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Thursday, December 9, 2010

7 Video Games That Tricked Me Into Committing Felonies

There is no question that we’ve seen the end of the age of innocence when it comes to video games.  In my youth there were complaints that games like Mario and Sonic were “too violent” but then along came Mortal Kombat to show us just how quaint those concerns were.

But the spine ripping, flesh-searing graphics of Mortal Kombat could be considered tame compared with many of the mainstream games that have become staple franchises in the gaming industry.  Games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are constantly under fire for ravaging the moral fabric of the rising generation.

Views like this one suggest that these games might have an actual effect on the way our children grow up.  After reading of our unpleasant fate, I came to reflect on the games I played growing up.  While they were certainly less graphic than today’s games, they weren’t much less felonious.  It made me wonder what irrevocable psychological damage was done to me by games like…

 Super Mario Bros: 
My Age: 9
My Crime: Consumption of a Controlled Substance

I suppose a general line of fault could be drawn through the whole Super Mario series, a world in which virtually anything you find that isn’t emblazoned with a skull and cross bones contains both nourishment and super powers.  As bad as that message is, it's not enough to earn a spot on my list.

However, the fact that the designers chose to base the central aspect of the game around eating mushrooms is enough to draw pause from anyone.  What’s worse, the Mario mushrooms look suspiciously like the hallucinogenic Fly Agaric mushroom with the exception of the little eyes and the tendency to scroll to the right once discovered.

Warning: Side effects might include
prolonged conversations with fire hydrants.

Now I’m not saying that the video game about a plumber who eats mushrooms in a world filled with walking cacti and improbable architecture is an allegory for a mushroom trip but I would readily excuse anyone who did make such an assertion.  Whatever the programmer’s intent, I’m certain that given the chance, the DEA would quickly schedule any mushroom that made you double in size and capable of withstanding additional turtle shell attacks.

 #2) Mario Kart 
My Age: 16
My Crime: Vehicular Homicide

When I was first invited to play a game of Mario Kart it was the second iteration of the now beloved classic.  I expected I was in for a racing game much like any other.  It was Mario themed so I assumed that rather than racing cars across a racetrack we’d be racing pineapples through dungeons and in that assumption I was right.

But this is where the Mario-esque innocence ended, for the rules of the race would seem harsh to Caligula.  For the (old) readers who have never played the game, I should explain that the winner of Mario Kart isn’t so much the person who hugs the curves and handles the terrain the best.  More important is ones ability to mercilessly lob unlikely weaponry at your opponents while they zigzag through the minefield of traps you’ve left in your wake.

Pictured: Sportsmanship.

In fact, even the earliest release of the game actually had an option that allowed you to dispense with the formality of racing and just run around the track shooting at one another.  Sure, you weren't using real weapons, but the fact that you were using spiked turtle shells with wings and lightening bolts instead of grenades and guns isn't necessarily a step in the right direction.

 #3) Duck Hunt 
My Age: 9
My Crime: Cruelty to Animals

Notice that I didn’t cite reckless driving or speeding as my crime in Mario Kart.  Racing games don’t trick you into speeding any more than barbers trick you into having hair.  Speeding is the point in racing games and it has been since Pole Position.  Likewise I can hardly fault a game about shooting ducks for “tricking” me into shooting ducks.

When I say cruelty to animals, I’m looking beyond the ducks to the other prominent animal character in the game: the dog.  Sure, he faithfully flushed your quarry on each stage, but for the sake of nothing but their sinister amusement, the programmers also decided to make the dog laugh at you when you missed.

Notice that the smug bastard never offers
to take a few shots or anything...

The cynical chuckle of the dog was not tempered by your expertise with the game.   He gave the same snide, condescending laugh whether you botched level two or missed one duck too many on level 10.  In that moment, overwhelmed by bitter frustration and still clutching a plastic laser gun, we all shot the dog.

Now the dog couldn’t actually get shot in the game.  You could shoot him over and over and no visible wound would appear but still I would happily fire away and cackle maniacally as he dropped back into the bushes.  I imagined he was sinking into an eternal slumber, a victim of the merciless wrath incurred by snickering at me when I was already mad.  By the time the game was done working it's psychological trickery it had turned me into a prepubescent Michael Vick.

 #4) Madden Football 
My Age: 17
My Crime: Consumption of a Controlled Substance

The version of this game I played in my youth is hardly recognizable to fans of the modern iterations but the heart of the game has stayed the same.  NFL football with actual teams and actual players represented.  In opposition to the previous football games where you could choose to play either the red team or the blue team, this offered a welcome step toward realism.  As technology improves the game grows more and more like real football until, inevitably, the league will actually fine you $200,000 if your computer dude leads with his helmet.

