-savoury back-alleys. So join us as we explore ten stories of real life made a little more dangerous by gaming’s dark side. It’s off the record, on the QT, and plenty hush-hush…
The Culprit: Pretty much every game in the Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior canon.
The Crime: Inciting potential violence, undermining the Japanese work ethic.
The Case: While many of us in the West are still getting our heads around the finer points of the Dragon Quest series, the games have long been catnip to Japanese audiences. As far back as the series’ Famicom/NES days, Quest-crazed kids were mugging one another in the streets for the latest hit of 8-bit opiate. But even after Enix voluntarily stopped debuting the games on weekdays (schoolchildren and salarymen alike would pull a sickie to stand in three-mile queues for the game), the madness continued: in 2005, an unidentified university student was arrested for posting death threats against a friend who argued that Dragon Quest VI was perhaps not the best game in the series. Reread that: the would-be victim wasn’t even arguing against the superiority of the Quest titles, just carping as to the hierarchy of their brilliance. Dragon Quest players: Crazy!
The Culprit: Any game that requires a subscription fee and a headset to play.
The Crime: Homewrecking.
Above: Homewrecking in progress, with a bonus helping of xenophobia
The Case: You may think that just because you have a partner and a job and a life and all the other IRL status buffs, you’re not the type whose hobby runs their life. But as gamers come of age, more and more spouses are complaining that their partners are letting their devotion to gaming eclipse their commitments to their loved ones. An early warning was the blog EA Spouse, the journal of a woman whose husband’s position at the titular superpower became so demanding as to threaten his well-being and their marriage. This sentiment soon spread to groups and websites like Everquest Widows and Gamer Widow, which provide support to spouses shunned for the virtual world, and even “rehab rooms” for recovering partners. Gaming: The New Opium!
Above: The Old Opium. More peripherals than a freakin’ Wii
The Culprit: The scant handful of games to feature flashy visual pyrotechnics.
The Crime: Dangerous neurological insults. Not the “hey, dumbass!” kind.
Above: THIS kind
The Case: “Nintendo Killed My Son!” bawled a 1993 headline in London’s Sun newspaper. Was a UK boy’s lethal seizure caused by SNES games, the article asked? While the first videogame-triggered epileptic fit had been recorded in 1981, it was the 16-bit era – with its increasing reliance on snazzy visuals – that saw the issue become widespread. Once the hysteria had died down, the facts came out: a small percentage of the population were afflicted with a specific, pre-existing form of photosensitive epilepsy; and said condition could be triggered by specific visual cues (specifically, strobing lights and fast-moving stripe patterns) that were being increasingly employed by games. And that’s why the front of every Nintendo manual now features the standard medical warning; a warning that, notoriously, wasn’t issued to the kids who watched this episode of Pokemon.
Above: Do not watch if epileptic
So games are marginally less dangerous than television. Thank goodness we got that sorted out.