While it seemed great at the time, one of the consequences of playing a game where you get to be Joe Montana or Barry Sanders is that you can also be Terrell Owens or that jackass wide receiver for the Bills that bitched at God in a tweet.  Not to mention the fact that this game was around when Vick was in his dog-strangling heyday.

But my experience with it predated Vick’s rise to fame and thus the only felony my virtual visage was guilty of in this game was steroid abuse.  While it is purely speculative to say that most or all NFL players are on some kind of elephant hormone, I think there’s a reason that every other sport has scandals and congressional inquiries when it comes to steroids but nobody bothers asking the 400 pound guys that came out of college at 175.

"No officer, I swear it was just the Tae-Bo!"

If we disallow recent history, one might argue that it’s because of the impeccable integrity of NFL players.  The other school of thought, of course, if the“it would be like asking Paula Abdul if she’d been drinking” theory.  It's kind of like asking your buddy if he really slept with your sister; when we know the answer's yes and want it to be no, it's safest not to ask.

 #5) Tetris 
My Age: 10
My Crime: Building Code Violations

Ah, Tetris, the game so fun that it continues to play itself on the back of your eyelids for hours and hours after you try to go to sleep.  This surprisingly simple and addictive game was created by Soviet programmer Alexey Pajitnov and released in the US toward the end of the Cold War as part of a secret plot to launch all of the nuclear warheads while we were waiting for that freaking long piece to come around.

For the two cave dwelling Blognoscor readers in Antarctica that haven’t played Tetris, I should explain that it’s essentially the video game version of blocks.  It’s an endlessly frustrating and complex puzzle that starts out easy and gives you the false illusion that you’re good at it before it unleashes a torrent of useless ‘S’ shaped bricks and squares and keeps giving you 'L's that are turned the wrong way.

The difference between blocks and Tetris (other than Tetris being fun) is that when you build a wholly unsound and improbable structure with blocks, it falls down.  In Tetris whatever logic and quick thinking skills one gains from the game play are more than balanced by the terrible misconceptions they get about safe building practices.

For residents of Barcelona, it may already be too late.

 #6) The Legend of Zelda 
My Age: 12
My Crime: Arson

Another game that has inspired an armada of sequels, prequels, postquels and please-not-again-quels, the Legend of Zelda was a genre-defining fantasy adventure that took players to a fantastic, mind bending world where strange creatures roamed and boomerangs actually came back to you when you threw them.

It was also the first video game that allowed you to save your progress.  Before that most games forced you to start from the beginning every time you reset it.  A few had long, clumsy alphanumeric codes of as many as 64 digits that would track your progress but they were frustrating and limiting.  This new technology allowed the programmers to make a game so big and hard to finish that only about 1% of players ever actually killed Ganon in the first one.

Believe it or not, there was a time when this was awesome.

But there was another element of Zelda that made it a fast favorite.  The game was chocked full of secret passages and hidden treasures that you could only find by wandering around and randomly smashing pots, bombing walls or burning large swaths of forest.  This was in the days before the Internet (the Cambrian) and thus the easiest way to find the secrets was to spend hours committing random acts of vandalism, terrorism and arson.

 #7) Frogger 
My Age: 5
My Crime: Suicide

For some reason, suicide is a crime and from what I understand, people have actually been arrested for it.  In many ways, most games are elaborate forms of digital suicide (ie you’re going to kill off a lot more Marios for every time you kill Bowser), but perhaps none was ever as blatant an offender as the 80s classic Frogger.

Now let me switch hats here and tell the younger readers about an old-fart game.  In this game, you play the one frog on earth that can’t swim.  You’re mission, if you choose to accept it, is to dart across heavy traffic and leap into alligator infested waters over and over again until you die.  All I’m saying, kids, is when you look at Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood be thankful for what you have.  Dad’s games sucked.

But don't take my word for it.  Tell me you're not
getting bored just looking at the screenshot.


As I sat back and rattled off my own healthy rap sheet of virtual sins, a new thought struck me.  Despite the endless hours of my youth that I wasted blowing into the ass-end of Nintendo cartridges, I actually grew up to be a pretty nonviolent guy.  I’ve certainly never jumped on anyone’s head or attacked them with a turtle shell.

And then I read this article and this one and this one and this one and I started to realize that maybe mine was not a generation of mushroom munching, dog shooting, steroid pumping, forest burning, suicidal plumbers with road rage.  Maybe that means that there’s still hope that playing Grand Theft Auto won’t turn your kid into a thug.

What could go wrong?

Aaron Davies

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog do not represent the opinions of the author, his affiliates or any right-minded individual.

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